As a nationally licensed importer, distributor and service provider, MHW Ltd. (MHW) has been delivering a simplified platform for international and domestic wine, beer and spirits entering a complex beverage alcohol system for more than 80 years. “If a new brand wants to get started in the U.S., MHW is the go-to,” ensures John Beaudette, president and CEO of the New York-based firm. “We’ve helped more new brands enter the marketplace over the last 20 years than any other company in the industry, by far.”
MHW has spent decades perfecting back-office practices, such as logistics, operations and regulatory compliance while allowing clients to remain in control of the strategic marketing decisions critical to each individual brand. Transparency, state-of-the-art technology and information reporting, customer service, personnel and ultimately the full confidence of the global beverage alcohol industry are attributes that MHW considers critical to its success today and going forward.
“While we are not the brand owners and the strategic marketing policies are made by our clients, our focus is to help them effectively enter the market and allow us to sell as many cases as possible for them,” explains Beaudette. To do that, MHW must do its best to provide the most efficient and cost-effective distribution model possible.
Effectively navigating a complex market
Based in Manhasset, N.Y., MHW was established in 1934, shortly after the cessation of prohibition. “Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and as a result, the 21st Amendment gave the federal government the right to regulate beverage alcohol and allowed individual states the right to regulate within their borders,” expands Beaudette. “This made for control states and greater complexity at the state level.”
In MHW’s early years, the company was a conglomerate of Pepsi Co., part of a counter trade program with the former Soviet Union. “For some time, Pepsi Co. would send Pepsi concentrate to the Soviet Union to create a marketplace in the U.S. for the counter trade of Stolichnaya (Stoli) Vodka,” recounts Beaudette. “Around 1994, Pepsi sold the rights to Grand Metropolitan and in 1996, MHW created a service model to assist new brands in entering the U.S. market.”
Beaudette says the industry needed a company like MHW to provide this platform. “At the time, there was a lot of consolidation going on in our industry with less and less large importing companies,” he shares.
There was also the potential that brands that were not getting share of mind and attention from large importers might need an alternative approach to the distributor network in the U.S. “We could see a changing landscape in the U.S. beverage alcohol industry and our view of the future included a major proliferation of brands looking to enter the American market,” Beaudette explains. “The advent of the Internet in the mid-90s, and the continuous expansion of social media technology today, continues to shrink our world. Consumers want access to brands they read and hear about, and our goal is to help the producers and brand marketers answer the call.”
Beaudette goes on to explain that the demand today for U.S.-produced craft spirits, beers and boutique wines adds new dimensions and distribution challenges that must be addressed. Throughout the years, the company has been involved in many interesting brands and stories, such as Tequila Avión, Hypnotic and Skinny Girl Margarita, all of which were born with MHW and went on to be sold by the brand owners to major industry players.
In addition to assisting new brands in entering the market, MHW provides back office administration, distribution and consulting services to many of the top global brands across all beverage alcohol categories. “We’ve been very fortunate that most of the top brands that had been handled by large importers and decided to control their own destiny and make a distribution move, looked to MHW for help in that transition,” Beaudette continues.
Today, MHW sells more than 10,000 products, handling brands from just about every country in the world. “We employ 105 individuals with offices in New York, California and Florida and wholesale operations in California, New York and New Jersey,” details Beaudette. “While we work with clients all over the world, many of them are also based in the U.S.”
However, the company looks to take it a step further. “Once our domestic clients are properly licensed by the federal government [TTB] and their individual states, they can outsource their national distribution to MHW,” Beaudette explains.
Beaudette is proud to note that company’s executive team includes seasoned industry veterans, including Scott Saul, MaryAnn Pisani and Hilary Grossman, vice presidents of MHW, as well as Melanie Gbowu, marketing director. “All have been instrumental in helping the company maintain our lead position within the service import and distribution sector,” Beaudette says proudly.
MHW holds federal importers and wholesalers basic permits, allowing the company to import alcohol into any port in the U.S. Additionally, MHW holds out-of-state shippers permits in every market, enabling the company to ship wine, spirits, cider and malt beverages to wholesales in all open states and regulatory agencies in control states.
MHW’s deep understanding of ever-changing compliance and licensing policies for domestic and imported wine, beer and spirits paves the way for clients’ seamless market integration. From worldwide ocean and freight transportation to complete warehousing on the east and west coast, to accounting and financing, information technology and marketing and new business development, MHW offers the full scope in a customized suite of services.
“MHW also has a division called Genesis Beverage Brands [Genesis],” reveals Beaudette. “We have Genesis sales reps on the ground helping to incubate new brands. The same challenges new brands face trying to get an importer holds true when trying to find a distributor in competitive markets, such as New York and New Jersey. Clients put their brand into Genesis and we start by opening accounts; it’s much easier to entice a major wholesaler to take on a brand once you’ve demonstrated distribution and retail acceptance.”
Another way MHW actively engages in the beverage alcohol market is through trade show participation. “We’re highly active at trade shows around the country showcasing the exciting new brands that are entering the market,” he continues.
Recently, MHW had its marketing team exhibiting new products at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers show in Las Vegas, the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (Control States) show in Marco Island, Fla., as well as the National Bar & Restaurant show in Las Vegas.
More curious consumers
With more craft spirits on the rise in recent years, MHW is well positioned for future growth. “There’s been an explosion of new products in the last decade,” says Beaudette, who is also chairman of the National Association of Beverage Importers in Washington, D.C.
“Millenials are quickly becoming the largest market sector and they’re looking for new things,” he continues. “That’s why you see the proliferation of flavors from tequila to vodka, whiskey to craft beer. Today, there are more new products entering the market than ever before.”
And that means big business for MHW. “We’re seeing all kinds of new liquors, cordials, sake, wines and beer – we run the gamut,” adds Beaudette. “A consumer today is not married to the same brand as previous generations. Packaging and social media are also equally important now. People are looking for new brands and are exposed to more. All of these things bode well for us and our model.”
Even after 80 years, there’s no doubt about it, the market is certainly in MHW Ltd.’s favor as the company continues to introduce more beer, wine and spirits into the beverage world than other importer-distributor.