Bender’s KAI vodka is on a roll
Honolulu beverage baron Marcus Bender's KAI Lychee Vodka is the cover girl on this month's BIN magazine, published by California-based Beverage Industry News
It's better than him being on the cover, he chuckled, though the story includes a shot of Bender in the Vietnamese rice fields where KAI's grain is grown.
It wasn't that his team needed harvesting help, but, he laughed, "they can use me as the ox."
KAI Vodka LLC launched the products just a year ago, so "getting a cover story is huge," he said.
The magazine wrote: "One look and taste, even in a crowded field, and it is evident KAI Vodka is clearly a different kind of vodka experience."
BIN named KAI Lychee Vodka one of the hottest products of 2008, among its Top Picks Golden Award winners.
It is "a paradox in a bottle," Bender said, as KAI does not fit conventional vodka wisdom. It is made in Vietnam -- not known for vodka -- from rice, not known as a basis for vodka. And its taste, especially the lychee version vodka, is unique.
Bender has been in business long enough to know how to pitch a story to the media, but BIN decided on its own to write about KAI.
BIN mentions awards that the product and its packaging have won at the Beverage Tasting Institute and the San Francisco International Spirits Competition. It also takes the reader through its inception, production and its modern marketing methods -- KAI has a Facebook page.
California is "a huge vodka market," and among KAI's 1,000 California accounts are trendy restaurants. Though it could go for about 39,000 more accounts there, KAI is not trying to be "all things to all people," he said.
It is "a unique brand with limited resources," so the team is "spending more time understanding the market and ... where our brand personality and our product fits."
Las Vegas is one such place. A tough market to crack, KAI has enjoyed tremendous client support, Bender said. Its accounts include the Bellagio resort, which will expose it to myriad people from around the world.
KAI Lychee Vodka just got into Costco in Taiwan, in the one-liter size available in Hawaii Costcos and to the industry. It is also distributed in Vietnam and the goal is to expand. He soon will travel to Chicago, home to a restaurant scene over which the food and beverage press continually gushes.
In yesterday's column on the DTV transition, the following sentence would have been helpful, for clarity. There are no full-power TV stations on Kauai, so Garden Isle residents receiving TV over the air will not need to buy DTV converter boxes before Feb. 17.
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org