The founder of the cool cat, Rocco Venneri
Starting a business is never easy, especially when all the odds are stacked against you. Those opportunities didn’t stop Cool Cat founder Rocco Venneri, who identifies as a black / mixed race gay man, from achieving his dreams of making a low calorie portable drink in an industry largely dominated by all-white men . Launched last April, Cool Cats is a natural, gluten-free wine spritzer that is already making waves with both consumers and the beverage industry. The brand’s first two spritzes on the market – Original (Elderflower Mint Lime) and Citrus – were recognized as “Best Ready to Drink Beverage” and were awarded a gold medal by The Fifty Best earlier this year. In an interview, Venneri talks about his focal point of the fashion for running with the “cool cats” with his popular portable wine spritzer.
What was your background in the alcohol industry prior to starting Cool Cat?
I worked in the fashion industry as a marketing director for 15 years, developing and running successful digital, social media, print campaigns and activations for global lifestyle brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Armani. During this time I worked closely with premium alcohol brands on bespoke events and activations. I also have close friends who work in the industry and who helped me develop Cool Cat in the right direction.
A stack of Cool Cat cans
Why did you choose a new line of sparkling wine with a natural taste?
There is an urgent need for more diversity and inclusivity in the spirits and wine industry. As a minority I wanted to see representation, so I created a gender neutral, original and high quality product that encompasses all genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations. We’re a brand that brings like-minded people together who share similar values and experiences – also known as the fearless community of Cool Cats. The idea for Cool Cat started during a Mother’s Day barbecue. Building on consumer interest in health and wellness, I set out to create a great tasting, low calorie portable drink made from natural ingredients. With a modern design and a globally recognized name, Cool Cat represents so much more than “just a drink”. We are a unique lifestyle brand that offers refreshing wine cocktail experiences with the ease and convenience of a canned beverage.
How has the white dominated industry treated you since you founded your company?
We were very fortunate to find supporting sales partners who stand behind our brand DNA and our product. We built a brand, not just a drink. Our partners focus on marketing and innovation, which we at Cool Cat continue to drive as the industry evolves. We recently released our first commercial, which you can find on our Instagram account @drinkcoolcat. I wrote an original song with my good friend that best describes and depicts the attitude of a cool cat. We like to approach everything we do with an optimistic attitude, after all, we started it during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cool cats wine splashes
What are your plans for the future of Cool Cats?
This year we plan to improve our on-site and off-site presence in our core markets (NY, CT, NJ, GA, FL) and build on our first two flavors (Original and Citrus) by introducing two new savory flavors – Berry and grapefruit – in the spring. Like many others, we look forward to hosting and attending consumer tasting events as soon as it is safe to do so. I recently relocated the company to Miami (out of New York City) for new opportunities to bend and grow the brand. With much of the northeast coast locked down, we saw an opportunity in South Florida (no season) and Georgia to introduce the brand to a larger consumer base. We plan to expand to the West region in 2022 and the Central region in 2023. We also recently introduced Cool Capz, reusable can covers that work with any 355 ml (12 oz) can to prevent accidental can splitting with the ability to personalize each can cover. Cool Capz also prevents waste and spillage.
In your opinion, what needs to change in the industry so that more minorities can start a company?
The larger spirits and wine conglomerates need to step up their efforts to support and invest in businesses owned and operated by minorities. We’re starting to see this in industry leaders Constellation Brands and E&J Gallo, who are putting the time, money, manpower and resources into making minority brands a success. It is very important for brands to partner with like-minded companies no matter what is on offer. There should be honest dialogue and mutual respect for what builds or has built one another. When they match, great things happen.