Links Drinks, aims to make their take on the Transfusion cocktail—a golf club staple consisting of vodka, ginger ale, and a concord grape juice—golfers’ go-to beverage cart can.
Launched just under a year ago Links Drinks’ premixed Transfusion is spirits based, using a six times distilled vodka and is gluten free and made with natural flavors. The spirits side of the ready-to-drink marketplace is currently in the midst of a growth spurt. Premixed cocktails made from spirits, excluding cider, wine, and other bases grew by 7.5% to $351 million domestically last year according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. In recent weeks Jack Daniels, Absolut, and Bacardí have trotted out new lines of ready-to-drink spirit based cocktails and 2020 is looking to be a banner year for the segment.
“RTD cocktails will grow because of coronavirus and closed/limited bars have fueled the consumer desire for cocktails, especially proprietary ready to drink cocktails,” explains Arthur Shapiro, a spirits industry consultant and author of Inside The Bottle: People, Brands, And Stories.
“Convenience, portability, good taste, and ‘out of the ordinary’ drive the market. To the extent that the transfusion is popular with golfers, can a prepackaged transfusion live up to expectations? I think the quality of the vodka will be an important factor. But, in this current climate, portability may be the most important (short-term) factor,” he adds.
Links Drinks founder Fred Evanko spent fifteen years in the trade show space at Reed Exhibitions where he cemented many golf industry connections working as head of sales for the PGA Shows. After losing a child to pediatric cancer, he decided it was time to shift gears and do something different, so Evanko took a VP of Sales job at VPAR, one of the earliest tournament tracking and live scoring apps.
“I was going to corporate and charity outings, pro-ams, and celebrity tournaments throughout the country and in the Northeast I saw people drinking the transfusion like it was going out of style,” says Evanko. “It’s not often you have one of those light bulb moment ideas that you really, truly believe could work.”
The original working product name was ‘Canned Fusion’ and for a year Evanko informally focus grouped his idea running it by golfers, head pros, managers, and food and beverage workers alike. He received a positive reception from everybody and that spurred him to take the next steps.
“I did a ton of research, learned about the beverage space, and ended up hiring a consultant in 2018 for four or five months. He connected us with a flavor house that helped create the recipe, and then we found a copacker and were off and running,” says Evanko.
Early incarnations were malt-based but the flavor profile just wasn’t on the ball so it was scrapped. Evanko pivoted and decided to go with a spirits-based product despite the higher production costs and associated taxes. Links Drinks is currently available in approximately 200 outlets in six states (CO, CT, MA, NJ, NY, and RI) with 60% of sales coming from liquor stores and 40% via golf clubs. Winged Foot, a private club in New York which is getting set to host its sixth U.S. Open in August, is currently the most prestigious golf club stocking the product and early indications have been positive.
“We’ve been at Winged Foot for three weeks. They’ve re-ordered four times and they’ve sold almost forty cases which is as much as our largest customer in all of Connecticut last year,” says Evanko. The game plan is to grow the brand’s footprint by continuing to expand distribution in the Northeast region in states they’re currently not in and then focus on golf hotbeds like the Carolinas, California, and Arizona.
“I want to own the golf space. I really feel like that’s the marketing piece. If you get the golf community, now they’re going to tell their friends and they’ll go buy it from the liquor store and that will drive volume and sales.”