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RAISING IRISH SPIRITS

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It’s said that on one day of the year we’re all Irish. But these days, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t the only time things Irish are being celebrated. Celtic pride has spread as far and wide as the far-flung Irish themselves, often putting the country and its people in the news. Today, Ireland has the fastest-growing economy in the European Community. Its culture and music are becoming mainstream in countries around the world, and Irish pubs appear to be proliferating in major cities throughout Europe and North America. The Irish, in fact, saved civilization, according to historian Thomas Cahill.

It’s no wonder so many people claim ancestral ties to an O’Connell, O’Brien, Kelly or some other Irish clan come St. Patrick’s Day.

While Cahill claims that Irish monks rescued the world from interminable Dark Ages, some of the long-lasting contributions the Irish made to civilization include the inventions of whiskey, dry stout and cream liqueurs.

WATER OF LIFE

In days before refrigeration, food often could be a little “off,” leading to an upset stomach. Alcohol, a natural antibiotic, served a useful purpose as a digestive aid. So, when 6th Century Irish monks first made grain alcohol with an alembic (a type of pot still originally used to make perfume by the Moors), the resulting beverage was called uisce beatha, or “water of life.”

Now, Irish whiskey is enjoyed on its own merits. Though volume is relatively small (with the category representing just 0.2% of total distilled spirits consumption in the U.S.), the category has seen steady growth in the past decade despite a decline in brown goods sales overall. That growth (the top six Irish brands were up 6.5% in 1998, according to Adams Liquor Handbook and that growth continued in 1999) has encouraged distillers to introduce new products recently.

The number of distilleries in Ireland fell from nearly 2,000 in the late 1700s to essentially two in the 1960s. Since 1966, most Irish whiskey brands have been produced either by the Middelton Distillery in the south or the Bushmills Distillery in the north. Independents, like Cooley, have sprung up in recent years to offer a number of new brands.

“Interest in whiskies is growing, and people’s knowledge and understanding of whiskey is growing,” said Larry Kass, group marketing manager at Heaven Hill. “We’re in a great discovery phase of Irish whiskey. They’ve been out-shouted for years by other whiskies.”6801WHIS3

Indeed, Irish whiskey sales are growing not only because of interest in all things Irish, but also because of their accessibility, which makes them appealing to U.S. consumers.

Because of the way they’re made, Irish whiskies are considered to be much smoother than other types of whiskey. Irish whiskies are made from a combination of malted and unmalted barley. The malted barley is dried in closed kilns, unlike Scotch whisky which is made with malt dried over open peat fires, giving it its characteristically smoky taste. Most Irish whiskies also are distinguished by the fact that they’re triple-distilled in copper pot stills instead of twice or even once in the faster column still as other whiskies are.6801WHIS1

Distillers and importers are playing up that smoothness to broaden their consumer base. “In the Irish whiskey category, there are two segments where the volume lies,” said David Dorsey, vice president and brand general manager of Scotch and Irish whiskies at Brown-Forman. “One consists of older, middle income, college-educated men of Irish decent. They account for 60% of the volume and they’re very loyal to brands. We don’t want to offend them, but to get to newer drinkers who may include Irish whiskey in their portfolio, we need to send a lifestyle message.”

Bushmills is capitalizing on the opportunity by tying the brand to another product younger consumers have popularized — coffee. This winter, the brand is twisting the Irish coffee concept with materials that support the theme “Not your average Joe.” In the summer the theme will change to “Cooler than your average Joe.” The brand expects the program to tie in with a major coffee company.

The brand also is pushing recipes for drinks like the “Bushfire” shot in on-premise accounts to raise awareness and help drive off-premise sales. Also in the works is a new ad campaign that will likely break in May.

Jameson, too, is trying to break out of the mold. “The category has traditionally focused on its Irish heritage,” said Jeff Agdern, Jameson brand manager at Austin, Nichols. “Consumers in the U.S. have not been exposed to the tremendous quality of Irish whiskies. The new outlook on Jameson is to position it as a premium spirit, not just an Irish whiskey versus Scotch whisky.

