For the most part, the major cooler players have not changed in the past few years: the Bartles & Jaymes lineup of coolers from E&J Gallo; Seagram’s Coolers from the Seagram Beverage Company; Breezer By Bacardi from Bacardi-Martini USA; Tropical Freezes from the Brown-Forman Beverage Corp., and on the strictly malt-based side, Zima from Coors Brewing.
Seagram’s Coolers recently debuted new flavors (above), while Bacardi- Martini USA is testing a new look and flavor to its line of coolers (right).
The category still commands a huge sales volume. For example, Bartles & Jaymes and Seagram’s Coolers together accounted for sales of more than 25 million 9-liter cases in 1997; however, total category sales have been falling in recent years.
To counteract this trend, wine coolers are attempting to expand their market beyond their traditional younger female base by widening product appeal — while still focusing on that important demographic group — and stressing refreshment and vibrant new flavor combinations.
A part of the segment’s strategy hinges on public perception — deftly playing down what has been described as the “fruity, feminine” aspects of wine coolers, even while still appealing to women. “The category’s whole image is that they are very feminine,” said Dawn Pauleuc, marketing manager for Breezer by Bacardi, which hopes to top 3 million cases this fiscal year. “Men who drink coolers are embarrassed to be seen with these pink, fruity and pretty products in their hands. Girls as well: when they’re out with their guy friends many of them would never be caught dead even ordering a cooler in a bar.”[On the other hand, several lines of spirits-based beverages sometimes classified as coolers, such as Jack Daniel’s Country Cocktails and Jose Cuervo Authentic Margaritas, have rebounded in the last few years and are perceived basically as prepared cocktails rather than as coolers.]
In general, though, wine cooler marketers say they must build business by positioning the summer months as the perfect time to consume coolers, while at the same time trying to cultivate a wider segment of consumers to purchase wine coolers year-round.
For example, E&J Gallo is featuring three national promotions for its Bartles & Jaymes line this year. The first — a cross-promotion for Bartles & Jaymes and Hawaiian Tropic Sun Tan Lotion themed “Great Taste, Great Tan,” which obviously targets the late spring and summer — ran in May and June in grocery and drug stores and had a positive impact. “I just did a market survey in Houston and of the 30 stores I surveyed, it was billed as one of the most successful programs in the last three to five years, with a dynamic display that had strong appeal to shoppers,” said Matt Sinclair of Bartles & Jaymes.
Bartles & Jaymes also ran a national cross-promotion with Pace Picante Sauce in June, which offered tear pads with money-off coupons on case cards. And the line is slated to kick off an “NFL for Her” promotion this fall.
Gallo also redesigned the packaging on the entire line earlier this year to provide consistency to reinforce the Bartles & Jaymes brand identity.
As in so many product categories, it is the assortment of exciting flavors that seems to fuel growth. Interestingly, according to research done by IRI, strawberry and strawberry blends — which appeal strongly to the female core cooler consumer — account for almost 20% of the category’s SKUs. And approximately 35% of current cooler volume comes from berry-based flavors.
‘Trends Not Terrific’
“The wine cooler business is off substantially,” said Mike Parks, general manager for retailer Frugal MacDoogal’s in Nashville. “Some of the volume has gone to the high-end beer business — the microbrews and imported beers have taken some share of the market.”
“The trends were not terrific a year ago,” said Henry Hawley, vice president of marketing for coolers and new business for the Seagram Beverage Company. “They started to flatten out as we moved through the back part of the summer last year, and we think a lot of that had to do with our increased emphasis on the consumer, with TV advertising and a strong promotional program. As we moved into the fall of 1997, we noticed that our business started to stabilize a little bit and actually turn around.” This year, the brand had “an extraordinary spring — up versus a year ago, and that’s a trend that is a little rare in the cooler business. So we expect to see growth as we move into the summer.”
