Youngest African-American woman vodka owner breaks barriers

By Alysha Conner

Chanel Turner, Queens, NY native and web developer by day, has defied the odds and become known as the youngest and first-ever African-American woman to own a vodka brand in the country.

In 2009, at the age of 25 years old, Turner began the process of launching Fou-Dré Vodka.

Though the journey took about four years to officially establish Fou-Dré, Turner remained committed and determined to producing a savory and all-natural vodka product. 

“Every half a century or so, there’s something that comes into a particular industry, and disrupts that industry. Whether it disrupts it for the good or the bad. So, I felt like it was time,” Turner declared. 

“December 21, 2019 will make 10 years since I started my company. So when I look at in 10 years what we’ve been able to accomplish, we’ve accomplished completing a product, a lot of people start this process and never finish. Then you have some people who start the process, and never get their product out there. I literally know people who have started after me and are not here today. It’s not an easy dream,” Turner conveyed. 

Fou-Dré, pronounced FOO-DRAY, is a play on the French term “foudre,” which means “lightning.” In addition to its name, Fou-Dré also comes in a lightning bolt-shaped bottle that is made out of 100% recycled Extra White Flint glass. It is dyed and labeled with 100% organic ink as well. Turner initially decided to create Fou-Dré because she felt the need to fill a void in the spirits market. She ultimately wanted to provide premiere vodka that could be enjoyed straight, without the unpleasant aftertaste, yet still just as potent. 

“Most people when they think about vodka they think about what they want to chase it with. Whether it be vodka and cranberry juice, vodka and orange juice, but nobody really thinks about getting vodka on the rocks. Good vodka, when it was originally created, didn’t cause hangovers. It didn’t do any of the things it does today, and that’s because of the distillation process that it goes through. We wanted everybody to look at ours as the new blueprint for what vodka should be,” Turner explained. 

Turner not only serves as the leading trailblazer for African-Americans in the spirits industry, but she also continues to successfully break barriers in a male dominated and marginalized industry. According to Fortune.com, “Men make up roughly 80% of executives in the beverage and tobacco product manufacturing industry, according to the most recent data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

“Being a woman and being a woman of color has been the biggest challenge for me. Most of the time when I walk into meetings or things of that nature, you can look at the faces of the people I am meeting with, and tell they were expecting someone else,” Turner expressed. 

(Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)

By way of her own direct investment and funding, Turner enlisted the help of Terressentia Corporation, a distillery in North Charleston, SC. She specially chose Terressentia Corporation because they specialize in an all-natural production process that removes harsh tasting Congeners, called The TerrePURE® process. After testing over 80 different vodka formulas, Turner decided on an 80-proof pomegranate-infused flavor that soon became the brand’s signature flavor. 

Further detailing the benefits of using Terressentia Corporation’s The TerrePURE process, Turner stated, “They’ve had the technology for at least 20 or 30 years. It removes all the free radicals and impurities that traditional distilleries use. All those bad things that traditional distilleries don’t remove from alcohol, this technology removes all that stuff. It leaves you with a cleaner and smoother spirit.”

During her start-up phase, Turner orchestrated a team to assist with Fou-Dré marketing, branding, public relations, sales, etc. Majority of her team consisted of close personal friends who believed and supported her vision. Areas in which her friends did not specialize in, Turner sought help elsewhere by advertising the necessary position and conducting interviews. After encountering negligent distribution assistance from her distributors at the time, she decided that she would instead become her own distributor. Turner went on to receive her distribution license in 2014.

Sharing some of her learned wisdom throughout her entrepreneurial journey into the spirits industry, Turner stated, “I started self distributing, that way I could cut out the middleman. I could give them a better price point. I had my own sales team anyways. What I didn’t know was what doors that would open up for me. Not only could I distribute my products, but I could also distribute for many others.” 

“Money is one aspect and you’re going to need that. These major brands like Cîroc and Absolut spend millions of dollars annually just on marketing and promotions. I don’t have that kind of money. So I tell people all the time, you have to be strategic in your approach with this whole situation. You’re going to need some funds to get it out there to hopefully get it placed in establishments, and you’re going to need the relationships.” 

Fou-Dré is available for purchase in 54establishments nationwide. It can also be purchased on its online website, Fou-Dre.com. The website also features several additional Fou-Dré recipes such as, Darker The Berry, Sin-Gria, Anti Oxidant, Fou-Dré Murciélago, Fou-Dré Sunset, Fou-Jito, and more. Currently, Fou-Dré’s most profitable market is in Singapore. It has recently expanded its sales into the Caribbean countries like Jamaica and Barbados as well. 

“We started selling in Singapore in 2013. Since the distributor over there took over Singapore, they also took over Japan and Hong Kong. So they’ve expanded into those markets as well. You know Singapore is a luxury item place. We sale a bottle over there for $91 with no problem,” Turner explained. 

“The hardest place to sell this product is in the United States, and the reason it’s the hardest place is because the consumers get caught up in who’s pushing the product. A lot of people only drink Cîroc because of who’s pushing it. Everybody always says, ‘Maybe you should put a face to your brand.’ I don’t want my brand to be popular just because of a face. I want my brand to be like Louis Vuitton. Louis Vuitton don’t need a face. The brand speaks for itself. That’s how I want Fou-Dré to be recognized. We don’t need a face. The brand is a luxury item on its own,” Turner confessed. 

Turner currently resides in Washington, DC. While she continues to work her 9-to-5 job, operate Fou-Dré, and serves as a distributor for three other brands, she has also managed to facilitate the well-anticipated annual Black Owned Wine and Spirits Festival. Inspired by a Black Wallstreet Magazine article detailing “20 Black Owned Wine & Spirit Brands You Should Know” in 2015, Turner decided to create a platform that would increase the visibility and awareness of Black owned spirit, wine, and beer companies.

This year, the 4thannual Black Owned Wine and Spirits Festival will be held on September 28 at Dock 5 Union Market in Washington, DC from 2 PM to 8 PM. The Festival has successfully allowed consumers to interact and learn about the available Black owned companies on the market, while also encouraging community partnerships, and industry alliances. It ultimately provides the opportunity to redirect the African-American economic contribution in the U.S. wine and spirits industry, back into the companies of their native community. Every year, all of the participating vendors are able to sale their entire stock. 

“The spirit industry is a billion-dollar industry. African-Americans spend the most money on liquor. So we spend the most money on liquor, but none of that money is going to minority owned brands. I think it’s because the consumers don’t even know they exist. My goal is to educate consumers and let them know that we’re out here. So why not circulate the dollar?” Turner proclaimed.  

Tickets for the Festival range from $65 to $120. Special ticket rates for a group of 10 people are available as well. All Festival tickets can be found on its website, blackownedspiritsfestival.com, or can be purchased at the door. 

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