Food & Drink

Social Media Stars Anastasia ‘Stas’ Karanikolaou and Zack Bia Launch Sunny Vodka

It’s always sunny in California, as the legend goes. That saying may take on a new flavor with the launch of Sunny Vodka, a sprightly new spirit from social media influencers turned entrepreneurs Zack Bia and Anastasia “Stas” Karanikolaou.

Bia, a nightlife fixture and indie record label owner who is (casual, NBD) pals with Drake, NBA star Kyle Kuzma and “Euphoria” standout Dominic Fike, has a cool half-million (and growing) Instagram followers. Karanikolaou is world-famous for a covetable off-the-runway wardrobe and a BFF milieu that includes Kylie and Kendall Jenner. She is known to her nearly 11 million Instagram followers as “Stassiebaby” or merely “Stas.”

Now, the two West Coast friends are launching a new venture, Sunny Vodka, a small-batch corn-based American-made spirit, just in time for the long overdue post-lockdown summer parties that were promised last year. The venture represents an emerging trend in business: social media stars flexing their global visibility to expand into self-owned brands, rather than merely promoting other people’s products.

“[The opportunity] fell into our laps,” Karanikolaou says. “This makes so much sense for us. We love entertaining, hosting get-togethers, throwing parties, organizing dinners. To be able to have our own line of vodka at events is just a dream.”

Bia, who scaled his DJ and party hosting cred into a music label, Field Trip Recordings, echoes the sentiment. “Music and spirits, they both meet right in the middle of nightlife and events,” he says. “There’s crossover appeal.” His expertise in producing music and nightlife events is seen as a natural evolution to promoting what he and his partners hope will be the next big thing in spirits, especially for younger consumers itching for return-to-normalcy celebrations.

To be sure, launching a vodka brand, when the category has, for several years, been America’s top selling spirit by volume, makes a certain amount of business sense, current events notwithstanding. Vodka sales notched a 4.9 % gain in 2021, moving from $341 million to $7.3 billion in revenue, according to the most recent data from the Distilled Spirits Council of America. Over 78 million 9-liter cases of vodka were sold in the U.S. last year (up 1.6% from the year prior); vodka sales dwarfed every other category, with ready-to-drink cocktails (36.6 million 9-liter cases sold) and American whiskey (29.7 million 9-liter cases sold) bringing up distant second and third places.

“The growth in vodka is still there, albeit slower than other categories,” James Morrissey, founder of Global Brand Equities, says. Global Brand Equities, which partnered with Post Malone for his wildly successful rose, Maison No. 9, is also backing Sunny Vodka. “There’s been very little innovation [in vodka] in recent years. The category is relatively sleepy. Brands have been slow to pivot and change to the way that a new era consumers, like Zack and Stas, are living their lives.”

Bia and Karanikolaou acknowledge that vodka is, perhaps unfairly, getting negative attention in the wake of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. “There never is a perfect time to do anything, but you have to control what you can control,” Bia notes. “If you hold back on it for too long, that right moment might never come. You have to create it.”

The project, nearly two years in the making, was set to debut before the news cycle took its dark turn. Sunny Vodka, it should be noted, is distilled in South Carolina using corn grown in the U.S. It launches today ($24.99 per 750-ml bottle) in retail locations in California, Las Vegas, Florida and New York as well as online. As an American-made spirit, it might luck into satisfying America’s thirst for vodka while staying outside the global-events fray.

So how will two of the most well-known social media stars promote their new products? Surprisingly (or maybe not), they are zigging away from expected moves. Sunny’s Instagram, as recently as the day before launch, was set to private mode, had just under 8,000 followers, and had no posts. The bottle made some appearances over the past year in the founders’ social media, but its online presence wasn’t, pre-launch, set up with splashy photos and a filled-out grid.

Instead, Sunny’s team set out to create what they call “an organic” social media strategy.

Over the last year, Sunny’s founders threw parties with their glitterati friends and handed out disposable cameras. “Let our friends take pictures throughout the night,” Bia says. “Over the course of the past couple of months, we have a bunch of these nights captured in film from everyone’s different perspective. Those might not ever even see the light of day but that’s the kind of content we’re creating, versus ‘hey tag this, go to this link.’”

“People don’t the ad-looking posts,” Karanikolaou adds. “Those [candid Sunny] photos are the ones that I’m most exited about. It’s just having a good time. No one is posing. It’s not staged. It’s just us enjoying ourselves.”

Sunny’s founders are hopeful that the brand will ease into a summer that will feel more optimistic than the past two years. “Last summer came and went, and things were still weird,” Karanikolaou says. “This summer, I feel like people are really starting to feel like things will get back to normal. All we can do is to be hopeful.”

“Sunny is happy,” she adds. “We bring the sunshine wherever we go. Even when it’s raining.”




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