Rocco Venneri is building a community of ‘Cool Cats’ — like-minded individuals who share his mission to break down barriers and be inspired to follow their dreams.

As a minority founded, led, and operated beverage lifestyle company, Cool Cat is a modern brand that represents more than ‘just a drink.’

We caught up with Rocco to learn how he’s leveraging his background in fashion to push the envelope on marketing and innovation, what today’s brands are getting right (and wrong) about inclusion, and more.

ForceBrands: Cool Cat is a minority-owned business that’s on a mission to break down barriers and inspire others to follow their dreams. What inspired this mission?
Rocco Venneri: At some point, you realize if you’re meant to work for someone or be your own boss. My ‘aha’ moment came after my last job in fashion where I felt my ideas and vision for building and innovating brands would be better suited for my own brand.

Before diving into the alcohol beverage industry, I created my own brand consulting company. The idea for Cool Cat came about at a Mother’s Day barbeque. I had a desire to build a brand based on increased consumer interest in health and wellness that would also make wine “cool” for the younger wine drinker.

Additionally, I saw an urgent need for more diversity and inclusivity in the spirits and wine industry. As a minority myself, I wanted to see more representation so I created a gender-neutral, original, high-quality product inclusive of all genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.

We are a brand that brings together like-minded individuals who share similar values and experiences — aka, a community of Cool Cats.

FB: RTD cocktails is a crowded category. What sets Cool Cat apart from its competitors?
RV: Cool Cat is a minority founded, led, and operated beverage lifestyle company. With a modern design and globally recognized name, Cool Cat represents so much more than “just a drink.” We’re a unique lifestyle brand that offers refreshing wine cocktail experiences with the ease and convenience of a canned drink. We are laser-focused on marketing and innovation, something we at Cool Cat continue to push as the industry evolves. Cool Cat was also named “Best Spritzer” by and “Best Ready to Drink Beverage” by The Fifty Best.  

Cool Cat tastes great right out of the can, but can also be poured over ice or used to create specialty cocktails. The spritzers are ideal while on the go — they’re portable; recyclable; park-, beach-, and festival-friendly; and provide more bang for the buck than a traditional bottle of wine. One four-pack is equivalent to almost two full bottles of wine. At 6.9 percent ABV, just 140 calories, and two grams of sugar per 12-ounce can, Cool Cat is also a better alternative to many other alcoholic beverages.

FB: Once you had the idea for Cool Cat, what was your first course of action?
RV: I spent 15 years working in the fashion industry as a marketing executive developing and executing successful digital, social media, print campaigns, and activations for global lifestyle brands. So, I originally built the brand around the fashion community with the idea that I would leverage my relationships to promote Cool Cat during fashion events. But when Covid hit, we had to pivot. In lieu of in-store tastings due to Covid restrictions, I sent product to my fashion industry colleagues and friends for them to experience first — and they happily began promoting the brand on their social media channels.

FB: What does your typical day look like?
RV: Every day is different from the next. As CEO, I wear a lot of hats. Some days I’m focused on sales and marketing and others on investors and funding. And in-between, you can usually find me traveling and talking about Cool Cat at various promotions, sampling events, sponsorships, and more. We’re always looking ahead and aiming to stand out.

FB: Tell us about the Cool Cat team. How have you approached hiring, especially as it relates to diverse hiring strategies?
RV: The Cool Cat leadership team consists of myself and two very strong-minded, hard working women. When looking to grow the team, we look for candidates who are qualified for the position and fit the company culture regardless of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

FB: As a leader, how have you built your team’s culture?
RV: Our team culture is built on optimism, authenticity, and inclusivity. Something that guides us every single day. My goal is to build a strong and resilient internal culture that wants to break industry barriers and rise to the top. We are unapologetic in our approach knowing that our struggle is going to be much more challenging than others because of who I am — a black/mixed-raced gay man.

FB: What do today’s teams get right about inclusion? What do they get wrong?
RV: Inclusion emphasizes diversity and the unique contributions each person or group brings to the table. Inclusive systems are instrumental in changing discriminatory attitudes, so hiring more minorities with unique and diverse backgrounds will only make a company stronger. In general, more companies need to step up and invest in minority-owned and operated brands. Companies also need to market to a more diverse audience on a regular basis vs. once a year, like many brands during Pride Month. We appreciate the support, but it needs to be more consistent.

FB: Do you have any unique activations in place to celebrate Pride Month?
RV: This month, we were thrilled to launch our first-ever Pride campaign called “LIVE PROUD” and introduce limited-edition Pride packaging to celebrate National Pride Month. Cool Cat will also donate $10,000 to The Center in New York City, which provides vital programs and services to the local LGBTQ+ community. We’ll be presenting a check to them during a pre-game ceremony at Citi Field (home of the New York Mets) on June 17 for Pride Night. We’re also sponsoring The Center’s upcoming Garden Party on June 21.

FB: What’s ahead for Cool Cat in the next 3-5 years?
RV: This year, we plan to increase our on- and off-premise footprint within our core markets, which now also includes California, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. In the coming years, we’ll continue to launch and support new markets. We also recently secured several new partnerships, including The New York Mets, San Francisco 49ers, and the Miami Hurricanes. I would expect these types of partnerships to continue as visibility and product sampling opportunities are key. We’re focused on marketing Cool Cat in a way that’s different from what is currently in the market. We do everything in a disruptive and experiential way, with the ultimate goal to stand out, not blend in.

Cool Cat is about leading culture forward, breaking barriers, and inspiring others.

We’re also excited to host and continue participating in consumer tasting events and sampling opportunities, which is incredibly important to our growth and success.