Liz Lister is the director of National Accounts West for Stoli USA. She lives in Park City, Utah with her husband Doug and her two children, Wyatt (11) and Piper (7). Liz enjoys the mountain lifestyle of Park City while not on the trail promoting Stoli USA products. She told me it’s her nirvana.
ITM: Hi, Liz, and thank you for interviewing with us. As you know, we are highlighting women in the business for our winter magazine and you are a perfect example of a dynamic female in today’s liquor business.
LL: Thank you for asking me. It’s my pleasure.
ITM: You have been with Stoli USA for just over a year now. Can you give us a little review of your past experiences?
LL: I started out in the business working for SWS/AWS as a key account manager in San Francisco. A few years later, I moved to the supplier side with Treana and Liberty School Wineries, which is now called Hope Family Wines. There were only two of us in sales and marketing at the winery covering the U.S. and Canada — a lot of miles and lessons learned. In 2007, I left Treana and we relocated to Park City, Utah. I started a local alcohol brokerage business, quickly accruing a very nice wine, beer and spirits portfolio. Two years into my business and the politics of one of the strictest control states in the U.S., I had the wanderlust and opportunity to go to Hong Kong to try and sell American wine and craft beer. I bought a booth at the Hong Kong Wine and Spirits Fair in 2009.
That first trip to Hong Kong changed my professional life. I fell in love with the export business. I learned there were grants available from the USDA to export American agriculture, i.e., wine. I immediately wrote and received a grant for my company. I also learned there was additional support available from WBE (Women’s Business Enterprise) and a WOSB (women-owned small business) program within the national account arena, so I did that too. Six months later, on my second trip to Hong Kong, I met Greg Smith, aka 007 Gallo VP of Asia (now I believe he’s in charge of Brazil and other emerging markets). Greg contracted me and my new partner/dear friend, Sharon McMahon, (ex-Frexinet VP National Accounts) to work on the American chains located in all 19 countries in Asia. For the next few years, we had the time of our lives, learning everything we could, from logistics, distribution challenges, politics surrounding each country, price points and language barriers, to things like what flavor profiles worked in each country. As a global supplier, it is very important to be well versed in that area as our partners continue to expand outside of the United States.
ITM: Even though there have been many more women introduced to the industry in the past 20 years or so, you are still the minority. Is it still the “Good Ol’ Boys Club” or has the playing field leveled out any?
LL: When I was running my own brokerage in Utah, I was the only licensed woman in the state. The same was true when we went into exports.
I think there have been significant positive changes in our industry; however, with this being said, there is a lot of room for growth on the executive level, including outside of our industry, whether it’s within our distributors, national accounts or on the supplier side. Interestingly enough, within Stoli Group we have several female executives, which is refreshing but not reflective of the spirit companies in the U.S. That list includes: Lori Tieszen, CMO; Shelley Turner, California state director; Lisa Tuttle, director of wine for Achaval-Ferrer; Lisa Derman, SVP general counsel; and Maria Lisanti, marketing east director, to name a few. Women need to believe in their abilities and start their own companies because we do have our finger on the pulse of the market. I wish I could live to see the day the spirits business is referred to as a “Good Ol’ Girls Club.”
ITM: What is unique about being a woman in today’s alcoholic beverage business environment?
LL: Women are always up for the challenge, perhaps even more so given the environment. I believe we are our own harshest critics, which make us perfectionists. We are constantly working to perfect our careers and will not stop until we succeed.
ITM: How does it affect your relationships with other females in the business? Is there a bit of a bond there?
LL: Women typically bond for life. We’re social by nature. Most of us are competitive but love to work together. I work with quite a few women on various projects, like Diane Svehlak (Dress The Drink), Kathy Casey (Liquid Kitchen) and Kim Haasarud (Liquid Architecture). I recently worked with Cheryl Burns with Gallo, Deb Tatley with Red Bull and Shawn Love with Boston Beer Company, on an Applebee’s project with Christine Windsor (IMI) and Tracy Redmond (Applebee’s). We tend to take the “all for one” approach.
ITM: What would you say are the advantages to being a woman in the business?
