How New Alcohol Brands Gain Traction

Bringing new alcohol products onto market is difficult. Particularly for entrepreneurs who must compete against global conglomerates and big-name products that already dominate the industry. Nevertheless, each year a bevy of new brands from smaller companies make it onto retail shelves and back bars.

How do these products succeed? It helps, immensely, to have distributor backing. Arriving at this vital relationship is part of the journey for most brands that make it.

A Zoom panel hosted this week by the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America covered the topic of what wholesalers want from new brands. Moderated by WSWA President and CEO Michelle L. Korsmo, the panel included several craft producers and their distributor partners.

So how do brands snag a wholesaler?

“We’re looking for a brand that has differentiation, a purpose for being,” explains Drew Levinson, VP of business development at Breakthru Beverage Group. “It’s hard when you’re piling similar brands with similar stories into the same category.”


Levinson was partnered with Breakthru client Back Bar Project, an importer of premium spirits like Giffard Liqueurs and Cognac Park. It’s also important, he says, for newer companies to zero in on key markets, rather than launching too broadly.

“The old story of launching a new brand across the country is almost impossible in today’s day and age,” says Levinson. “So be very specific with what markets you want to launch in, and why.” Understand where a product fits into specific areas of the country, in terms of trend and demo.

Tapping into current trends is one part of a successful launch, echoes Sara Harmelin, sales & marketing for Allied Beverage. Another is making sure the product clearly displays a personality. She found both of these elements in 21 Seeds, a women-owned brand of naturally infused flavored tequilas.

“Obviously this taps into the trend of drinking healthier,” Harmelin says. “And I remember visiting their website for the first time and I got it right away, the packaging, the story, the personality behind the brand. A brand needs you to get who they are right away, and I got that with them. A brand has to be the synergy of all those things.”

Adapting to COVID-19

A new brand also has to thrive in a rapidly changing environment, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As with the broader industry, companies like 21 Seeds that already had a robust digital presence were better prepared for our new world.

“We were always thinking, where does our core demo, a woman, go for discoveries?” says 21 Seeds Co-founder Kat Hantas. “That’s online, that’s Instagram. That’s the ‘outer-premise’, where we want to build the brand online and through social media. And this made it more convenient for our brand when the pandemic broke.”

This idea of a third arena for alcohol sales — other than on- and off-premise — was brought up by many panelists.

“This new premise, this new channel, that’s one of the biggest trends with COVID,” says Levinson of Breakthru. Especially when “we’re seeing state reopenings happening at different rates. That’s tremendously challenging to stay on top of, how markets are reopening at different speeds.”

Thus, what you can control is critical: your digital presence.

“Make sure you’re updating all your digital content,” says Dave Munoz, VP national sales manager, Back Bar Project. “Make sure that stuff is looking really, really great, because that’s the future in a post-COVID world.”

Part of this exercise for brands is creating content and sharing it with beverage alcohol retailers.

“Right now, when you can’t taste someone on your product, you have to rely on these micro-influencers, the local retailers, to tell consumers what to taste,” says Hantas of 21 Seeds. “And retailers don’t always have time to create content, so create it for them, and send it their way. Keep doing it. Eventually you’ll get a hit, and that’s when you get some serious orders.”

In an age when on-premise activations and in-store samplings remain unsafe, brand stories are more important than ever. If consumer cannot drink the product before purchasing, then they must trust the branding to reflect uniqueness and quality.

“We’re a story-focused brand. We tell the story of Colorado whiskey,” says Philip Rawleigh, VP of business development for 291 Colorado Whiskey (paired with LibDib). “We need to educate sellers to share that story. I’m in the market as hard as they are, educating.”

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece What Alcohol Consumers Are Buying, Months into COVID-19.



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