Jameson isn’t abandoning its Irish heritage, but sales promotion and public relations programs will be refocused along the theme of the new ad campaign, “What’s the rush?” Brand displays leading up to St. Patrick’s Day will encourage consumers to celebrate at their own pace. A mail-in offer lets consumer send away for a home party kit that includes T-shirts, hats, inflatables, buttons, drink recipes, games and songs.6801IRIS6

Beyond St. Patrick’s Day, Jameson will focus on getting consumers to enjoy life. Off-premise accounts will be supported with a sweepstakes that offers consumer a chance to win “the world’s most unrushed vacation.” On-premise accounts in key markets will get visits from massage teams to encourage people to meet with friends and relax after work instead of fighting rush hour traffic.

Tullamore Dew also is looking to markets with large numbers of target demographics, 30-year-old males familiar with whiskies. “It’s a big opportunity for us to increase distribution,” said Liam MacHale, brand manager at Allied-Domecq. “We’re not going back to our older consumers. They already know the brand.” New print ads incorporate features of Ireland, like one that shows a rugby player, but focus on brand attributes with the tag “tough country, smooth whiskey.”

Smaller Irish whiskey brands are leveraging consumer interest in high end spirits and unique products such as single malt Scotch, single barrel bourbon, and 100% agaves.

Heaven Hill, one of the few independent U.S. distillers, likes to tout the fact that the two Irish whiskies it imports — The Tyrconnell and Kilbeggan’s — are produced by Cooley, an independent distiller in Ireland.

The Tyrconnell also has the distinction of being a pure pot still single malt whiskey. Heaven Hill is positioning it as a step up from traditional Irish whiskies and an alternative to single malt Scotch. Kilbeggan, a moderately priced, light blended Irish whiskey, has found its strength in non-traditional markets such as Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. Both brands will have retail p-o-s support for St. Patrick’s Day.

The big distillers also hopped on the specialty product bandwagon several years ago. Bushmills Single Malt has grown to about 8,000 cases annually. Jameson introduced Jameson Gold last year, a blend of 8-to-20-year-old whiskies seasoned in sherry casks. It’s positioned between Jameson 1780 and the high-end Middleton Rare. This year, Jameson is promoting a limited edition 15-year-old pure pot still “Millennium” whiskey in numbered bottles.

Other specialty brands include Cooley Distillery’s Connemara, a peat-smoked single malt; Knappogue, a single-malt, single-cask whiskey; Bunratty, an Irish poitin (also spelled ‘poteen,’ pronounced po-cheen), which is a fiery home-brewed style Irish whiskey; and coming in February, Clontarf. 6801IRIS5

Distilled and marketed by the team of former R&A Bailey execs who launched Boru Vodka, Clontarf will be available in three versions — classic blend, deluxe blend and single malt.

CREME DE LA CREME

Almost as Irish as whiskey, though a relatively new category, Irish creams have become a real tradition during the holidays and are now starting to make inroads as a more all-occasion cordial.

For the most part, as Baileys goes so goes the category. With 54% of the Irish cream category, Baileys tends to influence not only sales of creams in general, but other liqueurs such as Kahlúa as well. This year, Baileys is focusing on the indulgent nature of the product, but making it more relevant to consumers’ everyday experiences.

“Baileys doesn’t create special moments,” said Dan Butler, program development manager at UDV North America, “it enhances a special moment with indulgence.”

Part of the strategy this year is to “de-seasonalize” the brand. “We want to educate consumers on product form and drinking occasions,” said Craig Jodan, consumer marketing manager, “giving them less formal ways to drink the product on less formal occasions.”6801FY706

Instead of focusing on St. Patrick’s Day, for example, Baileys is promoting a more generic Irish program throughout February and March. The “Doors of Ireland” will be the consumers’ “door to indulgence,” inviting them to enter the Baileys experience through different means.

