As our current President could attest, few things are simple anymore — including shooters.
With a respectful nod to the days when a shot glass filled with tequila or whiskey was all one could want, spirits consumed as shooters have evolved into multi-colored, intricately layered, lightly flecked, occasionally imported, neatly cross-merchandised, rigorously promoted phenomenon that Americans have come to love.
But as marketers of soft drinks, teas, yogurts and even vodkas have come to recognize in recent years, what Americans love most are flavors — rich, authentic fruit flavors, and lots of them — which is where the segment finds itself as it prepares to exit the 20th century.
The proliferation of new products with wildly spiced fruit flavors has helped maintain consumer interest in the category. Mixability has come to the forefront as another effective weapon, as have strong marketing programs designed to bring women into the category and keep them there.
Alan Cohen, vice president of brand management for Jim Beam Brands Co., said he sees flavors as the dominant trend, but offers a caveat. “Certainly there’s a group of consumers out there who like the variety and like to try new things. But we’re also the company that has brands like Peachtree and Hot Damn, which have been around for a number of years and continue to do a lot of business. So it’s really a combination. There is a consumer out there who likes to experiment and try different things. When you see the kind of numbers we do, clearly there is also an established consumer brand franchise out there that likes a brand and will stick with it for some time.”
Still, Beam successfully debuted the flavorful Pucker line last year, and more recently added to the line with the introduction of Sour Apple Pucker. Cohen said the Pucker line exploded with sales of 250,000 cases in its first year, and growth continues this year.
DeKuyper will launch no new flavors during calendar 1998, preferring to concentrate on “key” flavors like the Hot Damn, Peachtree and Buttershots and continuing to drive distribution and volume for Pucker. Aftershock, the imported “hot and cool” cinnamon-flavored schnapps introduced in 1995, continues to do “very well,” Cohen said, and added that Blue Avalanche remains “a consistent performer.”
For its part, Hiram Walker just introduced its Sourballs line at the end of May. “It’s our entry into what I’m calling the new sour schnapps segment in the liqueurs market,” said Paul Francis, Hiram Walker cordial brand manager. It will come in four “sour but fruity” flavors: apple, lemon, blue raspberry and peach. Programs for the summer include p-o-s materials in off-premise outlets and bar kits on-premise.
Francis noted that he is seeing a shift from some of the “high-priced imports” to the domestics. He points to additional promotional activity and a bevy of new flavors as the reasons for it. The combination has “created more awareness of the category, drawn more attention to it.”
Meanwhile, Marie Brizard Wines and Spirits USA’s new Fruit Bursters liqueurs, introduced last month, capitalizes on a growing taste trend: double-fruit combinations. The 100% natural flavors include pineapple/coconut, orange/banana, banana/strawberry, kiwi/strawberry and watermelon, and sell for $12.99 each. The company also markets Fireball and other shooter products.
“People are looking for full-flavored products,” said Michael Avitable, vice president of marketing for the North Miami, FL-based firm. “If you look at the spiced rum and flavored vodka categories you see that people are looking for more and more flavor.”
With that in mind, White Rock Distilleries in Lewiston, ME, marketers of Ice 101 and Fire Water, recently introduced Baja Rosa. According to Bill Dabbelt, vice president of sales, the 34-proof strawberry cream liqueur with tequila was launched in March across 15 mostly Midwestern states and another 15 states on the East and West Coasts are now included.
“There’s been a flurry of new products in the last couple of years, but few of them had real staying power,” noted Vince Murphy, general manager for the High Energy Products division of IDV North America, who oversees such product lines as Goldschlager, Rumple Minze, Black Haus and Yukon Jack. “This has made people think a little bit more deliberately about new brand opportunities, in that some of the consumer excitement and profit increases at retail were welcome but fairly temporary. They were followed up fairly quickly by sales declines and slow turning inventories, especially for products that didn’t receive much continuity of marketing support.”
On the other hand, Murphy pointed out, this may not all be bad news. “On the one hand,” he explained, “I expect it to get tougher and more expensive to sell in new brands to an ever more consolidated and sophisticated trade. On the other hand, this raising of the bar may help lead to a category where new products are better conceived and more effectively marketed. This, in turn, should lead to stronger brand franchises and greater value.”
The ultimate winners, he added, will be brands that “effectively segment the shooter market landscape. All shooter consumers are not the same. All brands need not chase the same consumer profile.”
Sending the message to consumers that they can drink shooters together with other products, most notably beer, can only bolster sales.
Sidney Frank Importing Co. in New Rochelle, NY, has been pushing the mixability message for the past two years. Spokesperson Deirdre Maher said, “The message is that it’s not just for shots drinkers, but also for people who would shy away from a shot. Many more companies are developing more and more recipes because they see more possibilities of other audiences enjoying their drinks.” Jagermeister, perched atop the shooters category, sold almost half a million cases last year, a plateau Sidney Frank plans to top this year.
IDV promotes mixability “consistently,” according to Murphy, and with good reason. “For some consumer segments there is no straight usage, and mixability is the only way to gain penetration. Layered shooters, which are also visually appealing, add to the fun and effectiveness of mixability promotion. Also, a mixability strategy helps limit the ‘burn-out factor’ and helps stave off competitive switching.”
