Maker’s Mark COO on Proof Lowering: ‘It was a Mistake’ (Interview Exclusive)


February 17, 2013

Last week, Maker’s Mark made the stunning announcement of lowering its proof. Today, it made an even more stunning announcement of reversing the proof. I called Maker’s Mark COO Rob Samuels to find out the back story.

Why the change back to the old proof?

Over the last week, my father and I have just been humbled by the overwhelming response from consumers, which was very clear. And, they were right. We decided effective immediately we are bringing Maker’s Mark back to 90 proof.

Was this just a ploy to get people to pay more eventually?

We’re not that smart. … We thought given the huge surge in demand that this was a way to maintain taste with a slight alcohol reduction. What we heard from thousands of consumers is that while the taste is paramount, it’s about more than that. They also told us they would rather put up with an occasional supply shortage than have us change their whiskey. … We are going to have to do our best to manage inventory and redistribution.

Any regrets on lowering the proof initially?

Yes. … It was a mistake, and we apologize. Over time, because we acted so decisively, we hope they will forgive us.

Will this reverse move impact your international market plans?

This was not about the international markets. The growth in the U.S. was steady and then spiked dramatically. The U.S. surge outpaced supply significantly. … We quickly reverted back because our customers said it’s more about the taste. I’m proud of these Maker’s Mark customers for them telling us what they thought.

Do you expect to lose customers, because they think you’re being wishy-washy?

When you listen to your customers and act decisively on their behalf, I think they appreciate that. I hope they will give us a second chance.