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New Hampshire Sees Big Gains In Spirits Sales Thanks To Rebranding And Modernization

August 2, 2018

After a concerted campaign of rebranding, modernization, and expansion, New Hampshire’s state-run alcohol business is in solid growth mode.Sales hit a record-breaking $684 million in fiscal 2017, and New Hampshire Liquor Commission chairman Joseph Mollica projects that number will reach about $715 million this year.

“Over the past eight years, we’ve grown by $175 million,” says Mollica. “We’ve been able to drive consumers to our stores, and when they see what we offer—the uniqueness of our promotions and product range—it’s easy to maintain growth.”

Since becoming NHLC chairman in 2009, Mollica’s focus has been on improving the branding. The NHLC stores previously were known simply as New Hampshire liquor stores, and Mollica rebranded them as Liquor & Wine Outlets. “Calling them Outlets, and developing an image and logo, made it easier for consumers to understand what we do,” he says. Mollica also embarked on modernizing the NHLC stores, and 30 of the state’s 80 Outlet locations have been renovated in the last six years.

Key to the NHLC’s success is low pricing—a byproduct of the state’s retail monopoly and the absence of an alcohol tax. “Consumers here can buy name-brand products at a fraction of the typical price,” Mollica notes. That ultra-competitive pricing attracts consumers from far and wide. Between 50%-65% of the NHLC’s customers come from out of state, depending on the season. Visitors from neighboring Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont dominate, but consumers also come from well beyond New England.

The average New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet stocks 11,000 SKUs, with an ongoing goal of expanding the selection. The state’s total spirits volume reached 2.42 million 9-liter cases last year, while wine sales were at 3.26 million cases. In wine, Mollica brought in some 250 rosé labels this year, with hard-to-find products being a priority. “We build relationships with small wineries to expose our consumers to products they’ve never seen,” Mollica says.

Merchandising plays a critical role. The NHLC’s “Power Buy” program offers name-brand wines at around half their typical price. The Commission also engages in “One-Time Buys,” securing a mass order of a wine or spirits brand and selling it on a limited basis, also at half-price. “We’ve tried to get away from the stigma of overstocked product or leftover vintages,” Mollica says.

The NHLC also showcases local products with “New Hampshire-Made” sections in every store. “We offer a year-round discount on any wines or spirits made in New Hampshire, and there’s no sales requirement,” says Mollica. “If you make a product in New Hampshire, we’ll put it on the shelf and help you grow your business.” Popular local offerings include Tamworth Distilling’s Chocorua rye whiskey ($55 a 750-ml.) and White Mountain gin ($33).

In Tequila, the NHLC has partnered with Mexican investment group ProMéxico to bring in exclusive, high-end Tequila brands. “We asked ProMéxico to find us the best Tequila they have that’s not available anywhere else in the country,” Mollica says. “They flew up eight of their top distillers. We tasted through their product, had a number of meetings, and then did a major buy.” The Tequila labels include Adictivo ($50-$99), and Torus Real ($53-$89). The initiative has helped create one of the more unique Tequila ranges in retailing.—Julia Higgins

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