Carnivo Unlimited: Breaking The Wine & Spirits Mold

By Ronnie Gamble & Jay Casteel  |  01/31/2008

Entrepreneurship is a trait abundant in the urban community. Black men and women have been some of the most successful in the nation and across the world. Actually some of the most success within the U.S. has come in the form of African-Americans such as Oprah Winfrey, 50 Cent and Jay-Z, due to their business savvy and hard work.

Well, one industry virtually untouched by African-Americans is the Wine & Spirits industry. Diddy recently made that leap though, when he announced a partnership with Ciroc Vodka, in which he will help develop its brand. But before Diddy realized the gap within the $18 billion a year industry (as reported by the Dow Jones in 2007), others were already ahead of the game -- one being rising Los Angeles based company, Carnivo Unlimited, headed by founder Robert Pierce.

Beginning with fact that African-Americans were nearly ghosts within the industry, Pierce -- along with his partner Maurice Moore -- began research of how they could break into the untouched arena. That's when they came to the realization that African-Americans were the leading consumers of cognac in the country... and some of the biggest co-signers of brands like Hennessy and Courvoisier were rappers. This is when they decided to map out a plan and began a search for vodka and cognac distributors to see their vision to fruition.

"I found out that 85% of cognac consumed in the U.S. was by African-Americans. So, we was like 'We need to come out with our own drink,' " Pierce explained of the beginning stages of their company. "I emailed a couple cognac vineyards in France and a couple of them emailed me back. I told them I was interested in creating my own brand, so I was looking for a vodka supplier and a cognac supplier. That's when the Menuet got back with us and we established a relationship."

In June 2004, Pierce secured a deal with the French Menuet family who have been producing superior cognacs for over 150 years -- originally by Louis Menuet who passed on his knowledge to current heir David Menuet. During that initial trip to meet the cognac creators, Carnivo was granted the exclusive rights to import Menuet's brand of cognac, and the family would produce their signature beverage, Carnivo XO, a mix of XO Cognac, French Vodka and a proprietary tropical berry flavor mix.

According to the Carnivo founder, Menuet actually gave him a lesson on cognac and he got a 101 on why the Grande Champagne region of France produces the highest quality cognac out there, as compared to those on a mass produced level.

"I went to Cognac, France to get an education on cognacs, and what's different from Menuet's and what's on the market. It's funny when I went out there they asked me what kind of cognac I drank and I was like 'Hennessy,'" Pierce recalled. "They kinda laughed about that because they consider that like the malt liquor of cognac. They didn't consider it good cognac because it's mass produced. If they drink cognac, it's more of the XO's and the higher quality and aged cognacs. That's where they use the Grande Champagne grapes in their products. That's the difference."

After learning some of these factors, the deal was sealed, which would ulimately, bring his idea to reality within the U.S. and beyond. Also, as a part of the agreement, Carnivo became the official distributor within the U.S., Latin America and Canada for Menuet's brands of VS, XO and Hor D' Age cognacs, which Pierce says are some of the top cognacs you will ever sample.

"It's not about the quantity, it's about the quality and that's what makes Menuet's product different from what's on the market. They really focus on the quality of the brand," Pierce insists.

Their signature product though, Carnivo XO, is the company's baby. Created by himself, they say it's "the only 100% Champagne Region 1st Cru cognac liqueur in the marketplace at the moment," boasting the use of a 15-year-aged XO cognac, where as most liqueurs on the market today use a 3-year-old cognac.

After realizing that he had a quality product on his hands, he understood that a team of professionals were needed to make the vision a reality. Already partners with Moore -- a veteran in the spirits business with 30 years under his belt with Seagram's -- they enlisted a team of professionals to help them bring the Carnivo XO dream off the ground, while Moore acted as President and Sales Manager.

But, similar to that of a bubbling hip-hop artist, Carnivo are still in its infact stage, taking a grassroots approach to marketing their product, sponsoring urban events, taking advantage of retailer samplings, salon and barbershop tastings, and getting it into the hands of celebs.

The founders can almost guarantee that when their beverages are launched and their marketing campaigns are implemented, their product will become widely known as "a superior drink" because of its rich smooth taste and superior quality.

"A lot of the people like fine things, and that's what we're targeting -- the people who really have an appreciation the finer things, the best of things," said Pierce. "It's not necessarily just people in hip-hop, but anyone who enjoys the best of the best. The best liquers, the best cognacs... that's our goal."

While their customer base continues to grow, the Wine & Spirits industry are taking notice of their fine drinks as well. So far, Carnivo XO was awarded the Silver Medal from the Beverage Tasting Institute (BTI), noting that the drink was "highly recommended." And have since been sponsors for several high profile events and plan to continue building its buzz.

Currently, Carnivo XO and its fine Menuet Cognacs are available in markets such as Chicago, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Arizona, California, Tennessee, Mississippi and Lousiana.

But, if it isn't available within your market, they ask that you contact them directly, via their website, and more information can be found about how it can be requested.

As for the future, Pierce says 2008 will be their year. "2008, I feel that's gonna be out breakout year. We got product placement on a lot of shows on MTV and BET, so it's increasing the presence for us."