​Cider Corner: Why Less is More in Self-Distro for EsoTerra

EsoTerra Ciderworks handpicks more than just its apples. The Southwestern Colorado boutique cidery also hand picks its retail partners. It’s an important piece of sales that General Manager Elizabeth Philbrick explained to Brewer: Being different helps keep money in their pocket, she said. The Dolores, Colorado cidery only sells its product over the tasting room counter at its two taprooms in the area or to a limited number of higher-end retail outlets, including resorts and restaurants that have a clientele that will not balk at a higher-priced cider in the 750mL bottle.

“We need people who will take the time to explain that this [cider] is going to be a different product than they are accustomed to,” she said. “And that has been extraordinarily helpful for us.

“If we’ve got a 750mL bottle at $20, sitting next to a six-pack at $7 and there’s no one there to explain what the difference is, it’s harder to sell our products that way, and we don’t want our products sitting on the shelves, we want our product being served.

“We take great pride in the quality of our product, which means we need to take great pride in the people who sell our product.”

Staying in 750s has been a direct choice, Philbrick explained.

“I was talking to another cidery recently where they went from 750s to cans thinking that that would be a happier place for them,” she said. “I recently was speaking to the owner and his response was this is a very fast way to the bottom. The distributor … rarely are they actually selling you the way that you would sell yourself.

“We distribute in-house for a couple of reasons. We make a wine-like product. Our product costs what a wine costs and we have to explain to people if we sell them a keg, why is it twice as much as a national brand cider. We have to tell people we hand-pick our apples, everything is aged slowly. You’re not gonna find any pineapple-guava cider at EsoTerra because our unique flavors come from the apples, not from something we adjunct into the cider.”

READ MORE: Cider Corner: Picking the Right Brands for Distribution

The on-premise sales help trigger repeat customers through direct-to-consumer shipping. It helps keep EsoTerra’s distribution territory small while increasing sales nationwide.

“We win with higher quality third parties,” she said, pointing out the relationship they have established with a local place that sells about 10% of EsoTerra’s total volume, James Ranch.

“Every single one of their staff is trained in the art of explaining why this is more expensive? Why is it poured in a smaller pour? Why is it different? Because we personally deliver every single time we see their staff,” she said, adding she and her husband, Jared Scott, will hand-deliver products and make conversation with each employee they encounter.

“We are actively engaged with every single person that actually sells our cider at that restaurant,” she said. “Because of that, they feel an intimate connection, there isn’t some random distributor showing up — head down not talking to anyone — stocking the shelves, doing a beautiful job of fronting everything and putting all your little tags on there and hanging little signs that say that you’ve won awards and everything.

“That’s great and dandy, but when you’re sitting on a shelf next to 30 other ciders… who is selling your product? At that point, no one. We sell our product every single time we drop it off, every single time we see and have an intimate personal friendship and relationship with the people who will then turn around and sell our product for us. That is super key for a nano-cidery like ours.”

Philbrick laughed and acknowledged that it may sound pretentious to be so selective, but she said they are trying, like so many small cideries that go out there and handpick their fruit and really craft their product, to take incredible pride in the apples that went into it.

“But in the same way that, like, Coors and Budweiser blazed the way for Dogfish and New Belgium, these big national cider brands are blazing the trail for small cideries like ours to get a little recognition,” she noted “We don’t have enough products to be distributing to everyone. So we’re trying to distribute to the handful of people who will sell our story, right on top of our cider.”

Photo courtesy EsoTerra Ciderworks

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