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Anker Amsterdam Spirits shows brilliance through innovation

Since its founding more than 30 years ago, Dutch distributor Anker Amsterdam Spirits is on a mission to be the ‘one-stop supplier’ for premium drinks in Europe.

The Dutch distributor has tripled its staff numbers in 10 years

The corporate world is very fond of quoting an old adage: “Commerce hates noise.” Yet experts and leaders in the spirits industry understand that consumer behaviours – and priorities – are in a constant state of flux; innovation, flexibility and creativity are now fundamental to success.

Indeed, spirits marketing has changed dramatically over the past 15 years, evolving to satisfy modern expectations. Recent innovation examples include better­-for-­you spirits, as well as vodkas infused with botanicals, and the rise of alternative bases – such as rice, grapes and olives.

Thus, in a vastly competitive and dynamic arena, businesses must shape consumer trends, and not just follow them. This mantra continues to guide Anker Amsterdam Spirits, a key player in Holland’s thriving beverage market. Innovation isn’t just an empty slogan in these offices – it’s the overarching philosophy which underpins the company’s long­term strategy. The firm was founded in 1990, quickly developing into a major player at an international level.

However, its initial focus was purchasing and sales, nothing more and nothing less. Cultivating strong relationships with global icons, Anker Amsterdam Spirits was nevertheless a ‘silent partner’ in the nitty-gritty of building brands. According to managing director Remko van der Weijden, the tipping point came when Anker made contact with German gin brand Monkey 47.

After a series of negotiations, the business was selected to act as the exclusive Dutch importer/distributor, transforming an unknown quantity into a sought-­after premium tipple. “For me, that was an eye-opener,” says van der Weijden. “Suddenly all doors opened that had previously remained closed. Then I realised: surely it is much more fun to build a brand with passion than to shuffle full trucks.”

A reputation for success

In 2017, van der Weijden was promoted to managing director: he realigned Anker’s focus to exclusivity contracts and sophisticated brand marketing. As a result, Anker Amsterdam Spirits has developed an impressive reputation for success, catching the attention of the industry’s largest stakeholders. The company’s marketing director, Alexander van Wier, observes that: “Greater levels of trust are being created with big brand owners like Diageo, Moët Hennessy and Bacardi, and as a result they now also grant us special editions, A&P budgets and set up brand activations. This gives us the opportunity to include more and more special products and editions in our portfolio.”

Remko van der Weijden

He continues: “Our offering has thus evolved, which means we now have a much more interesting range for the liquor retailer. A good example is the Johnnie Walker Masters of Flavour 48­-year-­old blended Scotch, the 30­-year­-old Flor de Cãna and a 17­-year­-old Tepextate mezcal from the Nucano brand. This allows us to offer our customers a distinctive portfolio.”

Van Wier describes Anker as a “one­-stop-supplier” for premium drinks. “And even though the wholesaler is no longer always the cheapest, price is still important,” he says. Embracing a truly international outlook, Anker has cultivated a broad client base, including retailers in Malta, Poland, Lithuania and Czech Republic. “In the Netherlands, we are in the top three, but within Europe we are working on reaching this status too,” says van der Weijden. “We get to places others don’t,” adds van Wier.

“It creates opportunities for companies that want to roll out their brand Europe­-wide as well; our goal is to build on brands we have exclusive imports for, such as Mexican mezcal Nucano, Aman Tequila from Narayit Mexico and a delicious single malt Scotch whisky called Broody Hen.”

Building the brand

Of course, different brands are built in different ways. “Depending on which stage of life a brand is in, we use different tools. For a new brand to be launched, you can think of a major European launch for press/influencers and the hospitality industry, followed by a presence at events, at private tastings, in hospitality venues and on social media.” Some of Anker’s recent triumphs include the promotion of Ukiyo, a Japanese gin brand that has caused a stir among bartenders and specialist retailers across Europe; sales of Nicaraguan rum Flor de Caña have also surpassed expectations.

Much of Anker’s success can be attributed to its exemplary sales team. For some businesses, ‘hands on’ is a useful appendage to the marketing pitch. However, Anker is not in the business of promoting empty slogans: bespoke and dedicated brand building is at the heart of the company’s DNA. Fundamental to its core values is supporting a ‘family’ of employees, who in turn are the very backbone of Anker’s global success.

Alexander van Wier

“The liquor retailer is and always has been central to us. Although we also supply to other parties, it is the liquor shop in particular that interests us,” emphasises van der Weijden. Contact with his clients occurs through various channels: “Once a year our brand catalogue is published, but perhaps even more important is the monthly promotional calendar, in which various exclusive brands are highlighted,” he says. “The presentation of a brand is brought to the liquor store in threes: with unique features, perfect serving tips and, of course, the opportunity to taste. Leaflets of these brands are available in store, among other things. And then there is the weekly newsletter as a contact moment.”

Dealing with challenges

Meanwhile the ongoing upheaval caused by Ukraine, logistical challenges and energy inflation keeps everyone at Anker on their toes. With the political, economic, and climatic environment in a capricious mood, distributors have been presented with a unique set of opportunities, and challenges, in 2023. “Britain was always interesting because we could buy at competitive prices there. But Brexit has changed that.

On top of that, all the online developments have made the market a lot more transparent. Prices are converging more,” explains van der Weijden. Nevertheless, he is determined that Anker Amsterdam Spirits will remain at the top of its game. Buoyed by a unified focus and immense talent – with proven results – this close-­knit team has redefined what can be achieved in the world of spirits marketing.

“Ten years ago, Anker had 20 employees: now there are 60 including logistics. So the company continues to develop on all fronts. We are also still working on expanding the wine range,” says van Wier. “The portfolio includes many sparkling wine brands, but relatively few red, white, and rosé wines. We are working hard to improve this and have such a large network that this is also possible. But since wine is a separate business, we want to build carefully and with diligence. Ultimately, our goal is that the liquor retailer, for its entire range, can come to us.”

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