in the Mix sat down with the high-energy, analytically-minded, and goal-driven CEO, Americas of Russian Standard Vodka, Leonid Yangarber, for a classic Take 5. In his role as CEO, the Russian native is responsible for achieving the company’s mission within the U.S., Canada and Latin America, ensuring the continued success and profitability of this premiere brand. Since taking on this role in 2008, Leonid has overseen the brand’s aggressive expansion within key markets; including double-digit growth in the United States and a record-breaking launch in Canada.
itM: Welcome Leonid! Let’s start with your roots, beginning in Russia. Can you provide us with a little background on Russian Standard Vodka and how you began working for the company in Russia?
LY: I began working for the company’s founder, Roustam Tariko, in 1992 at Roust Inc., when it was the largest spirits importing company in Russia. Roustam’s passion was to create his own consumer brand that celebrated Russia. So, in 1998 he launched Russian Standard Vodka, the first domestic premium vodka brand in Russia. Two years after the launch, sales of Russian Standard Vodka surpassed all imported premium vodkas in the Russian market, leading to broad international expansion and the launch of Russian Standard Platinum in 2001, IMPERIA Vodka in 2004, and Russian Standard Gold in 2008. I came to the U.S. in 2008, as CEO of the Americas for Russian Standard, when the company established its own operating company.
LY: The barrier of entry internationally is extremely high; however, success may be realized much easier than in the U.S. I believe the U.S. market is easier to enter versus others but the real challenge lies in the ability to follow-through on execution and truly penetrate the market to become a real player.
The 3-tier system can also be challenging. It forces us to be creative and find ways to touch the end consumers in an impactful way. Also very critical in the U.S. is the importance of fostering industry relationships.
itM: The vodka industry is a very cluttered environment. What would you say has significantly contributed to Russian Standard Vodka’s success?
LY: First, the American consumer is always open to trying new products and second, if you deliver on your promise, they will adopt you into their repertoire and share their findings with friends. For us, connecting in a relevant and authentic way with American consumers and building strong wholesaler partnerships, have greatly helped Russian Standard Vodka to succeed in this market. We are very proud to share an exceptional product that pays homage to the homeland of vodka and to deliver what we believe is a portfolio of some of the highest-quality vodka available. We are an intriguing brand, with a unique label and heritage that has been adopted by consumers all around the world. Russian Standard Vodka is the real thing–we stay true to ourselves without flavors or marketing gimmicks. We have a passionate team of professionals who are solely focused on this brand and are proud to share Russian Standard Vodka with the world. It is truly vodka as it should be.
itM: As I understand it, Russian Standard Vodka was just featured on the International Wine and Spirits Elite Brands list for the second year running. What other awards are you most proud of?
LY: We have been very fortunate in recent years to be recognized by industry leaders as a powerful, premium brand. What is much more rewarding to me, however, is seeing that more and more consumers are appreciating Russian Standard Vodka as an authentic and high quality brand, and they are becoming loyal consumers. While we very much appreciate these accolades, we do not work to win industry awards. Our real work, and what I am most proud of, is to bring the best of Russia to the world, with Russian Standard Vodka.
itM: Russian Standard Vodka just released a new spirit in the United States, Russian Standard Gold. Can you give us a little more information about this new brand?
LY: Russian Standard Gold is our newest product expansion in the U.S. portfolio. It is made with the same ingredients as Russian Standard Vodka, but includes carefully selected Siberian Golden Roots for a uniquely rich and exceptionally smooth taste. It comes in a gorgeous gift box with an embossed, gold-foiled label, which was designed to express the tradition of Russian generosity and gift-giving. As you know, Russia spans two continents, inspiring us with elements such as ginseng and gold from our Asian connection. We feel that Russian Standard Gold is a true celebration of our two sides brought together as the perfect luxurious gift.