As a liaison between niche waters from around the world and water consumers here in the States, one of our greatest rewards is introducing our brands to new audiences. These efforts were drastically impacted by the pandemic, but this summer we’re excited to announce our first New York area distribution partner: Local To U. We recently spoke with owner Frank Vicaretti to learn all about Local To U’s approach to introducing niche brands to consumers thirsty for something different.
Tell us about your business model. How do you decide what to bring where?
In the very beginning, our niche was strictly in retail — specifically convenience stores. Our main product was fresh fruit: bananas, oranges, and apples. A lot of mom & pop stores had given up on trying to stock fruit, since they were getting it from large distributors with minimums and lots of shrinkage, or having staff run out to somewhere to buy it, just to stock it. So, we came in with fresh fruit and a couple of healthy snack products to fill the need.
From there, we’ve built relationships to see what makes sense for individual stores. Over time, we evolved to recognize a lot of local product offerings, and really started focusing on local brands. We live in apple country, for example, so we pride ourselves on the fact that we bring local apples to these places, as well as local snack lines.
How has business changed since COVID?
Because of losing retail in general, we started experimenting, did our homework, and got into farmers markets and have had a lot of success with them. We’ve really homed in on local and unique retailers, putting together amazing dinner packages. We’ve partnered with an incredible local bakery called Cheesy Eddie’s and an amazing local butcher shop with this incredible prime roast beef sandwich, and we’re pairing a few other items with them, including Clear Alaskan Glacial water.
We’re also working with a ton of country stores and Amish stores in the Finger Lakes region. These stores are known for selling unique and smaller brands, so our partnerships fit right in. You’re not seeing Clear Alaskan Glacial anywhere else, so it’s a great place to start. We’re really focusing on flying under the radar on mom & pop stores, to bring something different.
What is your relationship to water?
It’s a whole new world for us. And that’s not a negative; it’s just new. We’re excited to be a part of it, and we want to learn as much as we can. I feel like for most customers, there’s this thinking that water is just water; it’s all the same. But it’s not. For years, I traveled quite often. When you’re on a flight to Italy and you’re offered “flat” or “gas” water, it’s one thing. But when you drink it there out of a fresh spring, it’s totally different. So, I bring that up to our customers. Not everyone will get it. But we’re not trying to go for 100 percent of the market. It’s one person at a time.
What's unique about Local To U?
In terms of distribution, I see us in the middle. We’re not the Sysco, the US Foods, the McLane doing mass, national distribution. Most of those companies would never deal with a farm. They’re dealing directly with, say, Unilever that’s got 800 products. On the other end of the scope — which really, we were for a few years — there’s the little guy bringing these various products to market, trying to sell them individually.
Now, we’re in the middle. We’re the ones who are helping the unique products get to market a little quicker than they normally would. We’re sort of a niche in itself. I have a cheese, for example: They’re 40 minutes away, and no one’s heard of them before. We have one small chain that really wanted to do stuff with grab-n-go that’s perfect for it. This cheese doesn't make sense everywhere, but we’re able to solve their need: instead of them having to deliver to 19 different locations, we can use our relationship to help them.
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