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Marc Grossfield

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

Minneapolis entrepreneur launches spirited vodka

  • Article by: Todd Nelson
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • December 29, 2013 - 7:48 PM

When Minneapolis entrepreneur Marc Grossfield toasts the new year, he will do so with Aviv 613 vodka, the imported luxury spirit he introduced last month in the Twin Cities.

The vodka’s launch completes Grossfield’s nine-year odyssey to create a vodka worthy of celebratory moments and heartfelt toasts, one infused with, “the power of good thoughts.”

Aviv 613’s introduction also marks the beginning of Grossfield’s quest to build his brand, which he began developing as a sideline in 2004, into a national and perhaps global name.

Grossfield said two decades as president of promotional marketing agency Johnson Grossfield Inc. prepared him for just such a challenge. He later led a major expansion of crib-liner maker BreathableBaby, taking it from product licenser to full-fledged manufacturer. Grossfield has worked full-time on his vodka venture since August 2012 as CEO of Tzfat Spirits of Israel, the company he founded to import and market Aviv 613.

‘Gigantic opportunity’

“My expertise is carving out more market share in crowded categories,” said Grossfield, noting that vodka accounts for a third of the U.S. spirits market, generating more than $5 ­billion in sales, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. “What I love most is a huge category with lots of brands because 99 percent of them are mediocrity. To me that’s just a gigantic opportunity … if you can create something truly unique that consumers can connect to.”

Grossfield believes he has done just that with Aviv 613, infusing every element of the product with spiritual significance. Aviv 613, for example, is distilled from wheat, barley, olives, figs, dates, grapes and pomegranates, the biblical Seven Species. The water comes from the lake known as the Sea of Galilee, the world’s lowest freshwater source. The tapered triangular bottle, inscribed with dozens of ­empowering messages and symbols, represents “the journey to perfect one’s character. Each bottle is produced with a bit of sand from the Holy Land.

Grossfield spent three years developing the recipe with Israeli distiller Yossi Gold, a partner in the business and descendant of a family of Russian vodkamakers who fled to Israel in the late 1700s.

Also offering input was the late Ed Phillips, a family friend and the former Phillips Distilling Co. president credited with creating the U.S. luxury vodka market when he licensed the Belvedere brand in the 1990s.

In the Twin Cities, Aviv 613 is available in more than 200 liquor stores and approved for placement in more than 50 restaurants, according to Grossfield. He sold 690 six-bottle cases in his first four weeks, doubling projections.

Grossfield plans 2014 launches in Florida, New York, California, Las Vegas and Chicago. “We are projecting 9,000 six-pack cases sold in our first 12 months following our launch in November 2013,” Grossfield said. At a retail price of roughly $30 a bottle, sales could top $1.6 million in 2014.

“Sales of Aviv at our wines and spirits shops have been well beyond expectations,” said Bill Belkin, Lunds and Byerly’s wines and spirits ­manager. “We have received calls from people all over the country wanting to purchase this vodka.”

Grossfield raised $1.3 million from investors, including Bill Cornelius, who worked in product management at General Mills, was a University of Florida business professor and now is president of Subway Development Corp. in Minneapolis, which has developed more than 300 Subway ­restaurants.

“He easily matches the quality of the top-tier vodka,” Cornelius said. “You don’t have to have a very large percentage of the market to have a profitable company.”

John Wolf, owner of the Liquor Boy retail warehouse in St. Louis Park, said Grossfield likely will face a challenge in communicating the Aviv 613 story outside the Twin Cities. “It’s kind of a safe start for him,” Wolf said. “How does this translate into other markets? I don’t know.”

The expert says: Cornelius, the Subway restaurant developer and Aviv 613 investor, said he believes Grossfield’s extensive market research will help mitigate the risks he faces.

“He’s done a lot of research on what people want, how they react to the packaging, to the positioning with the spirituality and the good karma, if you will,’’ Cornelius said. “He likes to build things and he likes to do it the right way.”

 

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com

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