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Exclusive: After U.S. Growth Year, Stoli Promotes Cullins To CEO, Esposito To Chairman Of Stoli USA

February 20, 2015

Coming off a strong year for Stolichnaya vodka in the U.S. market, Stoli Group says it will now aim to consolidate those gains while also expanding its footprint through acquisitions.

With those goals in mind, the Luxembourg-based group has also restructured its management. Robert Cullins is the new chief executive officer at Stoli Group, moving from his previous role of global commercial director at Stoli Group’s parent company, SPI Group. Val Mendeleev, who had been serving in dual CEO roles at Stoli Group and SPI Group, remains the parent company’s CEO.

At U.S. subsidiary Stoli Group USA, meanwhile, John Esposito has been promoted to chairman, moving up from his previous role as president. Esposito also has been named to the Stoli Group board. He will continue to focus on business development, as well as agency and brand acquisitions in spirits.

Esposito was tapped to run Stoli Group USA in early 2013, following the Stolichnaya brand’s departure from the agency portfolio of William Grant & Sons USA. His task was to build a U.S. operation from the ground up, and the new company launched in January 2014. At the time, the Stolichnaya brand was mired in a long-term slump, having seen its volume decline from 2.2 million cases in 2007 to 1.5 million cases in 2013. Esposito quickly began making moves to reposition the brand by playing up Stoli’s heritage and authenticity, phasing out some flavors and aggressively pursuing a premiumization strategy. Those moves resulted in a 6% gain for Stolichnaya in the U.S. market last year to 1.6 million cases, according to Impact Databank.

Last year Stoli Group USA also embarked on an ambitious program to reconnect with bartenders, called “Start With Stoli.” That initiative is supported by a website that highlights cocktail recipes and selected bartenders, and offers various other mixology and trend information. In the fall of 2014, Stoli Group USA also kicked off its “THE Vodka” ad campaign, focused on brand authenticity. That campaign is set to run through 2015.

“Now that the Stoli and elit brands are on track, we will focus on adding appropriate premium brands to our portfolio, either in an agency relationship or a partnership, in addition to acquiring brands that fit our needs,” Esposito told SND.

In addition to owning Stoli Group, whose portfolio includes the Stolichnaya, elit by Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya vodka brands, SPI is also active in wine, agriculture, retailing, real estate and other sectors. The wine division owns Argentine winery Achaval Ferrer and has a stake in Tenute di Toscana S.r.l., a grouping of three estates—Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Castelgiocondo and Luce della Vite—that are controlled by Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi in partnership with MIP (the Michael Mondavi family). Among other investments, SPI also owns Amber Beverage Group, which has spirits and wine production, bottling, marketing, distribution and retailing operations across the Baltic markets.

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