Latitude Beverage Company
The economic recession of 2009 hit wine lovers hard. Good bottles were not affordable, affordable bottles were not good, and the market was at a standstill – leaving gallons of wine sitting stagnant at wineries across the nation. Kevin Mehra, founder of the Latitude Beverage Company, saw the situation as an entrepreneurial opportunity and ran with it.
Kevin’s 90+ Cellars business model was simple: buy surplus wine from wineries with track record of high ratings, put the 90+ Cellars label on it and sell it for less. Finding wineries willing to comply with his idea was not an easy task, despite the fact wine was spoiling and revenue was being thrown out with the rotting grapes. However, Kevin eventually brought several producers on board who saw the partnership as an advantageous business venture and his vision was on its way to fruition.
Kevin describes 90+ Cellars as a virtual négociant, a French term used to describe a wine merchant who assembles the produce of other growers and winemakers and sells the result under its own name. The unique business model not only benefits consumers who get quality wine at discounted prices, but also provides economic advantages to suppliers that have excess wine.
“Winemakers make a return on cases that could have potentially gone to waste,” explains Kevin. “Rather than discount their wine and erode the value of their brand, wineries we work with are willing to part with it for a reduced price, under one caveat: their names must remain totally anonymous.”
Efficient and effective business
Prior to founding 90+ Cellars with fellow wine enthusiast Brett Vankoski, Kevin had launched two successful brands under the Latitude Beverage company name – a pre-bottled mojito mix and Ku De Ta wines. Since launching in 2009, 90+ Cellars has expanded to include 30 employees and is projected to sell over 240,000 cases in 2014.
“We’re all in this together,” explains Kevin. “Almost all of our employees have options in the company, which makes for an enthusiastic dynamic of passionate employees. As a small, entrepreneurial organization we are able to find ways to work efficiently within a highly regulated industry and compete against large multi-national competition and win.”
Because 90+ Cellars has the ultimate flexibility of filling its bottles with wine from anywhere in the world, it has remained a lucrative business despite improved economic conditions. “The brand was conceived out of timely circumstance,” explains Kevin. “But there are a lot of inefficiencies that tie up wine at its source, other than consumer demand; new vineyard plantings, higher yields, wine makers overleveraging their bands are among a few.”
Exploring new markets
The company has experienced organic growth and expansion from the Boston metropolitan area, where it is based, and now sells in markets throughout New England, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Illinois. In the upcoming years, 90+ Cellars plans to grow strategically throughout the United States, adding one or two states to its roster each year, with Maryland, D.C. and Virginia planned for 2015.
Rather than barreling into the national wine market and potentially losing stakes in its own company or sacrificing quality and service, 90+ Cellars plans to increase revenues by introducing new products. The company has introduced Ironside Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, the first new product launch since 2011, and is also in the process of submitting a few other innovative products to its growing portfolio.
“We want to expand geographically and gain market share, but it is a big risk and very costly,” explains Kevin. “Right now Brett, myself and our employees own a majority of the company and we want to keep it that way.”
So far this approach has earned 90+ Cellars a spot on the list of Market Watch’s Hot Brands for three years in a row. This has landed Latitude Beverage on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in America.
When deciding which markets to enter, the company bases its expansion on several factors, including average income levels, population density and most importantly – the love for a great bottle of wine.
“We go where there is opportunity,” explains Brett. “We look for markets where there are customers who value quality wine, from the enthusiast to the novice.”
In addition to the company’s retail presence, 90+ Cellars’ wines are poured at events where attendees have a chance to taste its varied selections and it also hosts a virtual wine club that ships its members seasonal wines four times per year.
“We’re all about providing the best variety of wines at the best prices, and our wine club gives our members value and a little bit of adventure,” says Brett. “Four times a year members receive a selection of wines to match their taste and budget, plus fun tasting notes and pairing ideas.”
Since its conception, the team behind 90+ Cellars has been dedicated to delivering fine wine at a fraction of the cost of competitors, and thanks to its strong relationships and partnerships, the company has continued to find great tasting wines to fill the glasses of its growing customer base. Although the landscape has changed, Latitude Beverage Company’s mission has not, which is why 90+ Cellars will continue to see growth for years to come.