Hiram Walker is talking up what it calls a Sourtini: Apple Sourballs and vodka. “Martinis are doing very well out there right now, and it’s kind of a nice little twist.” The company also markets Peppermint Schnapps, Butter Nips, Red Hot and Root Beer flavors.
The back labels on DeKuyper bottles carry a variety of recipes. Cohen said, “We see that a lot of people enjoy drinking Pucker mixed. So, for example, it could be Pucker with 7UP, and we’ll call it Pucker-Up. There are a number of other drinks like that that get promoted in many of the bars.” Another popular recipe combines Sour Apple Pucker and Buttershots to create what he described as “almost a toffee-apple type of drink.”
According to Darcy Rutherford, marketing manager for Barton Brands, the company’s successful 99 Bananas works as a straight shooter with beer on the side and as the major ingredient in mixed-shooter recipes. The 99-proof banana-flavored schnapps “mixes very well with fruit juices and other things,” she said.
Shooter promotions, like shooter sales, begin on-premise, where suppliers make most of their efforts. Still, most brands also continue through with off-premise programs that highlight various point-of-sale materials.
This summer, key DeKuyper flavors will see advertising and on-premise events. Pucker’s newspaper ad thrust will plays off “puckering up” with Pucker Pick-Up Lines. “It ties into the whole dating and mating happening that goes on in the bars with young adults,” said Beam’s Cohen. The company is also providing musicians who will visit on-premise accounts to sing, play a guitar and promote the brands. Off-premise, a consumer program allows purchases to mail in for a life-size raft in the shape of a pair of lips.
Rebecca Green, brand manager for Sazerac’s Dr. McGillicuddy’s Imported Schnapps, says promotions will continue to focus strongly on sports themes on-premise. Earlier this year, the brand’s Mentholmint line rolled out a Hockey Night Promotion that included hockey-themed T-shirts, “Just Shoot It” buttons, logoed key chains, posters and bottle pourers. This spring, the brand’s other flavor, Vanillacuddy, unveiled a “Best Catch of the Day” fishing promotion featuring denim caps, fishing ruler decals and beer huggies.
Most of Barton’s promotions on-premise feature party kits, while retail store materials include a colorful case card featuring a recipe tear pad.
IDV uses the summer months to prepare for the key fall and winter peak seasons by doing basic work in terms of distribution and shelving. “So we’re out there in the summer but not with a very high profile,” said Murphy. “At least not as high as we do in fall and winter.”
The segment should remain “very robust,” according to Hiram Walker’s Francis. “When you look at the whole liqueur segment, it’s up 2%. A big part of that is what companies like Hiram Walker and DeKuyper and others are doing: new flavors, brands and trying to bring some new consumers to the category.”
Beam’s Cohen concluded, “Given the success we’ve had with new products in particular, we continue to believe the category will grow.” *
What’s A Retailer To Do?
No matter how good the product or how well thought out the marketing plan, sales take place at the cash register — which means retailer follow-through can make or break a brand or even an entire category. And so it goes with shooters.
Robert McCormick, district manager for Green’s Beverage Stores in Atlanta, GA, says a couple of his stores do “pretty well” with shooters. Still, many owners stop short of devoting a section to them.
“It’s the floor space,” he noted. “We’ve seen some people do really well with them. It all depends on the demographics in your area.” His recommendation would be to stock shooters at the store’s counter area to garner the most impulse sales.
What should retailers be doing? Here is a cross-section of supplier comments:
- Jim Beam provides retailers with an assortment of serving suggestions using posters featuring a number of drinks, as well as recipe cards. “So we tend to promote very much the mixability and the fact ” that you can create lots of different fun drinks by simply combining flavors,” said Beam’s Cohen.
- Beam encourages retailers to go ahead and devote a section to shooters. DeKuyper “has over 50 flavors,” noted Cohen. “We try and work with the retailer to create what we call the ‘DeKuyper set’ in the store, which is basically putting all the DeKuyper products together. It’s really one-stop shopping for consumers. We also go and create point-of-sale materials that really bring the whole DeKuyper line together.”
- IDV’s Murphy believes retailers can raise sales and margins by “understanding the portfolio and consumer-segmentation nature of the business and merchandising their shelves accordingly. This means having impactful, uncluttered shooter sections restricted to key established brands.”
- “What would bode well for retailers is to not only have their liqueur section, but one just for shooters,” added Hiram Walker’s Francis, “so when the consumer is going through and shopping for a party, it kind of gives them some ideas for having a little bit of fun.” Hiram Walker is working on “resurrecting” a five-year-old cross-merchandising program that used wire racks to hold schnapps with cases of beer.
- “Mainly what we’d like to see them do is have end-aisle displays with the product in case displays,” said Darcy Rutherford, marketing manager for Barton Brands, which markets the three-year-old 99 Bananas schnapps line. They should also cross-merchandise with mixers, she added.
- Marie Brizard’s Avitable recommended the use of end-aisle stacks that can hold all the flavors as well as items like vodka or Martini mixes and glasses, “so the consumer sees, ‘Oh wow, you can make a flavored Martini there.’ They need to lead the consumer to what to do with it as opposed to putting it on the shelf and hoping it sells off.”