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Interview, Part 2: Max L. Shapira, Heaven Hill Brands

July 28, 2015

Over the past two decades, Heaven Hill Brands has undergone major expansion and diversification, moving beyond its traditional Bourbon roots to develop a diversified portfolio that covers virtually every major spirits category. In Part 2 of this SND interview, Heaven Hill president Max Shapira discusses trends in the portfolio beyond American whiskies.

SND: Flavored vodkas have cooled considerably, but Burnett’s is still robust, posting 11% growth last year. How have you done that?

Shapira: Burnett’s is primarily an off-premise brand, with great packaging and flavor palette, but we never went to the outer edge of the flavor envelope. We didn’t participate in the confectionary side, for example, with one tiny exception—a Sugar Cookie product that was quickly discontinued. So we experienced no flavor withdrawal, and that was important.

SND: What’s your take on the flavored whisk(e)y phenomenon, after its remarkable five-year run?

Shapira: Flavors have been a tremendous add-on, but whiskey isn’t vodka. Only certain flavors marry well with whiskies, and that will limit things. But the existing products are well-positioned for continued growth.

SND: In Tequila, what new initiatives and prospects for growth do you see for Lunazul, also for Two Fingers and Arandas?

Shapira: We have a wonderful joint venture with Francisco Beckmann through Tierra de Agaves, and we’ve now built Lunazul to more than 100,000 cases. Obviously 100%-agave Tequilas are performing very well, and Lunazul participates in the sweet part of that segment. We recently redeveloped the packaging, and we’re preparing to produce a double barrel version. So there’s a lot going on.

SND: What are the key trends within Heaven Hill’s rum portfolio, which includes Blackheart, Admiral Nelson and Whaler’s, as well as Agua Luca cachaça?

Shapira: We’ve attacked the category primarily with Admiral Nelson, the market’s number-two spiced rum, which we acquired about three years ago. It’s squarely in the off-premise. We’ve upgraded the packaging, and the brand continues to respond. We’re also introducing a black rum under the Admiral Nelson banner called Black Patch. Blackheart, which plays in the higher-proof spiced rum category, was introduced several years ago and continues to do quite well. We’re (promotionally) involved in a mixed martial arts sport called Bellator, which is televised.

SND: How are the portfolio’s cordials and liqueurs brands faring?

Shapira: We have Pama, the industry’s go-to pomegranate liqueur, as well as Hpnotiq, the leading fruit-flavored fusion brand. Last year we acquired Domaine De Canton ginger-flavored liqueur. All three get a lot of on-premise focus because they’re highly versatile in cocktails—particularly Domaine De Canton, which marries very well with American whiskey. We have a drink called the Goldrush, a mix of Elijah Craig and Domaine De Canton, that we’re promoting around the country.


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