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Van Gogh Imports: Bringing Luxury Tastes to the States
Luctor International has been sourcing and importing the world’s highest quality premium spirits since the 1980s. Named after the region in Holland where the company’s founder was born, Orlando, Fla.-based Luctor Inc. has established a diverse portfolio over the past several decades, including Dutch beers and the initial introduction to the United States market of Ketel One Vodka. In 1999 the company incorporated Van Gogh gin into its fold, followed soon after by Van Gogh Vodkas, and these products quickly became the core of the company’s operations.
Ten years later the company shifted its identity to better represent this primary line of products and Luctor International now does business as Van Gogh Imports (VGI). “We are really a niche spirits importer and our flagship product is the Van Gogh line of vodka and gin, which we import from Holland,” explains Jonathan Bleiberg, president and COO. “We also maintain a portfolio of rum brands from Central America, a premium liquor from France and another from Italy.”
Concentrating on a select number of innovative spirits allows the company to establish itself in the marketplace through more cost-effective means. “What sets our company apart from some of the multi-national importers is that we deal only in premium spirits, and every single one of the brands we represent is a distillery with both history and heritage,” asserts Bleiberg. The Van Gogh line, for example, is handcrafted and distilled in small batches at the Royal Dirkzwager Distilleries, which received a coveted Royal Appointment by Queen Beatrix in 2004 for more than 125 years of consistent excellence and reliable quality. The distillery, located in Schiedam, Holland, has been family-owned since its establishment in 1879.
With its brand and corporate identities merged, VGI has continued to strengthen the market presence of the Van Gogh portfolio of nearly two-dozen flavored and unflavored vodkas and gin – and it’s done it in a way that consumers can certainly appreciate.
“Our brands are built on grassroots public relations platforms. We like to say that we go to market by getting the product down people’s throats,” jokes Bleiberg. “We don’t really advertise en masse, partially because we don’t have the same resources as some of the larger importers, but also because many of the brands we represent can be best promoted through strategic public relations initiatives combined with an aggressive social media campaign. Our business is based on getting the product into the hands of consumers through more tangible approaches, so we do a lot of trade shows, special events, and work with the media as much as possible to obtain third-party endorsements.”
In recent years, the company has continued to expand the Van Gogh line, despite the economy, introducing new flavors and a premium triple wheat blended vodka. “Like many other businesses who deal in premium products, we have felt the effect of the recession, so we have worked very hard to find a balance within the portfolio of products we offer,” explains Bleiberg. “We recently introduced Rich Dark Chocolate and Cool Peach flavored vodkas, which have helped us to stay competitive in the flavored vodka market.
“Some of the other companies have dealt with the slow economy by following the consumer’s trade-down through price repositioning, but we’re not looking to get into that market at the moment,” continues Bleiberg. “We may be best known for our flavored vodka portfolio, but we also launched a premium unflavored extension of the Van Gogh line, our Blue Triple Wheat vodka.” The Triple Wheat vodka is produced using a blend of wheat from Holland, France and Germany. The result is a well-balanced spirit that features a purity of taste and a clean, polished finish that many premium vodkas strive for but fail to attain.
In addition, the company has extended the other lines of products this year in an effort to generate more brand-loyal customers. “In our rum portfolio we introduced a $130 bottle of aged rum from Ron Abuelo called Centuria,” says Bleiberg. “This is a limited edition bottling of 30-year-old blended rum that was released to celebrate the distillery’s 100th anniversary. It’s an extension of the Ron Abuelo line we already offer, but it’s an outstanding product that we had to take a chance on. We like to find growth by identifying and isolating a hole in the market and then filling it, for example, aged rums currently have a lot of potential. All of our profits get reinvested into the company to build upon our existing portfolio.”
Diversifying into New Markets
In the coming years, VGI plans to steadily increase its portfolio of spirits and grow the Van Gogh brand identity beyond its foundation in flavored vodkas. “We have been very active in the flavored vodka market, but the problem with that is that most of the vodka sold is simple, unflavored, 80-proof vodka. Our Van Gogh Blue Triple Wheat vodka addresses that sector of the market,” explains Bleiberg.
“Right now it also seems like an important piece of the puzzle involves truly embracing the mixology culture. Bartenders aren’t just bartenders anymore; at times they’re almost scientists,” reflects Bleiberg. “As a premium brand we have to show our customers that the best quality cocktails are mixed up from superior products like Van Gogh, whether it be our flavored or unflavored vodkas.”
Instead of pursuing product lines at a lesser price point, the company’s growth is centered on diversification and increasing customer loyalty.
“We’re also looking to expand into importing a whiskey, which would be a totally different market for us and has the potential for being a very consistent product. Whiskey tends to gain loyalty from customers in a way that the clear spirits like gin and vodka often can’t. A Dewar’s man isn’t just going to switch over to Jim Beam all of a sudden,” laughs Bleiberg.
Much the way the Van Gogh spirits have succeeded in sourcing all the right raw materials, fine-tuning the recipes, and attaining a perfect balance of flavor, aroma and texture, VGI will look for the perfect components to complement its already outstanding line. “Instead of importing products of a lesser quality, we’re focusing our efforts on maintaining the customer base we have and adding products to our portfolio that will attract new ones over the long-term,” says Bleiberg. “I think our vodka line will see some single-digit growth in the next couple of years, but our other products will grow more aggressively, especially as we expand into new markets and the economy begins recovering.”
This optimistic outlook and strategic approach to expansion are sure to create a diversified portfolio of spirits to carry Van Gogh Imports through any economy or trend.