Innovation spurs strategic growth of InnoTRI’s boutique distribution

Miami-based specialist distribution company InnoTRI credits innovation and uniqueness – along with flexibility– for the strategic growth the company has enjoyed in the past three years.

“The name itself stands for Innovation Travel Retail International,” Christoph Henkel, InnoTRI co-founder and manager tells TMI. “We consider ourselves a boutique distribution company fully dedicated to all our brand partners with a focus on liquor, tobacco, and confectionery, and a growing arm on specialty spirits,” says Henkel.

“We feel that we offer something that some other distributors cannot offer. There is uniqueness and innovation throughout all of our products.”

Since it was founded in December 2016, InnoTRI has fine-tuned its focus, as it has strategically grown its portfolio.

“Starting out we set a focus on local Floridian craft spirits, which we have successfully placed in the market. Unfortunately certain retailers are not ready yet. My strong belief is that this is a big gap in the operators’ portfolios, especially here in South Florida,” says Henkel.

InnoTRI’s Florida spirits include Big Cypress Distillery, a Miami-based craft distillery which produces whiskey and rum; and Timber Creek Distillery, which produces craft spirits in Destin, Florida.

One big success story for InnoTRI is El Salvador’s Cihuatan rum.

“Since we started with Cihuatan last year we successfully launched two limited editions into travel retail,” he says. “The strategy of the brand is to come out with a new limited edition every year. The next one will come out in May, which we will only launch with selective retailers because of limited allocation.”

InnoTRI launched the brand’s first travel retail exclusive, Obsidiana, in Cannes last year, and has since successfully established Obsidiana here in the region with Heinemann, on Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships. It is also with DFA in El Salvador and hopes to get listed in other DFA locations, he says.

The brand is also growing in the U.S. domestic market with Canada duty free on the horizon, partnering with ALFA Brands, says Henkel.

“We are the U.S. importer for Cihuatan. The brand is in California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas, with Florida coming.’

InnoTRI is targeting the Canadian duty free market for later this year.

InnoTRI’s “innovative” cognac Blancrux fills a hole in the market, especially in the Caribbean, says Henkel.

“The brand was created to fill a niche in the market dominated by a huge cognac house. We felt we had to offer the con- sumer something that the other brand does not. Blancrux brings a larger bottle at a very competitive price with a high quality juice inside. As of January we are onboard 14 cruise ships, with Heinemann and with Harding. This brand is really going to steal some market share.”

The InnoTRI business took a big step this year, when it was named Distell Global Travel Retail’s exclusive distributor for the USA and parts of the Caribbean on January 1, 2020.

The main focus of the partnership is to grow the Amarula business, push the Travel Retail Exclusive range from Islay Scotch whisky distillery Bunnahabhain and increase awareness of Highland single malt Deanston and South African wine brand Nederburg. InnoTRI has since launched Distell brands in Panama with Regency, and with Penha in the Caribbean.

Distribution is just one of InnoTRI’s four business pillars, Henkel emphasizes, explaining that brand building, logistics and a retail component round out its services.

“Logistically we are in good hands with Sean Gazitua and WTDC in Miami. They have been our partner from day one. Coming back to business ethics and values, the family is doing business as we think it should be done. They have a great, very knowledgeable team that are solution driven. Having logistics and warehouse in Miami is key.”

Brand building is a prime objective at InnoTRI, says Henkel.

“We focus on brand building for our smaller brands, which are focused on production, not as much on marketing the product. It is important to have someone like InnoTRI that understands travel retail, has connections in the market, and existing listings with retailers. We know what kind of marketing support they need, and what kind of activities are working and not working.”

InnoTRI’s retail pillar began with a partnership with Penha at Curacao airport.

“Penha is part of the consulting arm within InnoTRI. Penha has been a customer since day one. We were approached by the owner Kevin Jonckheer asking for retail advice, because he was about to tender for Curacao airport. We developed a commercial proposal for the airport, which included a design and concept component. The financial element came from Penha,” he says.

“Our collaboration was supposed to stop at that point, but we saw a mutual beneficial relationship. Penha was a large beauty retailer, but was lacking the liquor, tobacco, and confectionery expertise, which is my stronghold. With this partnership, our distribution model gained even more traction.

“The initial idea was to work with in- dependent products, but we partnered with the Bacardis and Pernod Ricards and now fulfill the full distribution function to retailers such as Penha, but also to companies such as Regency.”

Henkel says that InnoTRI’s future expansion will depend on the innovative aspect of new brands.

“All of our own brands have a unique feature,” he says. “The strategy for the future will to be to find those brands or brand partners that are unique, preferably on a smaller scale, that we can bring to the market, take them along, and make them part of our innovative approach in the portfolio.

“In the beginning, our portfolio and distribution network was focused on South Florida and Caribbean retail. We have taken the distribution global with Cihuatan. I think we are showing that we are able to serve retailers also on a global basis. But going global is not the key focus for all of our brands right now. We want to solidify our business. We want to do our job right, quality over quantity.”