(This is the second part of a two-part interview with Matt Trusch of Houston-based baijiu brand ByeJoe. Read the first part here.)
Matt Trusch first visited in China in 1986 as a high school student and then, after finishing university in the United States, moved to Harbin to join an advanced Chinese program in 1992.
“That’s where I started to consumer baiju. It’s so cold, you had to stay warm!” he said.
Trusch worked in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, and in fields that ranged from banking to real estate to diamonds, before returning home to Houston in 2007 and starting ByeJoe.
“I’d been living in Asia for 15 years, I wondered what I was going to do,” he says. “There weren’t many occasion [in China] that didn’t involve baijiu and I wondered, ‘How is this the most consumed spirit on the planet and no one in the West knows about it?'”
“I looked at what was happening in the West. The bar is like the United Nations, with Scottish whiskey, Japanese sake, Russian vodka and so on. So I made it my mission to bring bajiu to the UN,” he said.
While creating his marketing strategy, he considered “Four ‘P’s” — proof, pungency, packaging and price. (See here for the details.)
Then he began to roll out the ByeJoe, starting the campaign in five markets — California, Texas, New York, Florida and New Jersey — since they have large populations, strong liquor sales and an Asian population that could influence the general market. He says he has since expanded distribution to 15 states, from Rhode Island to Nevada, Illinois to Louisiana.
“People in Mississippi are buying our baijiu,” he says. “Why shouldn’t they? You’ll find Mexican tequila or Russian vodka there, why not Chinese baijiu.”
He’s competing in the category of “super premium spirits“, which he notes has the highest growth. “It’s like a Belvedere, a Grey Goose or a Patron,” he says.
His standard baijiu is 40 percent while the infusions are 35 percent. He’s also used modern packaging, created a character named “Jinjing“, and has a strong focus on social media.
And while baijiu consumers in China tend to be male and over 40 years old, Trusch says one key ByeJoe target is millennials, particularly drinkers aged 21 to 35, and that 55 percent of the buyers are woman.
“Everyone talked to us like we unlocked the secret to selling to Asian millennials,” he say. “Probably they don’t want to drink baijiu at home, because that’s what their grandfather drinks, but with us they’re interested. It not just about selling baijiu, it’s about selling Chinese pride.”
Trusch also says the issue of food safety is important to consumers. Given this, he ships base baijiu from China to South Carolina for processing.
“We filter it again and bottle it,” he says. “Why we’ve won 30 awards over the past two years is because we filter it to ultra-premium standards in the West using American technology. It’s important because there are so many concerns over safety in China, there are real issues of quality, so we make sure it is a very pure spirit before we put it into the bottle.”