The Seagram’s Coolers line currently includes about a dozen flavors. “The overall performance is, in many ways, driven by the performance of new flavors,” Hawley pointed out. To help spur growth, Seagram added two new flavors this spring: Wild Grape Kiwi and Wild Strawberry Banana, which so far have been performing well, Hawley said.
In addition, Seagram’s Coolers has introduced a new, younger look in its point-of-sale materials. “We wanted to give a slightly more contemporary feel to the brand, with a bit more colorful and vibrant presentation.” The brand’s newest tagline is “Get A Taste Of This!”
This summer, the brand is advertising on radio in 25 markets, as well as placing several insertions in Cosmopolitan magazine. A pair of music-related
promotions with the Universal Music Group include a free CD (where legal), highlighting several emerging female artists, as well as a sweepstakes whose winner will be in a music video.
In The Zone
Bacardi’s latest perspective on the category encompasses what the company terms the “Zima Zone.” Executives see a spectrum with beer on the right and coolers on the left. On the right are males and on the left, females. On the right is the carbonation issue, on the left sweetness. Bacardi’s Pauleuc insisted that Coors’ Zima “did a fabulous job of landing right in the middle in this zone, with a product that kind of performed in the center of that universe, if you will.” Then, she said, they had some problems.
Of course, Zima had a tremendous first two years, then saw sales decline precipitously and is now in the process of trying to regain some of its previous sales momentum.
Pauleuc added, “[Coors] certainly spent against it [Zima] and did a good chunk of business, and the clear malt beverage is still out there. But I think that there’s something yet to be developed.”
In May, Bacardi began tests in Texas and Florida — its two largest Breezer markets — of a product called UFO By Breezer, which is designed to inhabit the so-called “Zima Zone.” While she conceded the concept is “a little hokey,” it may just fly given the popularity of UFOs “and the whole alien thing.” UFO By Breezer is clear and colorless product, with packaging and graphics intended to be “gender-neutral.”
“It’s not feminine looking,” Pauleuc said. Available in six-packs of long-neck bottles, UFO is less sweet than other coolers and less carbonated than beers. Berry has been used as a flavor base due to its popularity. The alcohol content is 5%, which is also intended to speak more to men. “I’m trying to take from both skews, the beer people and the coolers, and see if we can’t come into the new age of ready-to-drink, single-serve,” said Pauleuc. “Only time will tell if I can truly grab those men, because the point is really to grab the men and to cross over.”
UFO’s p-o-s materials may remind consumers of TV’s “X-Files,” with a steel rack that uses chain link fence on the side with simulated barbed wire on top and little warning signs like those used at a nuclear power plant. There are also inflatables that look like flying saucers, and a plastic laser gun that actually hooks onto the bottle. “It’s very out there,” Pauleuc admitted.
The Breezer line will be joined by grape-based Purple People Eater, a flavor originally rolled out as a “small batch” (limited production) offering. The company is also introducing a 12-pack for warehouse accounts. Each will include four flavors: top-selling Piña Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri, Calypso Berry and Caribbean Key Lime.
To Provide An Alternative
The original “Zima Zone” product, malt-based Zima, was introduced by Coors in 1992 and went national two years later. The idea was to “provide an alternative to what is considered traditional alcohol beverage choices,” said Lori Ciesielski, spokesperson for Coors Brewing Co., which markets Zima. “It’s not a wine cooler, it’s not beer. It is a clear, refreshing alcohol beverage. When we created it, we went out and asked consumers what they were looking for if they were to have an alternative alcohol beverage. And we created it based on their input.”
Last summer, Zima firmly hitched its wagon to a strong refreshment message — typified by the tagline, “A few degrees cooler” — which has been transmitted in all print and TV ads. The brand’s summer 1998 program broke during the much-watched “Seinfeld” final episode in May.
Zima Citrix, a citrus-flavored extension introduced last year, remains in test in a few of markets.
