Ford scandal puts Iceberg Vodka onstage
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford poses with a bobblehead doll in his likeness Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, at city hall in Toronto. Hundreds of people lined up to be the first to own the bobblehead doll. The defiant mayor declared on Monday, Nov. 11, that he intends to stay in office despite pressure to step aside after admitting he smoked crack cocaine. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)
Canadian Iceberg Vodka is in the spotlight with last week’s release of court documents about one of its most famous fans, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
Ford’s former employees told the police that Iceberg was the mayor’s preferred brand, and that staff members were sent out to buy it for him, the documents show. Ford was stripped of most of his budget and decision-making powers Monday after admitting he smoked crack cocaine, and that he may have drank alcohol before driving.
Those revelations prompted Iceberg Chief Executive Officer David Meyers to release a statement on Twitter reminding customers to drink responsibly.
“We took an approach that we would lie low and this would blow over,” Meyers said in a phone interview. “When we heard about drinking and driving, that’s when it crossed a line for us from a responsibility point of view.”
Since then, there’s been an “increased level of chatter” on Iceberg’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, he said.
One former Ford staff member told the police in documents released by an Ontario court that he drank a 12-ounce bottle of vodka in his car in two minutes, and then drove away. Another ex-staffer said she bought him a bottle of vodka, preferably Iceberg, twice a week. Ford said Monday that he hasn’t had a drink in three weeks and that he isn’t addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Meyers is trying to use the publicity to change the conversation from Ford to how the vodka is made using 20,000-year-old icebergs.
“Now we have their attention, and then it shifts to conversations such as, ‘Do you know we harvest icebergs?’ ” said Meyers, noting that his company is the only vodka maker in the world that harvests the mountains of ice off Canada’s Atlantic shores.
Every May and June off the coast of Newfoundland in an area known as Iceberg Alley, smaller chunks of freshwater ice, or growlers, break off from icebergs in a process known as calving. The Toronto-based company nets more than 1,000 tons of growlers each year and brings them ashore. The melted water is mixed with an Ontario distillate made from sweet corn. The resulting blend is bottled in Newfoundland and sold across Canada, the United States and about 20 other countries.
As a closely held company, Iceberg doesn’t disclose sales. Meyers said that his firm has a 5 percent share of the Canadian vodka market and sales by volume increased about 10 percent in the 12 months to August.
That means Iceberg is gaining market share, which is “pretty good when you consider the total vodka business is pretty much flat, up a little bit,” Meyers said.
Meyers, who used to run the U.S. distribution business for wines and spirits maker Remy Cointreau SA, said it’s too soon to say whether the Ford-fueled social media buzz has affected sales, for better or worse.
A 26-ounce bottle sells for $24.34 in Toronto. The brand was stocked in a display this week at a branch of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, the Ontario monopoly that sells wine and spirits. The prominent display wasn’t a reaction to the Ford scandal, because the LCBO typically plans in-store promotions months in advance, he said.
“I can tell you for sure that it has absolutely nothing to do with what’s taken place in the past three weeks,” Meyers said.