N.B. potato vodka distiller launches new product hoping to overcome COVID-19 sales losses

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WATCH: A New Brunswick vodka distiller that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a crack at a new product. Alcohol sales have increased across the board, especially drink coolers and seltzers, and Blue Roof Vodka wants to take advantage of that. Shelley Steeves reports – Mar 10, 2021

According to NB Liquor, alcohol product sales have increased across the board since the start of the pandemic, but none more so than ready-to-drink coolers and seltzers. So, a New Brunswick-based vodka distiller impacted by the pandemic is taking a crack at a new product.

Not long after the pandemic last year, premium vodka sales at Blue Roof Distillers in Malden dropped by 50 per cent, according to company owner Devon Strang.

Read more: New Brunswick family of potato farmers launch vodka made from spuds

“We really sold half of our volume of our sales year over year came from our storefront from designated tourists,” he said.

Their storefront and agri-tourism destination was the meat and potatoes of their business and is located on the main route between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

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“The numbers are somewhere between one million and 1.5 million designated tourists actually travel by our driveway every season heading to Prince Edward Island,” said Strang.

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But when borders were closed and tourism traffic shut down due to travel restrictions, he said their premium vodka sales took a big hit.

“We had half of our volume of our production that we had to figure out what can we do with this alcohol versus layoff some of our full-time staff,” he said.

So they took a shot at hopping on the trendy drink wagon and last week the company launched a ready-to-drink hard vodka seltzer made from their homegrown potato and locally sources juices.

“They are low-carb, meaning one or two grams of sugar in a can,” said Strang.

Thomas Tremblay, a representative from NB Liquor, said in an emailed statement to Global News that “ANBL has seen an increase in sales of coolers and ready to drink beverages this year.”

According to sales figures provided by ANBL, the sale growth of coolers and ready-to-drink beverages has increased almost 43 per cent amid the pandemic. Total sales were 37.8 million from March 2019 to 2020 but increased to $53.9 million from March 2019 to February 2021.

Read more: British Columbians drinking more alcohol during COVID-19 pandemic, study finds

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ANBL does not attribute the increase directly to COVID-19 as “coolers and ready to drink beverages have been increasing in popularity for the better part of the last four years,” said Tremblay.

But Strang believes that people have changed their drinking habits due to the pandemic.

“Pre-COVID, people were doing their regular consumption. Now that COVID has happened, people noticed a big shift in their dynamics of where they are working, if they have a job, if they are laid off, and people moved to larger pack sizes, to more economy prices,” he said.

More people, he said, are also turning to ready-mixed drinks for the convenience factor as well, which he said is unrelated to the pandemic.

Strang hopes sales of his low-carb seltzer will take off and help to make up for lost tourism sales amid the pandemic.

“I think we will be stronger on the backside of COVID once vaccines roll out and we are on the other side and our tourism business is back,” he said.

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