Though Seagram’s Frozen Paradise line was removed from the market last year, at Brown-Forman the Tropical Freezes line is still very much in the running. In fact, Nancy Brogan Antle, brand manager for the wine-based Tropical Freezes line, predicted a strong year ahead, in large part because of the virtual lack of competitors in what she termed the “blended freezer cocktail” business. “We’re hearing from consumers that we still have a very strong brand and that there is a very strong consumer need for frozen products.” Tropical Freezes are shelf-stable and frozen before consumed. The product comes in packs of three 8-oz. three-ply aluminum pouches priced at $3.99. The company will not introduce any new flavors this year. Instead, the emphasis will be on keeping its current line-up of flavors — Strawberry Daiquiri (which alone accounts for 40% of the line’s sales), Margarita, Piña Colada and Watermelon are the best sellers of the eight — offered in the line.
Ultimately, whether the category reverses its latest declines depends upon how successful the new flavors and new brand positionings are. And if the companies’ latest promotions and ad campaigns stimulate a wider segment of consumers to enter the category. *
A “Real” Wine Cooler
The Canandaigua Wine Co. has just released Arbor Mist, a line of wine that the company feels represents a new beverage segment, located between wine coolers and table wine. The line consists of three varieties: Strawberry White Zinfandel, Peach Chardonnay and Exotic Fruits White Zinfandel (made with raspberry, lime and other flavors).
Arbor Mist’s alcohol content is 6%. It is made with real chardonnay and white zinfandel, blended with fruit flavors and lightly carbonated. “It’s fermented,” stressed Rob Vlosky, Arbor Mist marketing director. “This is a fermented wine product. It’s real wine.”
Vlosky noted that according to research the company has done, there is a need for wines with a fruitier, sweeter taste, and Arbor Mist provides that “with wine qualities via the chardonnay and the white zinfandel, while at the same time featuring the fruity, slightly fizzy flavors that they [consumers] can enjoy right now.
“Initial response from national distributors and retailers indicates strong market confidence that Arbor Mist will be a huge hit,” Vlosky continued. “Arbor Mist has the potential to grow the overall wine category, drawing in marginal wine drinkers who don’t enjoy the taste of traditional chardonnay and white zinfandel.”
While Canandaigua is targeting primarily women ages 21 to 34, Vlosky said he is “also seeing there may be some interest from older folks, too. As their taste buds mature they want something that’s fruity and a little bit carbonated as well but are interested in the lower alcohol aspect of it.”
The product, which is priced from $3.89 to $3.99 per 750 ml bottle, is designed for placement in the cooler section. “That’s where we think this really needs to go,” said Vlosky, “adjacent to the coolers and the Boone’s-type of products. The presentation on shelf for this thing is phenomenal.”
The company’s six-month, $6.5-million advertising/promotional campaign that begins in September includes space in 21 highly targeted women’s magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Gardens, Vogue, Shape and New Woman. The first spots break in August’s People magazine. At off-premise retail outlets, Arbor Mist offers a full range of p-o-s materials, including case cards, shelf takers, channel strips, cold box static labels and displays. The tagline that adorns the materials states that it is “Great-tasting wine with a splash of fruit.”
Retailers need to provide space for the bevy of cooler flavors — and using signage and displays won’t hurt either.
“Clearly, you have to have a variety to service this marketplace and provide enough shelf space,” said Henry Hawley, vice president of marketing for coolers and new business, Seagram Beverage Company. “There is quite a line-up of flavors, both for ourselves and some of our competitors. Beyond that, what retailers are grappling with are the range of items that people put into this category. It is often an impulse business, so displays become relatively critical, especially during the summer months of the year.”
During the summer months, Frugal MacDoogal’s, in Nashville, TN, mass stacks all of the premium, popular-selling coolers. The displays reflect summertime themes, with seasonal items such as rafts, life jackets and beach balls “just to make it a real summertime fun-type deal,” said general manager Mike Parks.