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Nemiroff update: six months of war

Six months since war broke out in Ukraine, The Spirits Business spoke with the CEO of Nemiroff to find out how the company is operating through the conflict.

Optimistic outlook: Nemiroff CEO Yuriy Sorochynskiy

“The initial shock of war when it started on 24 February [2022] for us was a huge disaster,” Yuriy Sorochynskiy, CEO of Ukrainian vodka brand Nemiroff, recalls. “But after that, within a couple of weeks, we managed to restore our mood, our strength. From the first day, I was caring about my people, where they are, are they in safe places, are their relatives safe, everything. When we realised all of our employees more or less were in safe places, it was good to know our people were safe, and to try and move forward through the struggle, and to do something.”

During the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Nemiroff was forced to temporarily close its distillery in Nemyriv, in the Vinnytsia region of Ukraine. The uncertainty of the war, combined with members of staff who had to leave Ukraine, and others who volunteered with the Ukraine army, meant production had to be paused.

The Ukrainian government enforced Prohibition-style laws for selling alcohol in Ukraine, essentially closing the local market. Thankfully, strong international markets meant there was demand for Nemiroff vodka outside of the brand’s homeland, but getting stock there has been far from easy.

“Ukrainian sea ports were fully blocked; we deliver to some partners by sea containers, some by trucks,” Sorochynskiy explains. “At the end of March, we loaded a couple of trucks with our products, and crossed our fingers when these trucks were driving to the west border of Ukraine. Normally, before the war, this was a 10-hour or 12-hour drive, depending on traffic. But at the end of March it was five or six days. These couple of trucks finally crossed the border, and we restarted delivering stock to our international partners from April.”

Distillery restarts vodka production

The distillery quietly restarted production at the beginning of April, “but for safety and security reasons, we did not say about the restarting too publicly”, Sorochynskiy explains. “Prohibition laws started to partially change, and in some territories not under attack, the government decided to reopen sales of alcohol and we started to supply our partners [in Ukraine].”

By and large, Sorochynskiy says Nemiroff is “working in normal ways”. The distillery is running as usual, and the company’s head office in Kyiv is open to employees “if they want to come to the office, and if it is safe to do so”, Sorochynskiy adds.

Internationally, demand for Ukrainian vodka has soared, Sorochynskiy says. This week, 10 containers of Nemiroff bottles – between 15,000 and 20,000 cases – will arrive in the US at the New Jersey port. The war combined with the global logistical challenges mean that the usual 30- to 35-day shipment has taken three months to arrive in the States.

“The roads are very problematic right now in Ukraine; the cost of delivery has increased significantly, but in any case, we managed,” he says. “Right now, worldwide, there is a huge increase of interest in Ukrainian products and vodka in particular. We are more or less achieving our regular monthly volume of production.”

Sorochynskiy says the lessons the company learned during pandemic-induced lockdowns have helped Nemiroff restart working during the war. During the interview, the CEO says he is in the office but it is almost empty because a lot of people are working remotely.

Safety is of utmost importance, and Sorochynskiy and his team have put multiple safety rules in place to ensure employees remain safe. Air alarms are unpredictable, he explains. Sometimes there will be several days without them sounding, while other times the sirens pierce the air three, four or five times throughout a 24-hour period. In those instances, it’s tools down and everyone seeks shelter at the nearest opportunity.

“Sometimes the alarm might be for one hour, one hour and a half, or it might be 15 minutes. It’s war and nobody can say what Putin [will do] or what missiles there will be,” Sorochynskiy says. He says Nemiroff’s location in the west of the country is an unoccupied area, but some of the company’s main suppliers are in occupied locations.

Thankfully, Sorochynskiy says, the challenges in sourcing and transporting raw materials at the start of the war have been overcome. Delivery delays are expected, but he assures Nemiroff has a big enough inventory of raw materials to supply its distributors with the stock they need. It’s welcome news for the brand, which sources its raw materials from Ukraine.

New product development

Looking ahead to the next six months, and much of the future for Nemiroff looks uncertain. However, Sorochynskiy retains his ever-optimistic outlook on the future.

“There are two sides to the next six months,” he says. “First, the external environment depends on how the situation will be in Ukraine with war, how long and when it will stop; this is one side, which also has a significant impact on us, on the Ukrainian business.

“From the other side, we have all these extra requests from our partners. I see a lot of opportunities. We are working to create the best mood for our employees. When they see that we are working on long-term projects, we have not stopped them, we will continue developing new opportunities for us, all people feel like a big family, part of a big team, working together to have a better future for employees, and a better future for Ukraine.”

New products have also not been ruled out – in fact, Sorochynskiy confirms a new product is in the works. New projects had been started a year ago, but have been postponed due to the turbulent situation in Ukraine. However, the ultra-premium product is scheduled to make its debut during the first quarter of 2023.

“We have to accept that this is the new reality for us in the world and we have to keep in mind the safety procedures to stay healthy, and keep our employees and our families safe and protected,” Sorochynskiy adds. “I am realistically optimistic; we have to be optimistic and positive to guarantee our future.”

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