“Making Real Connections Through Occasions and Shared Experiences”

 

Seth Hillstrom:

How can you make a meaningful connection without a major media buy? ….or any media at all? Alejandro López has been doing a heck of a job doing just with Toma, and we’re lucky to have him here with us today to talk about it.
Questions, ideas, and opinions welcome! And for the in-person version, join us at eBev this fall.
Alex, thanks so much for joining us today!

Thank you so much, Seth. Pleasure to be speaking with you today.

Seth:

Alex, the Bloody Mary is a unique cocktail for many reasons – but one I’d like to look at its close connection to occasions (namely, brunch!). Occasions are a big deal in the alcohol business, and Toma successfully addresses a frequently recurring one. Was this part of the initial strategy, or a happy coincidence? And what inspired you to spend a year of your life developing the perfect Bloody Mary mix?

Alejandro:

Seth, we’re obsessed with brunch and think that it’s synonymous with Bloody Marys. It’s clearly when the cocktail is consumed most. We tend to focus on brunch primarily for its ability to bring family and friends together. Most of our meals these days are rushed. Brunch is the opposite. It’s a time to unwind with your crew and reflect on the week, share stories and indulge in delicious food and cocktails.

The inspiration started with a simple insight. Consumers are constantly in pursuit of the perfect Bloody Mary. I know I was and I came across others that felt the same way, whether it was family and friends or people on social media. They will tell you when they’ve had a bad one and rejoice when they’ve found a delicious one to add to their top 10 list. I wanted to develop a Bloody Mary that was so memorable that consumers would someday ask for it by name at a restaurant.

Seth:

Do you regularly leverage that position (with respect to occasions) in your brand communications? Or is the focus more on what’s in the bottle?

Alejandro:

Brunch culture is an important part of our brand’s DNA, but we can’t just hang our hat there. My goal is to make Toma synonymous with the daytime daypart. A Bloody Mary is the perfect day cocktail, whether your poolside on vacation, playing golf (taking a break before the back nine), tailgating, or simply reading a book on Sunday morning. Relax and indulge, responsibly.

We certainly use this approach more with visual communication, but when we’re talking to consumers or beverage directors, it’s all about what’s inside. The flavor profile is so unique and unconventional, people are usually blown away. We stay true to the flavors of a Bloody Mary – spicy, savory, salty – yet we’ve introduced new ingredients. Toma is made with our own sriracha and chipotle tomatillo sauce which gives the cocktail a peppery, savory and slight smoky flavor. Obviously great with vodka, but the slight smokiness also pairs well with tequila or mezcal to make a delicious Bloody Maria.

In addition to the flavor profile, we’re proud of the fact that Toma is all-natural, preservative-free and vegan. And we’re currently waiting for our gluten-free certification.

Seth:

That’s interesting. Are Bloody Marias popular? What about other spirits?

Alejandro:

Bloody Marias are my personal favorite, especially with a reposado tequila. I would say they’re growing in popularity for two reasons. (1) the tequila category has seen tremendous growth and (2) Mexican restaurant concepts are popping up everywhere, so consumers are exposed to more tequila-inspired cocktails. During brunch, this cocktail is a natural fit. We’re collaborating with tequila brands and beginning to work with Mexican restaurants in NYC to raise awareness around the Bloody Maria.

Gin drinkers really like to make Red Snappers. We recently sponsored the Victory Cup Polo Match on Governors Island where Toma Bloody Marys were served at all the bars. We used the opportunity to serve traditional Bloody Mary samples and Red Snappers with Barr Hill Gin (made with raw honey and juniper) in the VIP Tasting Tent.

Seth:

Going a step further…does the connection to brunch push into trade activities? Given you’re not selling alcohol (so no tied house hurdles) – you could probably do some really cool things with bars/restaurants in encouraging them to make a Toma Bloody Mary Bar a part of the brunch beverage program?

Alejandro:

Yes! We love these types of opportunities. We recently did a Bloody Mary bar at Pelham Country Club and the members loved it. We made the cocktail and let them garnish it however they wished.

We’re also working on custom glassware for a restaurant group in Connecticut. They love the consistency across all their restaurants and we love the added awareness it will create.

Seth:

As an emerging brand, what are your thoughts on media spend? Are you zero paid media or currently making investments? Given the scarcity of resources as you grow, I’m really interested to hear where you’re choosing to fight your battles.

Alejandro:

Zero paid media right now. My background is actually in advertising/media and I used to manage large budgets for Fortune 500 brands. So it’s been a tough transition for me to try and raise awareness without the resources I was used to. We primarily focus on garnering reach through Instagram / Facebook and PR. Events are great too, especially when we can sample and sell product. We are planning to test social/digital media in the near future in a few markets with key points of distribution. These will be places that we plan to transition from the demo support we’ve been providing to digital media / awareness efforts to drive traffic to retail.

Seth:

Finally, with a great product/position, so much passion for what’s in the bottle, and a truly authentic heritage story, it’s clear to many of us that you’re headed in the right direction! Tell us how things are going, and where we can go pick up a bottle of Toma?

Alejandro:

Thank you, Seth. I’m proud of where we are right now. Toma was awarded GOLD by the 2018 SIP Awards a few months ago. We hope the industry will start to take notice.

We’re still small, but we’re growing. We’re up 60% over last year, when we were self-distributing for the most part. We started working with Brescome Barton in CT almost a year ago and things are going well. We have some exciting things in store. In NY, the laws are a bit different, so we decided to partner with beer distributors because they can carry non-alc. Craft Beer Guild NY has been great thus far. They helped us get into Bareburger locations in Westchester. We recently started working with Union Beer in NYC. That’s something I’m super excited about! Our first key account with Union is the American Airlines FLAGSHIP Lounge in JFK Airport. Toma will be served at their Bloody Mary Bar.

We’re also making a push for grocery retail in the NY metro area and working on two new SKUs. We’re currently available in DeCicco & Sons supermarkets in Westchester County. We’re taking lessons from that partnership to help us expand in this space. Stay tuned for announcements regarding new stores. For now, you can check out our locations page on our website (www.drinktoma.com) to find a store or restaurant near you. We also sell Toma on our website and ship across the US.

Seth:

Wow, what an amazing accomplishment! Congratulations! Alex, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. I am certainly a big fan of Bloody Mary’s and can’t wait to try Toma.

Alejandro:

Thank you, Seth! I really appreciate you inviting me and giving me the opportunity to share my story. It was a pleasure speaking with you. We’ll make sure you have a bottle of Toma in your hands before Labor Day Weekend! Cheers!

 

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