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Illinois Spirits Company Goes and Grows Global with EXIM

KOVAL Distillery
Export Destinations: 
Europe, Canada, Australia, and Asia
EXIM Bank Product: 
Export Credit Insurance


Dr. Sonat Birnecker and her husband Robert decided to leave their academic careers and co-founded the KOVAL Distillery, Chicago’s first distillery going back to the 1800s. KOVAL produces organic whiskey, liqueurs, gin, and specialty spirits. It is a  is a woman- and family-owned business which employs 24 people with five staff members dedicated to its export operations.


While small businesses have a lot to gain by engaging in exports, the company had feared the risk of buyer nonpayment and needed to protect its cash flow. At the time, KOVAL was primarily using cash-in-advance (CIA) payment methods, exposing the business to the risk of nonpayment while wanting to streamline its exporting process and increase sales.


KOVAL Distillery is one of many successful U.S. small business that use EXIM’s Export Credit Insurance. The policy enables the business to compete and win deals against foreign competitors, offer open account credit terms to buyers, and protect against foreign buyer nonpayment. Buyers typically purchase more inventory when then buy on credit terms as it prepayment adversely affects their cash flow.

If there is a default due to commercial or political risks, EXIM will cover up to 95 percent of the sales invoice. This gives the owners peace of mind. Dr. Sonat Birnecker offers the following guidance to other small company enterprises, “Small businesses have a lot to gain by engaging in exports. However, it is always a good idea to protect oneself from as many risks as possible. Working with EXIM is a way to protect against the biggest risk: not getting paid.”


EXIM’s reasonable=cost export credit insurance has helped the business gain sales and compete in global markets. Its products are more attractive to international wholesalers and distributors as buyers without having to prepay.

KOVAL is now selling to more than 40 countries and is generating about 30 percent of  its overall company revenue from export sales. Having the support of EXIM has given  the company more payment options to meet the needs of their growing markets and enter new markets with more confidence while also providing the security to aim higher.

“EXIM has been instrumental in providing us with the security and leverage to make business arrangements that help us grow our company abroad. Furthermore, our relationship with EXIM has helped us get paid by distributors that were delinquent by merely reminding them that we work with EXIM.”
Dr. Sonat Birnecker, Owner and Founder