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Exclusive: Jim Clerkin And Jeff Menashe Join Forces To Launch Demeter & Co.

September 8, 2021

Industry veterans Jim Clerkin and Jeff Menashe are launching a new drinks company, Demeter & Co., focused on exploiting untapped growth opportunities across a number of fast-rising categories. Demeter & Co. plans to open a headquarters at Manhattan’s World Trade Center #3 this fall, and is busy assembling a portfolio that will be curated to include “culturally relevant” offerings from categories such as wine, spirits, Champagne, RTDs, low- and no-alcohol products, and cannabis-infused drinks.

Clerkin is among the most accomplished executives in the industry, having served as CEO of the Americas for both Moët Hennessy and Jim Beam. Menashe’s Demeter Advisory Group is a leading California-based investment bank for the drinks industry, which has facilitated numerous high-profile transactions over the years, including Constellation’s purchase of High West and Justin Vineyards’ sale to The Wonderful Company, among many others. Menashe is also an investor in Powerscourt Distillery in Ireland and Arran Distillers in Scotland. The duo met when Clerkin was scouting acquisitions for Moët Hennessy, culminating in the company’s acquisition of Washington’s Woodinville Whiskey in 2017.

“In the early part of Covid, when I was in charge of mergers and acquisitions for Moët Hennessy, there wasn’t a lot going on, but I was getting all these opportunities coming across my desk, and Jeff suggested that I should do something a bit more entrepreneurial,” says Clerkin, who will serve as CEO of the new venture. “We set off together to create this new company called Demeter & Co., and we’re up and running as 50/50 partners. We will launch our first brand in about a month.” That first entry, as yet undisclosed, is among the leading low- and no-alcohol spirits brands in the U.K., says Clerkin.

“I love building brands,” adds Menashe, who will continue to be based on the West Coast, serving as executive chairman. “I’m oriented to the consumer space, having seen that from the perspective of a family business—my father was an owner/operator in the consumer space, and that seeded my early attraction to it. And I’ve spent the last 27 years working with entrepreneurs and founders of many well known wine and spirits brands.”

“Every brand we develop is going to be informed by really deep consumer insights and research,” Clerkin explains. “We have five significant projects right now that we’re working on at various levels in a number of categories. Anywhere we can operate in adult beverage that meets the criteria that we set out—that’s informed by real deep insights from the consumer, that operates in a premium category—we will evaluate very closely, be it still wine, sparkling wine, RTDs, maybe even cannabis-infused.”

“There’s a lot of expertise in the group within brown spirits globally,” Menashe points out, noting that each brand in the lineup will be overseen by its own chief brand officer. “And we’re thinking a lot about modern brown spirits” as another potential target category.

From a distribution perspective, Southern Glazer’s will serve as the anchor for Demeter & Co., amongst a number of other wholesale partners throughout the country, rounded out by a robust e-commerce and DTC presence. “By identifying new products that reflect cultural movements,” said Wayne Chaplin, CEO of Southern Glazer’s, Clerkin and Menashe “will set a new standard for how global brands are built with a 360-consumer lens.”

In addition to the two principals, Demeter & Co.’s leadership team includes notable executives like Beam and Stoli veteran Rudy Costello as head of sales, ex-Moët Hennessy global CFO and COO Jacques Mantz as CFO, former Anheuser-Busch vice president Lana Buchanan as chief brand officer, SGWS alum Stephanie Olmstead as head of e-commerce, former Moët Hennessy exec Richard Hurst as head of strategy, and Laurence Wolfe, previously of Heineken USA, as head of operations. “The team will continue to grow,” says Menashe. “We’ll be adding more brand officers over the coming months for the projects that we see happening in 2022.”—Daniel Marsteller

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