Global Spirits founder & owner Eugen Chernyak at the Shustov Cognac distillery in Odessa

Global Spirits founder & owner Eugen Chernyak at the Shustov Cognac distillery in Odessa

Last month, just-drinks was a guest of Ukrainian drinks group Global Spirits. The tour took in the company's Cognac distillery, Shustov, in Odessa as well as the Khortytsa vodka facility in Zaporizhia.

Global Spirits is a sizeable operator. The Shustov distillery hosts 16 stills, and is capable of producing 30m litres of eaux de vie per distilling season (October - April). Meanwhile in 2016, the company reported a near-3% lift in Khortytsa vodka volumes, coming in at 7.5m nine-litre cases.

just-drinks sat down with Global Spirits' founder & owner, Eugen Chernyak, to talk about his firm's US ambitions, the ongoing battle to preserve Ukrainian 'Cognac' and the importance of quality.

j-d: Where do you see Global Spirits in the global spirits category today?

Eugen Chernyak: We've had great growth. Compared with key players, we started quite late on the global market. But, I believe we have a unique advantage. Our spirits have a unique quality. The net cost of our products are very high, but our marketing highlights the quality. Our path is long, but we will certainly reach our goal.

We try to put soul into our enterprise

In addition to the state-of-the-art technology that we have, we also try - and this isn't a business term, but still - to put soul into our enterprise. We live it, we breath it, and we dream that all consumers who have our products will feel that love.

j-d: The Khortytsa vodka brand is exported to 87 markets. Which one is the most exciting at the moment?

EC: It's the US. What's important to understand is that we have next to no marketing in our export markets. For example, you won't see us anywhere - not in print, in digital, nor on TV. We put our investment into the quality of our product. This is our strategy. I hope to have enough time to communicate to consumers that we have the world's highest-quality vodka. All our blind tastings prove it.

j-d: In the US, brands like Absolut and Skyy have been struggling for growth. Is this an opportunity for you?

EC: The key focus for our business is quality. When I started this facility 12 years ago, no-one believed that I was [consistently] focused on the quality of our vodka. They were all saying: "It's marketing, it's billboard, it's TV, it's some celebrity drinking Khortytsa." This is one way to succeed, but this is all secondary. I still keep up with the same principle.

I could have done it much faster. But, I took the long path that will definitely bring me to my dream.

We will maintain the highest quality, always, and we will give consumers time to understand that

It is the same story in the US. We came to the market - we did not announce our arrival with US$40m. We said: "Try us, you will definitely return after trying us just once." We will maintain the highest quality, always, and we will give consumers time to understand that.

j-d: Do you have a target for case sales in the US?

EC: We are under the radar in the US. But, we have grown – in less than two years, we reached 130,000 cases for Khortytsa Vodka and Leaf Organic Vodka. When our company first launched in 2013, initial per-year sales were 10,000 cases.

We follow the example of Tito's Handmade Vodka - Tito's has come a long way and was limited in terms of money. Our major task, however simple it may sound, is to reach every consumer personally and ask them to try our product. We are certain that once a consumer has tried our product, they will definitely return to us.

j-d: What percentage of Global Spirits' business comes from your vodka operations?

EC: Around 80% comes from our vodka portfolio, with the remaining 20% made up from brandy, wine, gin and other spirits.

j-d: How do you think consumers in the US differ from those in Ukraine? How do your strategies differ between the two?

EC: Our strategies do not differ at all. The strategy I started to implement here 12 years ago turned out to be perfectly tuned for the US market - even more than for Ukraine. When I was travelling, I searched for a consumer who would praise the quality. The US consumer is the most rational in terms of making choices. If these rational consumers, even through advertising, try a product once and they don't like it, they will not try it again.

j-d: Your Shustov distillery was granted the right to use the term 'Cognac' for its brandy, following a tasting at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900. However, the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, which started last year, gives you only ten more years to use the term. Will you fight the ruling?

EC: We will not just fight, we will fight until we win. Shustov was the first ever brandy from outside France to be allowed to be called 'Cognac'. This is history.

We are not politicians, we understand nothing in politics, but we understand production. We believe that our Cognac is Cognac. This is why we will cancel this political decision with the quality of our product.

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