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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 1 year ago

Booze bost

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After opening in St. Petersburg in June, Kozuba & Sons Craft Distillery has started to appear in local retailers. Next step for the distillery is to reach restaurants and bars.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

After migrating their family and spirit distillery from Poland to St. Petersburg in 2015, the Kozuba family is starting to see a boost in business.

Because the company officially started the business in Poland in 2005, they're not working out the kinks in distillation like other startups — all they're focused on is market saturation. Kozuba & Sons Craft Distillery, run by a father (Zbigniew “Papa” Kozuba) and his two sons (Matt and Jacob), moved to Florida because it is the No. 2 state in liquor sales, behind New York. Because many of their liquors were moved with them, they have the inventory and equipment in place to go to market quickly.

The family invested around $4 million in building the distillery and inventory, and started distributing through Johnson Brothers of Florida Inc. The family's goal is to reach $10 million in sales by 2020.

Kozuba liquors are now in 10 Publix Super Markets regionally, while they look forward to full chain approval, which only comes around once a year. “We have really strong sales with them,” says company spokesperson Katie Hale. The downtown St. Petersburg Publix carries the company's full line of six spirits.

The liquors are also distributed in six Total Wine & More stores, 12 ABC Fine Wine & Spirit locations, and the Luekens Liquors chain. The company has rolled out to 100 independent liquor stores, stretching from Tarpon Springs to Naples to Orlando.

The biggest challenge has been expanding to bars and restaurants, according to Hale. Kozuba distributes to 50 on-premise accounts. “It's lower than we would like, but it's growing,” Hale says. “That's where you get your exposure.”

Though the company depends on Johnson Brothers for distribution, one day a week two Kozuba staff members ride along with the team to visit accounts. The company is adding two more staff members to assist with these sales because 80% to 90% of the stores, bars and restaurants the company visits on these days place orders.

In 2017, the company hopes to partner with a distributor to roll out to the rest of Florida, including the Panhandle and South Florida. “But we need sales turning over in Tampa Bay before branching out,” Hale says, in addition to support of a larger-scale marketing campaign, expected to begin in the first quarter of 2017.

The company has 300 barrels of liquor in its warehouse, with each barrel holding about 400 bottles.

Hosting tastings in liquor stores has been its best marketing strategy, according to Hale. In a two-hour tasting, they tend to sell at least 10 bottles. It's a good return for their price point, she says. Kozuba spirits range from $29.99 to $49.99 a bottle.

It's also a reason why the Kozubas have been doing five product demos a week in different stores. “What's in the bottle speaks for itself,” Hale says. “That's what the Kozubas can toot their horn about: When people try it, they like it, and they buy it again.”

The distillery is releasing three new yet-to-be-named products in the coming months, a wheated rye, a cranberry juniper gin and another gin. They've tossed around ideas of naming the wheated rye something about the journey from Poland to U.S., a journey that was made by the family and the liquor, which was distilled in Poland and aged in the U.S.

In August, they finished the build-out of a 40-seat tasting room, and expect to start a new paid formal tour in January. The company has also started renting out its facility to special events — filling a gap in the marketplace for a space that fits 200 to 600 people, Hale says. They've already received interest to host a few charity galas and a cocktail competition. Says Hale: “It could be a huge income stream for us.”

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