My Sista’s Business….Chanel Turner
Vodka sales in the U.S. tops 62 million cases and makes up about 35 percent of the spirits market, according to Nielsen. And in 2011, sales of flavored vodka were about $988 million, reports BusinessWire.But as much as people love vodka, there are some who still aren’t won over by the spirit. In fact, drinkers may try to hide the taste by adding juice or flavor to it. That’s what Chanel Turner used to do. She came to the conclusion that there has to be a way to create a cleaner tasting vodka that you can drink on its own. So Turner created one—Fou-Dré Vodka, based in the Maryland/DC area.
While keeping her full-time job as a web developer at the Pentagon she launched Fou-Dré Vodka in 2009. Today, Fou-Dré (pronounced FOO-DRAY) is in more than 30 liquor stores in the US and sells abroad. It comes in a unique bottle — a purple lightening bolt (Fou-Dré is a play on a French term “foudre” meaning “bolt of lightning, love at first sight”) — and nine flavors including Darker The Berry, Sin-Gra, Anti Oxidant and Fou-Dre Sunset.
Turner spoke with MadameNoire by phone about starting her own vodka business.
MadameNoire: How do you juggle a full-time job and a new business?
Chanel Turner: I work full-time Pentagon from 8-to-5 and then head to my office in Upper Marlboro. But my job is pretty flexible. I actually work with a contractor at the Pentagon and they know about my venture and are very supportive and understanding. So that makes it easier.
MN: What led you to the spirits business?
CT: It actually started with a conversation with a friend. We were wondering why there wasn’t a vodka you could drink naked, without any masks. Most people have to mask vodka with fruit flavors just to drink it — to get rid of the bitter taste. So I started researching it and decided to give it a try.
…Plus vodka is one of the most popular spirits worldwide. So it is very lucrative. And unlike other spirits such as brandy and cognac you don’t have an aging process. You don’t have to wait 10 years to sell it. With vodka you can make it today and sell it tomorrow.
MN: What makes yours different?
CT: You have other brands that have fruit flavors of course, but it is syrup that’s added. Very few infuse the flavor like we do. And with the flavor infused you can drink it straight. We have a great distillation process that takes out all the free radicals, which can make it taste bitter. There are some brands that smell like running alcohol. But we have a great smell. And our packaging is also very different.
MN: Why aren’t the majors using the same distillation process?
CT: We found a small-scale distiller in South Carolina who has this unique distillation process, The Terressentia Corporation, and they created the patented TerrePure technology to distill the ultra premium vodka five times. It is an all-natural process. And with the bigger vodka makers it is a matter of quantity over quality. For us, being a small brand, it is quality over quantity. It was a long process to find the right distiller. I started this in 2009 and basically from 2009 until Jan 2013 it was mostly research and development. We started selling in January 2013. Since we are self-funded, we had to take our time.
MN: Self-funded. That is a huge undertaking.
CT: My grandfather left me an inheritance when he died. And I have to say my mother wasn’t too pleased that I was using my savings to start a spirits company at first. But when she saw what I was creating was different, she is now my biggest supporter.
MN: Is it difficult being a woman in the spirits business?
CT: Yes. There are some distributors that don’t want to deal with women. So we know treat each distributor on a case-by-case basis. We sit down and decide how we should approach them — as an American-made vodka, a woman-run company or an African-American woman-run company. There are some distributors that we don’t even tell we are American-made. Sometimes we have to send a male sales rep out instead of a woman. Those are some of the challenges.
MN: You have to be the only African-American woman with a vodka brand…
CT: When I first launched I was. And I think I can hold on to that title for a little longer. I was also the youngest. I was 25 at the time. I’m 30 now. As far as women in spirits in general, there is also Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl.
MN: What are your goals for 2014?
CT: I am focusing on international distribution. The brand is selling better right now internationally. It’s selling great in Singapore so I am going to expand into Asia. It is also selling in Canada. I am in the process of taking it to Johannesburg, South Africa. And of course, I want to expand in the Northeast.
MN: What has been the biggest challenge to expansion?
CT: Finding the right distributor. It takes time and money and since my day job is funding a lot of this, it is a challenge. The spirits business has a lot of rules and regulations, so it is important to stay within the laws.
MN: What do you like about having your own business?
CT: That this venture is inspiring others. We do taste testings at liquor stores and sometimes I join them and tell customers about the journey of Fou-Dré and people are so excited to hear that–that is rewarding. Of course, when we got the first bottle, that was an exciting moment
Posted on March 5, 2014, in My Sista's Business and tagged building a brand, business media, Chanel Turner, entrepreneurship, Fou-Dré Vodka, inspiration, International Branding, My Sista''s Business, spirits, vodka brand, women in business. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.