Selling the Long Drink in the United States isn’t just about marketing a booze product – it’s about selling the country of Finland.
Since The Long Drink Company began selling this Finnish national drink to American markets some 15 months ago, the four founders of the company – Sakrari Manninen, Mikael, Taipale, Ere Partanen and Evan Burns – have found themselves teaching drinkers about the culture of Finland itself. “It’s been just a very fun journey, watching this thing grow and be a brand ambassador not only for this product but the whole of Finland, as the Long Drink is considered the national drink of Finland,” Partanen says.
The growing popularity of Finland – as the country is known as the happiest country in the world for two years in a row – has helped in selling the Long Drink, which is a canned gin and grapefruit concoction that has a similar ABV to beer, says Partanen.
“That’s given us a lot of good media, and then the weird habits of Finland – like getting ‘pantsdrunk’ or getting drunk home alone wearing nothing but your underwear – that has really become a phenomenon,” Partanen says.
When the four partners decided to export the national drink of Finland to the United States, they started with maybe 100 accounts, and they were self-distributed only in New York. Now, they have almost 2,000 accounts, and they are now distributed with some large distributors in Nevada, Connecticut, Georgia, and New Jersey, and, of course, New York. The partners decided to bring the Long Drink to the states simply because it’s a great drink, it’s been around Finland since 1952 (when it was served at the Olympics), and they thought that others might like it.
“It’s definitely true, we’ve got the wind at our backs, and we didn’t even realize these trends about Finland were happening,” Partanen says. “We just thought we had this amazing product.”
“The first reaction we have with new customers is that this is the perfect summer drink, but to us, it’s not only a summer drink, it’s also the official drink of winter,” Partanen says. “We drink it all year long. It doesn’t really matter what the weather is – you can always go into a sauna and crack open a Long Drink.”
In Finland, Partanen explains, the long drink is its own category, and liquor stores devote whole aisles to it, right along side of beer, wine and spirits. In fact, some long drinks are served in boxes – like boxed wine in the United States – but right now, the company doesn’t have plans to expand out of cans, as liquor packaging laws in the United States are quite different from those of Finland.
“Having liquor in the can is the norm in Finland,” he says. “It’s not a new, growing category. We’ve had it forever. And Long Drinks are not considered cocktails. It’s its own category. It’s got the same percentage of alcohol as beer, but it’s made with liquor so it tastes lighter, and it doesn’t give you that bloated feeling.”
In the United States, however, most people relate to the Long Drink as a canned cocktail, and the folks at the Long Drink are adding different flavors. Their most recent flavor is Long Drink Zero, which is a low calorie version of the original Long Drink. The new flavors should be unveiled within the next six months or so.
“I think the biggest catch phrase we use in marketing it is ‘taste of Finland,’” Partanen says. “It’s something that gets their attention, and then they are intrigued to give Finland a try. Right now, we’re just traveling all around the U.S., trying to build the national drink of Finland into a household name in America.”