Victor Ruiz Lafita, co-founder of Spanish spirits brand VITA, speaks to Business Advice about his plans to break into the British market with a vodka containing a few secrets.
Along with business partner Ramón Cerdeiras Megías, the Madrid-based entrepreneur has high hopes for the brand’s latest drink – a vodka which only needs still or sparkly water to bring its natural citrus flavours to life.
The duo have ambitions to capitalise on demand for low-sugar drinks across Europe, particularly among millennial consumers. With Britain’s vodka market 15 times that of Spain’s, it’s little wonder where attentions are now focused.
Business Advice sat down with Ruiz Lafita to hear about secret formulas, becoming a top-selling brand in Spain and what fellow spirit entrepreneurs need to know about their market.
Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Victor Ruiz Lafita, and I’m the founder of VITA, the world’s first vodka specifically designed to be mixed with water.
We’re targeting healthy, lifestyle-conscious drinkers with our tasty, low-calorie option. Based on natural citruses from the Mediterranean, our triple distilled vodka removes the need for sugary or additive-filled soft drink mixers. And has already made its way into five countries through major distributors.
How long have you been around for?
Well, to bring VITA to life, we spent 18 months searching for the best ingredients, the most dedicated team and most solid infrastructure, to create the world’s first vodka specifically designed to be mixed with still or sparkling water.
We partnered up with a Barcelona distillery with more than 140 years of collective experience, to produce VITA, and launched in Spain. We soon became the top-selling vodka on Amazon Spain, and won several distribution deals.
How do you make money?
Through selling a delicious product that delivers on its promise. Despite the fact 24 per cent of UK drinkers think about their calorie intake when they choosing a drink, we noticed that this sugar-free trend hasn’t really hit the alcoholic beverages market just yet, so we jumped into this gap in the market. Even just a one per cent share of the global vodka market, would bring in the region of more than $400m (£283m).
Following strong positive feedback from both Spanish and Mexican markets, where we signed an exclusive deal with leading Mexican spirits retailer La Europea, VITA has just launched in the UK, where vodka consumption is 15-times higher than in Spain. Drinks 21 will be distributing VITA in the UK, Italy and France. It’s a really exciting time for us.
What makes you different and why should people take notice?
The world is becoming increasingly aware of the health impacts of sugar and has gradually started to look for healthier alternatives both in food and drinks. Millennials are leading this “anti-sugar” trend, prompting the likes of Red Bull, Coca Cola and PepsiCo to target young consumers with new, healthier products. But, despite the market demand, this trend hasn’t reached the alcoholic beverages market, until now.
Our secret formula means that VITA only needs still or fizzy water to bring its natural citrus flavours to life, creating a low-calorie and refreshing vodka drink that offsets dehydration and eliminates the need for sugary mixers.
What was key in terms of getting started?
Getting started isn’t easy, but it can be straightforward. Coming up with a great product that meets a market demand is obviously step one, but then it was a lot of research. Endless market research, getting to know the competition inside and out, studying trends reports; as well as talking to other entrepreneurs and picking the brains of specific market experts and key investors whose experience we could build on.
Then we prepared a business plan, and checked it over and over again to make sure it made sense financially.
Finally, we built up our team of experts that we knew we could rely on; each one of them our reference point for their respective fields. These three things were the building blocks from which we could start looking for investors, and eventually get selling.
What was the key to winning a listing with Spain’s largest retailer?
It was a combination of things. We have a great product, which got us great media coverage. This in turn lead to a great recommendation to the purchasing manager, which (after some great persuading skills) our great team handled perfectly.
What setbacks have you had along the way?
Finding the right investors will always be tricky, and although it’s obviously vital it was actually finding the right team that was hardest to get right, but most worthwhile once we did.
In five years’ time, I will be…
We want to redefine alcohol consumption habits with a low-calorie, zero-sugar alternative that offsets dehydration. We’d like VITA to become the healthier drink option across the world and ultimately, to change the way the world enjoys alcohol.
What one tip would you give to others starting out?
Young entrepreneurs need to have confidence in their ideas. If you put your passion to the test and learn your industry inside out (research!), you’ll eventually start to make an impact, and it will all pay off.
Who are your business heroes and why?
My greatest hero is Elon Musk for obvious reasons, but specifically within the spirits industry, the creator of Bulldog Gin, Anshuman Vohra. He and I have spoken personally, and it’s encouraging that his gin was successful enough to sell to Gruppo Campari for $60m (£42.4m).
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