Will Milwaukee Company Transform Vodka Business?
Griffon Vault Vodka is winning fans for convenience and awards for its taste.
Most vodkas come in clear, glass bottles that look the same. They are typically promoted in commercials that portray indoor parties after dark, or a scene of cool people in a festively-lit bar where the bartender is pouring their glasses. The message: Vodka makes everything seem glamorous and you can bring the party anywhere if you have a bottle of the stuff.
But glass bottles can break or tip over, they’re not allowed on beaches, and are too tall to fit into a packed fridge or cooler. So why not vodka in a box?
“There are a thousand great vodka brands,” says Clappier. “So we didn’t want to do another really good vodka, we wanted to do something completely different.” The result: one of the first premium boxed vodkas in America, Griffon Vault Vodka.
Clappier is owner of the design and marketing company ADX Creative, and Hersch in an entrepreneur with 35 years of promotions experience. The two brought on Nayfish, who used to work in vodka manufacturing, to advise them on the taste.
A friend in the wine industry had mentioned that plastic bags (like those used for wine in a bag) are more advanced now and can handle higher alcohol content. The Griffon Brands LLC team saw an opportunity to break into an industry whose packaging ideas were stale and dated back generations.
Griffon Vault Vodka is premium spirits in a bag with an attached spigot, placed inside of a box. This new way of packaging allows for a perfect fit in the freezer, with no glass breakage, keeping the vodka colder longer and with half the weight of a bottle.
Plastic bottles may offer the non-breakable aspect, but can still tip over. And they have an image problem. “The conceived impression of a plastic bottle is that it’s kind of your rail drink, it’s your cheaper vodka,” Clappier says.
This kind of innovation is attractive to a younger crowd, which is the target demographic for Griffon Vault. Through their advanced packaging, the company has been also been able to embrace the growing green ethic. The product uses 91 percent less packaging materials and has a 70 percent smaller carbon footprint because of it. Additionally, 100 percent of both the box and its bag are recyclable.
And inside the unique packaging is an award-winning vodka. Recently, Griffon Vault entered into their first international vodka tasting and received a silver medal. They were also named “best buy; highly recommended.”
The vodka itself is distilled five times, and then filtered. Clappier says this allows for a smooth finish, as well as somewhat of a sweet finish which he thinks is nice for American consumers. The vodka part of the new product was mainly overseen by Nayfish, who wanted to give it a European quality.
“So if you buy it once because it’s kind of a cool, different thing, you’d buy it over and over because you’d like it.” Clappier says.
The team recently got back from Iowa, where they did a roll-out to the campus towns of Iowa City and Ames. Clappier says they are focusing on campus towns because young adults seem to get the concept. They’ve planned such marketing in the next two months by going to lots of tailgating events at campus stadiums.
Just three months after its first boxed vodka was produced, Griffon Vault Vodka has reached statewide distribution in six states: Wisconsin of course, plus Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Nebraska. In Wisconsin alone, 148 stores carry it. Their vodka is actually distilled in Lawrenceburg, Ind., using Griffon’s recipe. The packaging concept is unique and the price — $14 to $15.99 — is intended to appeal to a wide variety of people,
Since they are a young company, Griffon Vault has no budget for advertising; it’s mostly promoted through word of mouth. Clappier says it’s all about talking to people, talking to distributers and doing tastings. If one person tastes it at a liquor store, they go and tell others about it and so on.
“A store [has] hundreds of people selling a new tchotchke every single day,” Clappier explains, “When you actually get in front of somebody and start talking about something completely different, and you see the lightbulb kind of comes on and they give you the shot, that’s pretty inspiring and exciting.”
For example, Griffon Vault was just accepted by Pick N’ Save, where their product will be sold in a few weeks. Typically it takes about a year or so for a new product to be chosen, Clappier says, and they were given a shot after their first meeting.
Probably the biggest challenge that boxed vodka faces is that consumers may at first glance assume the box simply contains a glass bottle of vodka. Since Griffon Vault doesn’t have the money for ads to hammer home the concept of vodka in a box, they try to educate where they can.
The Griffon Vault partners all have day jobs. They hope this will eventually be their future, and that the company will continue to expand. They expect to have distribution in 17-20 states by the end of the year. They also hope to follow this product with a boxed rum and boxed tequila in the next year or so.
Clappier says that he and his partners, besides liking the box idea, just got caught up in the excitement of the current vodka boom. “Everyone wants a vodka brand,” he jokes. “Should I make shoes, or should I make vodka?” Thankfully he didn’t try vodka in a shoe.
Proudly conceived in Milwaukee, Griffon Vault Vodka takes inspiration from the success stories of other Milwaukee-produced beers and liquors, Clappier says: “There’s a history of success out of Wisconsin. We want to be a part of that.”