Trump's product claims more sizzle than steak

Trump’s product claims more sizzle than steak

Donald Trump proved his marketing mastery Tuesday night with a news conference touting his steaks, water, wines and magazine. The trouble is, some of the products he promoted as proof of his business success have either folded or are not sold to the public.

In response to growing attacks on his corporate track record, the Republican presidential candidate held a news conference at his golf course in Jupiter, Florida, where he set up a display of Trump products.

The exhibition followed comments made last week by former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who when speaking about Trump, said, "A business genius he is not."

"Whatever happened to Trump Airlines?" Romney asked. "How about Trump University? And then there's Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks, and Trump Mortgage."

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Trump was quick to answer. After his primary victories in Mississippi and Michigan on Tuesday, he stood in front of a table loaded up with steaks, Trump water, Trump Wine and Trump magazines.

The candidate held up his water and said, "I mean, we sell water. And we have water, and it's a very successful, you know, it's a private little water company. And I supply the water for all my places, and it's good."

Romney never mentioned Trump's water ventures. And Trump failed to bring up the uncomfortable facts around Trump Ice, the retail water brand he launched in 2005 that has since folded. The Trump Natural Spring Water he held up is only served at his hotels, resorts, restaurants and golf clubs.

And, it turns out, it may not even be a Trump company. Reports say Trump Natural Spring Water is actually relabeled bottles from Village Springs, a water company in Willington, Connecticut, that offers its water for private-label use.

A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Trump's red meat display was also more sizzle than steak. The candidate said, "We have Trump Steaks. And by the way, you want to take one, we charge you about, what, 50 bucks a steak?"

A display including Trump-branded wine, water and steaks is shown before a news conference by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., on March 08, 2016.
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Trump didn't mention that Trump Steaks, which were sold through Sharper Image in 2007 and provided by Buckhead Beef, also folded. The CEO of Sharper Image at the time, Jerry Levin, told Think Progress, "We literally sold almost no steaks."

"If we sold $50,000 of steaks grand total, I'd be surprised," Levin said.

So what steaks did Trump have on display last night? Media reports say the steaks on the table were actually from a company called "Bush Brothers."

As for the wine, Trump is right — he still sells Trump Wine. And it's a good one, according to wine experts. Yet the quality and success of the wine may be owed as much to Patricia Kluge, who started the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard, as Trump. Kluge plowed more than $100 million into the winery and business, creating wines that were critically acclaimed around the world.

When Kluge ran into financial trouble during the financial crisis, Bank of America foreclosed on the estate and Trump swooped in and bought it for less than $10 million — a fraction of the $60 million the banks had valued the property. Despite promises to keep Kluge in the business, in 2012, she got her marching orders from Trump: "You're fired."

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So Trump's main business achievement with Trump Wine is more about his skillful negotiating than his fine wine making. Trump's son Eric now runs the winery, which the website says "is not owned, managed or affiliated with Donald J. Trump."

The Trump Magazine that Trump touted was also not quite as advertised. The official Trump Magazine folded in 2009. What Trump held up was Jewel of Palm Beach, a glossy, glorified sales brochure that's put out once a year and distributed at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach resort, and other Trump properties.

This is not to say that Trump is a failed businessman. Yet his success comes more from his property deals, golf courses and financial negotiating than his skills as a master merchandiser.