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New Orleans liquor billionaire looks abroad as US market slows

New Orleans businessman William Goldring, 73, has built his empire on a simple model: acquire cheap brands, hype them and then stack them on the bottom shelves of liquor stores across America.

As Bloomberg reports, Goldring’s closely held Sazerac Co. has become the country’s second-largest distiller by hawking discount brands like Barton, Mr. Boston and Fleischmann’s. You can buy 1.75 liters of each his seven most popular vodka labels for a total of $80, the same price of one bottle of Absolut’s premier-level Elyx.

Enough frat brothers are grabbing plastic bottles of these and Goldring’s 300 or so other brands to drive his personal fortune to $3.9 billion, placing him among the world’s 500 wealthiest people in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the first time he’s landed in an international wealth ranking.

Goldring is little known outside his native New Orleans, where he moves among the charity-circuit elites and has helped fund Tulane University buildings and athletic fields. He’s becoming better known now amid a year-long acquisition binge that’s vaulted Sazerac into international competition.

Sazerac doesn’t disclose its revenue. The figure probably reached $1 billion this year, according to data compiled by Anderson Economic Group. Both the company and Goldring declined to speak with Bloomberg for this story.

While Sazerac also owns premium bourbon brands Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace and cult favorite Pappy Van Winkle, which commands $500 a bottle or more, most of its money comes from giving unloved brands a profitable rebirth.

Fireball Cinnamon Whisky was just a Canada-only schnapps among a clutch of flavored Dr. Mcgillicuddy-branded drinks that Goldring bought in 2000, according to the company. He dropped the doctor from the name and hired a social media guru in 2010.

Now the the candy-sweet liquor has supplanted Jagermeister as the best-selling U.S. liqueur. Sales have ballooned more than 3,600% since 2010, according to market researcher Euromonitor International Plc. The brand probably sold at least $150 million in 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Now, at least 16 cinnamon whiskeys are on the market, Fireball sales are cooling, and the billionaire is pushing into foreign markets in search of growth.

Southern Comfort forms a key part of that shift. In January he paid Brown-Forman Corp. $544 million for the sweet, peach-flavored whiskey drink that originated in New Orleans in the late 1800s and hit its cultural peak in 1970 as a staple of Janis Joplin’s purse. It’s morphed over the years into a brand almost as popular abroad as at home. Foreign markets account for 37% of Southern Comfort sales, said Jeremy Cunnington, a Euromonitor analyst in London.

Bloomberg has the full story.

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