Just as U.S. drinkers might be surprised to learn baijiu is the world’s top-selling spirit, drinkers in China might raise an eyebrow to news that baijiu brands are being created stateside.
Matt Trusch, who drank his fair share of baijiu over a 15-year stint in Singapore and Shanghai, returned to the United States in 2009 and created the brand byejoe, which offers a trio of products, including infusions with dragon fruit and chili peppers and with peach, pomegranate and passion fruit.
In this first part of a two-part interview, he talks about the “Four P’s” he considered when creating byejoe. The second part, coming in a few days, will cover his target audience, his strategy for tackling the market, and his method of taking base baijiu from China and refining it in the U.S.
On to the Four P’s…
“The first ‘p’ is the proof of the baijiu, usually 50 to 60 percent, which is very high. Baijiu is usually drunk in small cups until someone is on the ground. If it’s not a good baijiu, it could be a very bad night. Our proof is 40 percent for our classic byejoe and 35 percent for the infusions.”
“The second ‘p’ is pungency, the aroma of baijiu. It’s very foreign and almost offensive to many people. That’s true of many of the delicacies that Chinese love. So much of behavior and consumption has to do with aroma.”
“With baijiu there are three key categories: sauce, strong and light. I chose a light baijiu. The aim is to have something that can also be used to mix in drinks, so the more I can make it smooth and light and pleasing, the better.”
“The third ‘p’ is packaging. Because a bottle of baijiu is often 375 ml, it is usually short. The baijiu companies also seem to be competing over who can look most traditional.”
“But what excites me about China is that it is an ultra-modern place. It competes for the tallest buildings, the fastest bullet trains, and so on. We decided to use a bottle that is tall, like a Shanghai skyscraper, and futuristic looking. We also want to represent Chinese pride, so it is tall like a Belvedere bottle, something people will look up to.”
“The name byejoe is also something anyone can pronounce. Brands like Wuliangye and Shuijingfang are very difficult to say, and some consumers will never be able to pronounce them, but byejoe is a very cool name to remember.”
“Finally, the fourth ‘p’ is about getting Western consumers to adopt a new category. It has to be at a price point they find attractive. Charging 100 or 200 dollars [the price of some baijiu sold in the U.S.] for something that is so foreign to them doesn’t work.”
“We chose to price byejoe like a premium vodka brand, like Grey Goose, at USD29.99 in the United States. It’s affordable, people can give it a try.”
More from Matt Trusch to come.