Trips vital to finding new products: NLC CEO

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on May 27, 2012
Newfoundland Liquor Corp. president and chief executive officer (CEO) Steve Winter displays cases of vintage French wines at the NLC headquarters' warehouse on Kenmount Road in St. John's Friday afternoon. - Photos by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corp. (NLC) head Steve Winter's travel log may look glamourous, but he views it as just essential business.

Even if it involves tasting hundreds of wines at an international show.

"It gets to be work. To taste 300 wines over three days, you spit it out. If you drink it, you won't know what you are doing," Winter said.

"Three hundred wines is tiresome.

"You have to take it seriously, otherwise you shouldn't be there."

The NLC president and CEO spent some $51,000 travelling in 2011 to destinations such as New York and France.

In previous years, Winter has taken in events in Greece, Italy, London and Chile, to name a few.

But he said the facetime is needed to find unique products and promote the corporation's brand.

Winter, a wine connoisseur of 30 years, also handles the purchase of Bordeaux futures - buying choice vintages ahead of time at the best price - for this province, as well as the Maritimes.

He also attends general retail conferences as well as exhibitions in other provinces.

"We've increased the variety of products that we've got and that's been a key to driving our sales. And we've increased the products because we have gone aggressively looking for variety to bring to the marketplace to cause it to grow," Winter said.

"And that's one of the reasons why my travel takes me to where it takes me."

Winter serves at the behest of the premier, now Kathy Dunderdale, but was appointed by Danny Williams.

He said he was directed to run the corporation as a business and cites sales increases as a sign business is booming, especially for spirits, wine and beer.

"You can't do that by sitting behind a desk," Winter said.

"You've got to go make contacts, see how other places operate."

There are distributers who knock on the NLC's doors, but they are the ones who deal with all the other liquor corporations around the country, Winter said.

"We're trying to differentiate ourselves from that. Anybody can do that. That's not putting down anyone who comes over the doorstep by any means, but we'd like to have some different things," he said.

In 2007, the NLC had sales of $151.4 million. Sales are now nearing $230 million.

By 2013, it expects to be passing $140 million over to the provincial government in dividends, up $40 million from 2007.

The bottling plant, now called Rock Spirits, produced 390,000 cases in fiscal 2012 with new products and contracts and new markets for popular Crystal Head - actor Dan Aykroyd's vodka - which is filtered through diamonds. Crystal Head is now being shipped to Ontario, as well as places like Australia, Europe and India.

And the NLC plans to build a new warehouse - the request for proposals were due Friday. That will allow more room for product from the bustling bottling plant at the Kenmount Road, St. John's, headquarters.

The warehouses are now a maze of rooms in the basement of the office facility.

The bottling plant will stay on Kenmount, but the warehouse for products sold in NLC stores will be relocated to the new facility at a different, more traffic friendly location.

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Boxe(s):

TRAVEL LOG

2011

> Destinations: New York, Toronto, France, Montreal/Quebec, Minneapolis, Halifax, Niagara Falls

Total: $51,604.92

2010

> Destinations: New York, Florida, Montreal, Vancouver, Greece. British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta, Italy, Halifax, New York, Nova Scotia

Total: $33,108.27

2009

> Destinations: France, New York, London, Toronto, Spain, Halifax, PEI, Boston, Fredericton, N.B.,

Total: $49,105.48

2008

> Destinations: New York City, Toronto, PEI, Chile, Florida, Yellowknife, Nova Scotia

Total: $20,312.34

Source: Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp.