Local vodka company expands overseas


Chanel Turner is the founder of vodka company Fou-Dré, which comes from the French word for lightning, which serves as the design for her purple bottles, at left. (Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Go ahead, says Chanel Turner, judge her vodka by its bottle.

The purple lightning bolt-shaped bottle has been years in the making. It took about a dozen tries, $150,000 and a glass manufacturer in France to make it happen.

“Your typical vodka bottle is round, it’s clear. There’s really not much to it,” said Turner, 30. “I wanted mine to be different.”

Turner founded vodka company Fou-Dré (the name is a take on the French word for lightning, “foudre”) in 2009 at age 25. It took about three and a half years to get the Upper Marlboro-based company off the ground.

Fou-Dré hit local shelves in February 2013. Today, the vodka is sold in 30 area stores, as well as in Singapore, Australia and Japan.

“If I had an ordinary bottle, I probably wouldn’t be as attractive as I am today — especially overseas,” Turner said. “It helps catch people’s attention.”

Turner, who works full-time as a Web developer for the Pentagon, said she got the idea for the company after drinking one too many sugary mixed drinks. She wanted a smooth vodka she could drink straight or on ice, without cranberry juice or tonic or orange juice.

“Most people try to mask the taste of vodka,” she said. “I wanted to create a vodka that tasted good on its own.”

She and her mother, who serves as the company’s chief operating officer, invested about $500,000 into the project. Turner tried 87 vodka formulas before choosing the winner, which is flavored with pomegranate and ginger. A plant in North Charleston, S.C., distills the vodka five times before bottling it.

“There are hundreds of vodkas out there,” Turner said. “I really had to set myself apart.”

Sales, however, got off to a slow start. Last year, Fou-Dré brought in about $50,000 in revenue.

It has been a challenge, Turner says, persuading people to taste — and buy — a vodka they’ve never seen before. To help market Fou-Dré, she hosts tastings twice a month, and frequently sponsors nonprofit events and fashion parties. A 750 milliliter bottle sells for about $45.

Business is picking up. In the first quarter of the year, revenue totaled $75,000. Turner expects that figure to double during the second quarter as international sales continue to grow.

“It’s surprising, but we’re doing much better overseas than we are domestically,” Turner said. “I think people in other countries are more interested in the quality and distinction of the product versus which celebrity is behind it.”

This year, Turner says she hopes to expand into local bars and nightclubs. Eventually, she plans to begin manufacturing other types of liquor.

“Vodka is a good place to start — it’s the easiest spirit to create because it doesn’t require any aging: You can make today, sell tomorrow,” Turner said. “But as I master my skills, I definitely want to expand.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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