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Ketel one vodka has helped fuel the surging popularity of premium and superpremium spirits brands, which have been driving category sales in the past few years.

It has achieved this success without traditional marketing support, save events like tastings and a PR effort from Paige Poulos Communications, Berkeley, Calif.

The brand's success is largely due to the one-on-one marketing effort of Carl Nolet Jr.

His grandfather, Paul Nolet, introduced the brand to the U.S. early in the 20th century by opening a Baltimore distillery, but it was shut down by Prohibition. Six decades passed before the brand returned.

"We sold it a bottle at a time," says Mr. Nolet, exec VP for Nolet Spirits USA, recounting the hours he spent wearing out shoe leather touting Ketel One to key accounts in New York and other major markets.

Once he convinced bartenders, he relied chiefly on word-of-mouth for the brand's popularity to increase. He also offered promotional materials, including recipes for martinis.

Sales hit 310,000 cases in 1997, up 55% from the year-earlier period and up 72.9% since 1994, according to Impact, a beverage marketing newsletter. It also has paved the way for the popularity of other superpremium vodka, such as Millennium Import Co.'s Belvedere.

Advertising may be necessary down the road, but for now the best way to build the brand is to appeal to sophisticated consumers with tastings and other events that highlight the brand's heritage, Mr. Nolet says.

Mr. Nolet's father is chairman of the Nolet Distillery in Holland. The distillery has been run by the Nolet family for three centuries.

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