LL: We can multi-task. I know what you’re thinking, but it’s true. Women are just better designed that way. Running a family and household while working full-time and traveling is an art; it all must function like a well-oiled machine or nothing will get done. There is very little room for error. Our turnaround and efficiency is immediate and I believe we really have a finger on the pulse of what is going on today. We have to be not only equal but also better at what we do, to stay competitive with our male counterparts.
ITM: So let’s talk about Stoli a bit. Stoli is an iconic brand, but the new company, Stoli USA, is a start-up in a sense. Can you expand on that for us?
LL: When we say start up, it’s the first time in the history of Stoli in the U.S. that we are our own company. No one looks after their brand better than the people who own it or are dedicated to its success. We have always been an agency brand from Pepsi Importing, Pernod Ricard and most recently William Grant. We now have over 75 dedicated, passionate employees selling and marketing Stoli across the U.S.
ITM: The re-establishment of the brand has many focuses. Let’s talk about the different priorities, starting with the core brand, Stoli Premium. What would you like to emphasize to our audience about the features and benefits of using Stoli Premium in their features?
LL: Stoli is an iconic brand. We are the oldest vodka distillery in the world (not just a pretty label or made up). We are the fourth largest selling brand vodka in the world and we have more awards and medals for great taste and quality than I can count. These are marks that Millennials look for in a brand — quality and authenticity.
ITM: Stoli elit is truly an elite product. What insight can you give us on the best way to stimulate sales of this product?
LL: elit by Stolichnaya is a product that must be sampled. A taste test comparison will make any vodka drinker into a believer and advocate. I personally feel the best way is neat, maybe with a twist, if that’s your preference. It’s dangerously delicious and smooth, not to mention being the highest rated white spirit in the world. elit is produced by our traditional fermentation process and then goes through a secondary freeze filtration, freezing out all impurities. Purity and great taste are easily recognized upon tasting. elit created and owns the ultra-premium luxury vodka category.
ITM: Stoli has always been a pioneer and an originator of flavored vodka. With so many available in the marketplace, you have come up with a Core 4 program. Would you explain the program and who would best benefit from using it?
LL: We focused on what we feel are our best flavors and on those that really fit the market place. We say Core 4 (Blueberi, Razberi, Vanil, Ohranj) to recognize our leading flavors (80 percent of Stoli flavor volume) but add in an optional two. Flavors like Stoli Hot and Peachik have a place, too, depending on the demographic of a chain, the concept and season. Our fruit flavors have all natural fruit extracts, nothing artificial.
ITM: You’re putting a lot of emphasis on your Moscow Mule program, using your proprietary ginger beer — a great program based on a classic drink. Everyone should be using this, right? What is special about the Stoli Ginger Beer and what do you need to get the program rolling?
LL: Stoli Ginger Beer was developed internally by one of the marketing VPs, Mike Oringer. Mike found us after 25 years in the non-alcoholic world with Coca-Cola and with a startup beverage company funded by The Coca-Cola Company. Mike is one of those guys who absolutely loves to work and loves what he does. We taste-tested hundreds of people, took package design to another level and created an all-natural product designed specifically to go with Stoli Premium and our flavors. The cans have two servings and 50 calories per serving; plus, we’re a “green” option compared to most bottled ginger beers. There are lots of ginger beer products in the market but there is absolutely no consistency. Moscow Mules across the country didn’t just vary on taste by the vodka, but also by the ginger beer that was used. Consistency is something all of our customers strive for. No matter where you are, we want a Stoli Moscow Mule, be it flavors or premium, to always taste exactly the same. We are distributed nationally within our distributor network.
ITM: I would be remiss not to mention your representing the Mendoza winery, Achaval-Ferrer, home to some of the great Malbecs of Argentina. What would you like our audience to know about them?
LL: Achaval-Ferrer has one single passion: to craft world class, terroir-driven red wines from Argentina. Achaval-Ferrer produces the most critically acclaimed Malbecs from Mendoza, sourced from old vine, low-yield, single vineyards.
ITM: Thanks, Liz, and the best of luck on all of your products this season.
LL: Thank you, Mike.