October 12, 2012 | 10:04am
For more than a decade, Orlando-based Van Gogh Vodka has been considered a pioneer in the world of flavored spirits. Whether you're a vodka and cranberry lover, screwdriver kind of guy, or just plain dirty (martini, that is), Van Gogh is officially South Florida's vodka -- especially at any one of our Blue Martini
locations, where it is the flavored vodka of choice.
Clean Plate Charlie had a chance to speak with Boynton Beach resident Norman Bonchick, chairman and CEO for Van Gogh vodka.
He gave us the story behind new flavors like PB&J, and how he feels about helping to support LGBT rights with Cyndi Lauper.
Clean Plate Charlie: Tell us how you came to Florida, and how you became CEO of Florida-based Van Gogh Vodka?
Norman Bonchick: I came to Florida nearly 20 years ago, and have been a Boynton Beach resident since the mid 80s. Before I was elected as chairman and CEO of Van Gogh, I was the director of the National Distributing Company of South Florida, based in Deerfield Beach, for 18 years.
What's the story behind Van Gogh vodka?
Van Gogh the company was launched in 1999 as a gin, then in 2000 as vodka, with our first flavors being orange and citron. Van Gogh name is -- of course -- after the famous Dutch artist of all those colorful and important paitings, Vincent Van Gogh. [Our Master Distiller Tim Vos] says that, because we are the creators of Dutch vodkas with an equally broad palette of tastes and colors, it's a name that makes sense for [our company].
What does a day in the life of Van Gogh's CEO entail?
A lot of travel. [At the time of this interview] Right now I am on my way to New York City, where I'll be visiting our Tri-State area accounts. I spend close to half the year doing similar trips all over the country, and sometimes overseas. We need to be in front of our distributor partners, as well as working in their markets, so we can understand their challenges and form stronger constructive relationships. The most important skill I have is that I'm a good communicator and a good listener.
How many flavors of Van Gogh vodka are there currently?
We currently have 22 flavors, with the addition of our most recent release, Van Gogh PB&J. Last fall, we introduced two new flavored vodkas, our Rich Dark Chocolate and Cool Peach.
What's your favorite flavor right now?
I'd have to say the Cool Peach. According to [Van Gogh Master Distiller Tim Vos], we were receiving a large number of requests for a peach flavor every year, but we felt it vital to get the flavor just right. While working with peach, we realized that the addition of a small amount of mint added a refreshing zing that we thought really enhanced the overall flavor. I use it to make my own variation of the Arnold Palmer. I use it in place of regular vodka, and have dubbed it the "Peach Palmer." It's a really refreshing drink, especially on a hot Florida afternoon.
There must be a lot of market research that goes into choosing a new flavor...
There is a huge amount of work that goes into launching a new product. For example, did you know that -- here in the U.S. -- more adults consume peanut butter and jelly than children? That was part of the reason we decided to make the first peanut butter and jelly flavored vodka. And we decided to create [Rich Dark Chocolate] after observing a trend where consumers were [migrating away from soft, easy beverages to bold and strong drinks with an edge]. Our chocolate vodka has a lot flavor -- cocoa, chili pepper, coffee, caramel -- for a really delicious drink.
[Van Gogh was the first brand to introduce chocolate vodka to the market in 2002 with its Dutch Chocolate vodka. By comparison, their newest chocolate-inspired vodka, Rich Dark Chocolate, contains double the amount of cocoa.]
Speaking of flavors, which one is the most popular here in South Florida?
Without a doubt, our double expresso vodka is the most popular nationwide. Florida, however, is our strongest market in the country.
What's the best part about working with Van Gogh vodka, for you?
I get to do a lot of charity work. One of Van Gogh's recent fundraisers included its second Cocktails Without Prejudice Program, in partnership with the Give A Damn campaign. During the month of August, about 40 participating bars and clubs across the country donated a portion of proceeds from the sale of cocktails made with Van Gogh vodkas to help to raise money to benefit Cyndi Lauper's non-profit, the True Colors Fund. [The campaign was launched] to inspire straight people to 'give a damn' about LGBT equality, [which] remains an important right of our time, and [Van Gogh] is proud to be a part of such a great cause.