SB Interviews… Val Mendeleev, SPI Group

29th May, 2013 by Tom Bruce-Gardyne

SPI chief Val Mendeleev is clearly not short of ambition as he tells Tom Bruce-Gardyne of his plans to hit three million cases in the States

Val Mandeleev SPI Stoli

Val Mendeleev, CEO of SPI Group

When I spoke to Val Mendeleev – the man behind Stolichnaya and chief executive of parent company SPI – he had every reason to be distracted. His company, together with Alfa – Russia’s largest private commercial bank – and the investor Mark Kaufman, were about to up their bid for the ailing Central European Distribution Corp (CEDC), (days later it withdrew its bid).

Not a name that trips off the tongue of your average vodka drinker, but what CEDC lacks in brand recognition, it makes up for in scale. This Polish and Russian-based giant controls a staggering 5.8% of the entire global vodka category, according to the IWSR.

That same day, CEDC had defaulted on its 2013 bonds and was effectively bankrupt. At the time of writing, the story was evolving fast. Suffice to say Val Mendeleev believes SPI could offer “fantastic synergies” to the company’s brands which include Zubrowka, Parliament and Green Mark vodka, given that “SPI products are currently distributed in 167 markets worldwide”. Although he stressed the two companies would be run separately.

Stoli was a powerful export brand long before Mendeleev joined SPI in 2008. Indeed its success in the States dates from the early 1970s when Pepsi broke through the Iron Curtain as the first officially sanctioned foreign brand, in return for importing Stolichnaya back home. In time, distribution passed to Pernod Ricard who gave it up in 2008 for a seductive Swede called Absolut.

Before then “Pernod was basically making all the local decisions and was managing the brand globally,” says Mendeleev who had to build his global sales and marketing team from scratch.

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