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Canadian Iceberg Vodka Corp.: Distilling Success from 12,000-year-old Water
The Canadian Iceberg Vodka Corp. (CIVC) was incorporated in 1994 as a company devoted to producing only the highest quality vodka by using water freshly harvested from the purest source possible: high Arctic icebergs from glaciers over 10,000 years old. Iceberg water is the cleanest water on earth, and water is the main ingredient in vodka, alongside triple-distilled spirits from Ontario sweet corn harvested at the peak of its sugar content. Taking great pride in its product, CIVC set out to use this atypical water source to avoid man-made pollutants and assure the smooth taste of its ultra-premium vodka.
Today, the company enjoys international distribution, and produces golden rum, silver rum and gin in addition to its award-winning vodka. Frank Heaps, president and CEO, reflects on the company's successful market reception. CIVC sells through all Canadian provincial liquor boards and through individual distributors worldwide. “Our product has been in the United States for quite a while now and is currently gaining a lot of traction in Europe, including England, Spain, Holland, France and Germany, but we also have a significant amount being distributed in South Africa, Israel and the Caribbean,” explains Heap.
Though Iceberg Vodka enjoys international popularity, the company is still very much a homegrown company. “Our headquarters are in Toronto, but the majority of our operations are still in Newfoundland,” explains Heaps. “That is where we harvest the icebergs and package the product, and we take pride in being a Canadian company keeping up with some of the multinational distilleries.”
Proud to be Canadian
Production of the Iceberg liquor family starts at the beginning of iceberg season in Newfoundland as the icebergs drift along the north shore on their way southerly to extinction. While some liquor producers claim to collect glacier melt/surface run-off, most use treated municipal tap water.. CIVC looks to the water that is locked up and protected within the solid core. Icebergs break free and are carried by the North Atlantic swell, and once they begin drifting close enough to shore to be harvested a team of sailors braves “Iceberg Alley” and expertly slice into them to produce 1,500 pound blocks, which are later melted, filtered, blended with distilled spirits, and packaged. The Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation blends and packages our product, and of course, we also have to go through them to handle the sale and distribution of it in the Province,” states Heaps.
This painstaking process has proven to make a neutral grain spirit popular in the marketplace and acclaimed among international vodka connoisseurs. “In Ontario we are probably the sixth or seventh most popular brand of vodka, and first in Newfoundland, but we are working to increase our brand recognition because most of the market doesn’t know about our unique selling proposition, which is that our products are made with the purest water in the world, making our vodka, rums and gin the purest in the world,” explains Heaps. “We are a Canadian company, not a Russian, Finnish or a French company. We produce vodka that is the purest vodka available, and on blind taste tests by panels of international experts Iceberg is consistently chosen as the best tasting, even better than the higher priced brands.”
In the pursuit to further enhance its reputation in the vodka market, CIVC is engaging in a greater digital presence as the platform for its branding efforts. “We recently re-launched our website ... and we feel that social media is one of the most cost effective ways to get your brand out there,” asserts Heaps.
“To be perfectly honest, this is a low-margin business. We produce the costliest vodka in the world, harvesting iceberg water and importing our bottle from Europe, but more than anything we’re focusing on producing the best possible vodka possible. You can do all the research you want, but the best thing you can do is make the best product you can. After that, the product will sell itself and social media is the perfect way of putting our product out there in a way that will naturally facilitate that process.”
Among the important facts about Iceberg Vodka that will be promoted is the product's environmentally friendly aspects. Using local sources for water and corn reduces carbon miles, while avoiding processed water reduces the need for chemical production and the amount of chemicals that seep back into waterways. Finally, using a “stay-put” square bottle reduces the amount of cardboard used in cartons, and the reduced weight cuts down on fuel consumption.
Though CIVC is a relatively new company, Heaps brings over 25 years of experience in the brewing business to the operation. “I started Upper Canada Brewing Company in 1985 and ran the business for 10 years before selling it. Eventually I ended up investing in this company and, because I had a lot of experience in the beverage industry, the board of directors asked me to come on and direct the company,” Heaps explains. [The Upper Canada Brewing Company has been recognized as an original, influential microbrewery, and at one time was the largest independent brewery in Canada.]
Drawing on his business acumen in the beverage sector, Heaps believes CIVC can realistically achieve a significant amount of domestic growth despite the economic slump. “We did feel the economic slowdown in 2009, but we are getting ready to reevaluate the market and our pricing. We’re going to concentrate on growing the brand within Canada for now,” explains Heaps. “When I first came on, flavored vodkas were a possibility and it is something we may consider looking into down the road, but for now we’re going to concentrate on creating better awareness of the product. Our rums are selling very well in the Atlantic provinces and Newfoundland, and we are going to keep promoting our current line of products for now.”
Offering a singular experience as the most pure product on the market, the Canadian Iceberg Vodka Corp. is heating up even as it stays refreshingly cool.