We met up with Claes Stenmark to interview him about Virtuous Vodka. The organic liquor brand had a campaign, 1 year ago, at FundedByMe and got a good head start with developing and taking the product to production. Now it is on the market, ready for a second round campaign and we want to know more about the brand and the values behind it.
What is Virtuous Vodka and why have you started it?
I do it because the already existing market is basically crap and that there is a business potential to do a better vodka.
What is crap?
A vodka that is flavored with aromas, that is fooling people.
Tell us abut your background, have you worked with liquor before?
The last 10 years I have been working with film, mostly commercials. While I was studying, I worked as a chef, I grew up with food as a big culture in my life. On my mother’s side we have one of the biggest wholesaler in Sweden, so the interest around from food came from birth. It has always been a big part of my life.
I am going to tell a story, when I 5 years old, both my parents were working very hard and they had somewhat bad conscious. They were the first to leave me first at daycare and the last once to pick me up. Since they knew how much I liked food they usually asked; “How was the food today?” a typical answer could be “It was okay but they had forgot the wine in the sauce”
You set the bar by early age I hear! When did you come together with the conclusion of the crappy market and that you had the change it with Virtuous?
I have a Jesus complex, I want to make things better. During these 10 years of working with the restaurant area, the improvement has been really good there. Higher standards, demands of better ingredients of food, so why should I concur with that? I want to concur with people that makes products bad and I have seasoned my own liquor in 15 years and one day I asked myself: “Wait a minute, isn’t this something people might be ready for?”
How is it to work with liquor here in Sweden?
Its a disaster and very bad conditions. Its mostly the big companies that has the benefits and one of the big issue is to get it out on the market here in Sweden. Its much more easier to get it out in Czech Republic, for example. It is a bit difficult but we have succeed!
In how many Systembolag (the swedish alcohol monopoly) do you exists in today?
Last time I checked I think it was in 36 stores. What I really wish for is a Systembolag that want to invest in quality products. Since Systembolaget doesnt really sell, they only store it on their shelves, until someone wants to buy it, it is not really an evolving enviroment for products like liquor.
I can imagine that must be frustrating, how is the distribution abroad?
We do exist abroad, in germany, italy and holland for example, and we are currently talking to different importers the get the product out there. The goal is nothing else but world domination.
Who are you behind the brand? Who are working with it?
It is me and my brother in law that started it. There are also 5-7 more people that puts in their hours to it when they can. We have our own production in Nynäshamn so any extra hands there or serve Virtuous during an event.
How have you come up with all the flavours to the vodka?
Most of them I have done for a while, on my own. New flavours is just ideas and testing a lot.
When did you decide to choose crowdfunding, can you tell about that journey?
Basically, we chose it because it’s very difficult to get out on the Swedish market with an alcohol product, there are so many obstacles, 1: Systembolaget 2: You are not allowed to do marketing for liquor.
We saw crowdfunding as a good way of reaching out to people and the initial idea was to have a party as the final. We met up with Daniel, Arno and Cathrine. They told us then; “Wait, we are launching equity crowdfunding very soon, and we want your campaign on board” Which sounded really cool, because then we would reach both finance and ambassadeurs for the product. Hopefully, that will also make the partners very rich. We have to wait and see. its a part of the world domination.
What more has it given you to do crowdfunding?
I believe in the distribution of ownership. It also provides a larger network of contacts and access to many areas of expertise.
The history of entrepreneurship, what is your background in that?
I dont know what a employed is. I have never had that in my life and I will probably never be that either. As I mentioned earlier, I have done movies and projects and have a desire to do things to improve the world. For me, that doesn’t or can’t include employment.
I have the energy and the wanting to spread a better taste experience. If I also think in the business perspective, it is much more scaleable with a consumer product than a service business. I think it’s more fun to work towards a consumer market than the business market. Be able to load your business with other core values are also more inspiring.
Can you tell us about organic liquor? What defines your vodka as organic?
This means that we use certified organic crops, no use of pesticides that the nature can not handle. Playing with biodiversity is something that is very dangerous. If you use pesticides to remove small insects that destroys it for the birds that are higher up the food chain. I want to contribute and prove that for a few bucks extra, you get a much better product that also tastes better.
Is it hard to produce organic liquor?
It is easier to get conventional food, but I dont see it as a big problem.
What is the biggest challenge now to get people to try your product?
People must know about us if they dont then you wont try our products. We have to tell people also why you want to purchase those extra money for a good product.
We are working with marketing such as facebook, advertising, events and get restaurants to use our product.
Unfortunately, we can not advertise. Beer and wine can it is easier. We want to sell first and foremost on our taste, it’s fake-free and genuine. So far we have produced about 23,000 bottles.
How many bottles do you need to drink to become an expert of liquor?
Not that many, since the market is so bad right now, I would say that you have went through most of them if you have tried a few.