This advertising content was produced in collaboration with our partner, Lucas Bols.
Most brands can broadly be put into two categories, says Brett Dunne, the managing director of Lucas Bols USA and Canada: There are heritage brands with a long history; and there are lifestyle brands. Lucas Bols was long considered the former. “When you look at where we were as a company previously, we really were a history and heritage company, with 450-year-old Bols liqueurs and 200-year-old Galliano,” says Dunne.
But, in the past ten years, Lucas Bols’ portfolio has undergone a transformation after a period of remarkably rapid and strategic growth, securing its position as one of the leading cocktail companies in the U.S., and bringing those historic brands, such as Bols and Galliano, into relevance today.
“Our portfolio has evolved. We now have a great mix of historical, heritage brands, as well as great lifestyle brands with Partida, Passoã, and Nuvo, which really fall into that high energy lifestyle [category],” says Dunne. “Even those [heritage] brands are more relevant than ever today, with our reimagining of the Bols Cocktails brand, the emergence of Galliano Espresso liqueur and the popularity of the Espresso Martini.”
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A Lively 450-Year History
Much of that change has been inspired by the company’s rich history. Bols family first started a distillery, called T.Lootsje, way back in 1575. Lucas Bols, the brand’s current namesake, was born during the Dutch Golden Age in Amsterdam in 1652. In the 17th century, the Netherlands saw an influx of spices and herbs thanks to the Dutch East India Company. Lucas Bols—the man not the company—capitalized on these flavors by using the goods brought into Amsterdam from around the world to create a wide range of liqueurs that he then sold internationally. This was the start of what would become the longest operating spirits company in the world.
Through this first century-and-a-half of growth as a liqueur, and later genever, producer, Bols remained in the family. But when the last male heir died in 1816, his widow sold the company to an accountant. In that sale, however, was one important provision: An agreement that the Bols name would forever be attached to the company.
Over the ensuing 200 years, Lucas Bols went through various sales and acquisitions. It moved production out of (and later back into) Amsterdam, and, in 2007, cemented their status as trendmakers in the bar industry with their Bols Bartending Academy, followed by their House of Bols Cocktail and Genever Experience, a popular, interactive visitor experience. Today, Lucas Bols is independent and listed on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.
A Pioneering Force in Cocktails
Throughout the long history of Lucas Bols, however, the company has had one focus: being the leading cocktail and spirits player in the world. And though the market looks different than it did all those centuries ago, Lucas Bols has remained at the forefront. “The secret might be in our company’s flexible mindset and entrepreneurial, almost start-up-like approach to how we operate and navigate the market,” says Bols senior brand manager Tanya Cohn.
Lucas Bols was one of the first spirits companies in the U.S. to launch a direct-to-consumer platform back in 2018. And they were also the first brand in the U.S. to introduce a non-alcoholic variant of their gin, Damrak, with the Damrak Virgin in 2020. As Cohn says, “Never one to pass along an attractive opportunity, everyone here is eager to pivot if needed, and be the first ones to pioneer any new flavors, technologies, and trends.”
The company’s compact size offers a major advantage, too. “We’re not so enormous and bureaucratic that decisions take a while to travel through the chain of command and an approval can take weeks,” says Cohn. “Yet, we’re not so small that we don’t have capital to invest in exciting opportunities and innovation developments. We are in the sweet spot, set for growth.”
Brand acquisitions and partnerships have bolstered that recent growth. For example, the new sole ownership of Passoã passion fruit liqueur, as well as the acquisition of Partida Tequila were both carefully considered to define the company’s status in today’s market.
“Whether it was Passoã, which we acquired from Remy Cointreau in 2017; or our recent partnership with Pallini, the leading premium limoncello in the U.S.; or our recent acquisition of Partida and our U.S. launch of Bols Vodka; we always lead with cocktails first,” says Dunne.
An Important Partner For Distributors
Lucas Bols’ acquisitions continue to build on the company’s position as a key business partner for distributors. “Where we feel we punch above our weight and can deliver to the distributor network is by creating more profit opportunities and continuing to collaborate with our network to create cocktail solutions,” says Dunne. “Not only for the on-premise, but also taking our cocktail strategies to retail programs.”
Today, Lucas Bols has established itself as a mid-sized supplier in the U.S. that distributors can count on. This was apparent in the challenging early days of the pandemic, when Lucas Bols recognized the potential issues and was able to pivot to meet the shifting demand that distributors faced. The company put extra work in on behalf of clients, and were able to turn around orders in 30 days—faster than bigger competitors. It’s part of what makes Lucas Bols an important supplier for distributors, says Kevin Roberts, the executive vice president of Breakthru Beverage, a distributor that has worked with Lucas Bols for years.
“To speak to their nimbleness and agility, when COVID-19 hit they turned quickly and pivoted to the off-premise and did that quite well for a company known for their on-premise business,” says Roberts. “They’re extremely transparent in the way they work. They’re highly collaborative and want to have conversations on business and local programs to be able to adjust on the fly.”
The company has met the industry where consumers are, and done so quickly. “We have always been the cocktail company which played large in the on-premise,” says national account manager Valerie Ashleman, “but our innovation and acquisitions position us as highly relevant in the off-premise now.”
Its global bartending academy still provides authentic cocktail experiences and drink recipes, and in recent years, Lucas Bols has quickly responded to new industry trends, such as with the launch of Lucas Bols ready-to-drink cocktails or Damrak Virgin. More is in the pipeline, of course; they’re currently working on a launch of a non-alcoholic limoncello from Pallini.
“We’re not the same Lucas Bols that we were five years ago,” says Dunne. “And five years from now, we’re not going to be the same Lucas Bols that we are today. We’re going to continue to evolve and look for opportunities to strategically grow our portfolio.”
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