Sometimes the biggest success stories in business come from the unlikeliest of places. Tupperware was created to help families save money after World War II, Trader Joe’s was conceived to cater to an emerging middle class that would soon travel internationally, and Nike was built on one man’s dream of creating the ultimate running shoe. All those brands were founded by individuals who spun an oddball idea into gold. By ignoring the naysayers and instead focusing on their dream, they changed their industries and forged a pathway that others soon followed. You can add another member to their ranks, Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey.
The recent announcement that Pernod Richard, the world’s second-largest wine and spirits seller, had acquired a majority stake in one of the hottest liquor brands of the last few years should have surprised no one. Launched in 2018 by the husband and wife team of Steven and Brittany Yeng in San Diego, the brand has shown phenomenal growth numbers. It hit one million cases sold in 2021 and recently passed the two million case mark. In a testament to its versatility, within one year of being released in Puerto Rico, it occupied the #3 spot in IRI sales data and sold 40,000 cases. That’s a big step up from the 500 cases it was projected to sell.
All of this came from a self-funded brand that saw its founders routinely pulling 70+ hour weeks to keep the momentum rolling in a category that only existed once they showed up, peanut butter flavored whiskey.
“When we launched, people thought we were out of our mind, so many people laughed at us,” says Steven Yeng. “Yet, I believe there are over forty peanut butter whiskey brands out as we speak, all trying to replicate our success. We are one of the fastest/largest growing flavored spirit brands ever. We have accomplished this by staying true to our brand and never losing focus on introducing consumers to something different that we know they will love.”
That focus included connecting with their consumers on a personal level, one that created solid loyalty to the brand. Each label proudly proclaims that the liquid within is dedicated “To the Misfits, Black Sheep, and Skrewballs,” a message that sets the table upfront with drinkers. By heavily leaning on the on-premise channel, something the Yeng’s know intimately due to their background, Skrewball introduced their off-kilter idea to a wide swath of people through personal one-on-one interactions. Even when the pandemic hit, their message proliferated due to a healthy online presence and growing momentum in retail as their sales quickly grew.
Skrewball refused to lose focus and dilute the brand as its numbers grew. They expanded the packaging options from the original 750ml bottle to four other sizes ranging from 50 ml to 1 liter and rolled out a 100ml canned package.
“We could have dived into the RTD space as it bloomed, but we knew how important it was to keep hammering home our message. Peanut butter whiskey is great on its own, and we wanted to leave it to the consumer to mix it into their own concoctions if they wanted. They didn’t need us to do that for them,” says Brittany Yeng.
The sale to Pernod Richard only makes sense for the brand. It has played a large part in Steven Yeng’s life. As a child in Cambodia, his father, a sausage maker, used Pernod liqueur in his recipe. When the family fled the Khmer Rouge, this sausage-making kept the family alive during lean times in a Thai refugee camp. Also, when Steven started whipping up the first peanut butter whiskey shots that he sold over the counter at his family’s restaurant in San Diego in 2008, the whiskey he reached for was Jameson, a brand owned by Pernod Richard. It was the bottle he used until launching Skrewball.
“It is coming full circle that we are entering the Pernod Richard fold. It only makes sense to us,” says Steven Yeng. “They understand Skrewball and are committed to growing it into an international brand. We are excited to append more time with our young children and put our energies towards the future of our brand by helping shape its next phase.”
As flavored whiskeys continue on their torrid growth, according to NielsenIQ data, they were up 14.6% total and hit $1.55 billion in sales last year, there seems to be no end in sight for upstarts shaking up the landscape. Skrewball has accomplished just that, and it appears they will continue making some noise for the foreseeable future.