A near-pack or write-for offer (via bottle-neckers) will provide consumers with a CD containing contemporary Irish music, e-postcards, drink recipes, Baileys screensavers and Baileys commercials. The CD also will direct consumers to the Baileys web site.

Local market radio promotions will reward winners with either the CD or a home pub kit containing coasters, a trivet, glasses and the Baileys story. Where legal, radio stations may hold live remotes from both off- and on-premise locations.

During the summer months, the brand will push “Baileys Blendz,” a program to merchandise the product’s versatility in cold drinks. Off-premise accounts get aggressive sampling support, drink recipe brochures and a glassware offer along with traditional p-o-s support.

Carolans, the number-two brand in the category, has been besieged by several low-priced contenders introduced in recent years, and has seen its share erode somewhat as a result. Though specific plans for this year weren’t available as of this writing, the brand’s not going down without a fight, according to Allied Domecq’s Liam MacHale.

“Alternative variations of creams have potential, but they’ll come and go,” he said. “There will be a falling out of those that only spend on price promotions, not image. Brands like Baileys and Carolans will still be here. We’ll fight to secure our position so new entries are less of a threat.”

O’Mara’s, a wine-based as opposed to whiskey-based cream, continues to enjoy success by virtue of alternative avenues of distribution. “We’ve been able to add to the cream market because we can be distributed in more avenues, such as supermarkets,” said Susan Overton, brand manager at Heaven Hill. “It’s good for the category and for O’Mara’s that we can be sold in different outlets.”

The brand intends to continue a strong sampling program (using bottle-shaped non-alcoholic candies where sampling isn’t legal). For St. Patrick’s Day, the brand will be bringing back the shamrock coffee mugs it introduced during the holidays. Like Baileys, O’Mara’s will be pushing alternative usage during the remainder of the year. This summer, it ties in with local store brand ice cream to promote “Mudslides,” cross-promoted with coupons. Fall will feature a coffee tie-in. The brand will push its versatility with drink and dessert recipes.

Other creams in the value segment, such as Emmets, Sheridans and Saint Brendan’s, will fight it out for attention as new entries scrabble for shelf space.

STOUT CHARACTER6801WHIS2

Though Ireland is noted for a number of the products it produces, from wool sweaters to Irish crystal, perhaps nothing is so Irish in character as beer, particularly dry stout, an Irish invention.6801GUIN1

Guinness, one of the most widely recognized and consumed brands in the world, continues its February lead-in to St. Patricks Day this year. For the seventh year, Guinness will try to break its own record for the world’s largest toast. This year the Great Guinness Toast is themed “raise a pint, raise the record.” More than 130,000 people in 32 markets registered last year. Guinness hopes to top that this year.

The theme switches over to “raise a pint, raise the roof” for St. Patrick’s Day.

In the meantime, Guinness has brewed up a new strategy to change consumer perceptions about the brand. A new ad campaign breaking in February will focus on the refreshing nature of the brand. To many consumers, the color and reputation of Guinness is forbidding. The new positioning intends to make it more accessible to mainstream beer drinkers.

In addition to advertising, Guinness packaging gets a new look, and cans now are available in eight-packs. New p-o-s materials complementing the graphics are available to support the brand.

Brand promotions in many cases this year also will include Harp and Caffrey’s Ale, and in some instances (such as Halloween) Bass Ale.

Color, in fact, seems to be the biggest barrier to broader consumption that stout producers face. All of them are addressing the problem in one way or another. “Stouts are a confusing style to many consumers,” said Bill Wetmore, commercial manager for Scottish & Newcastle, which imports Beamish. “The average consumer thinks they’re heavy and strong, but they’re actually one of the lowest in calories. You can’t judge this beer by its color. Color is only its sexiest feature.”

Beamish, Ireland’s third largest stout producer, is concentrating on sampling, awareness, and education to get the message across. “We’ve been able to convince more and more retailers that it’s acceptable to have more than one stout in stock,” Wetmore said.

Beamish now has cans in every market in which it distributes kegs, and is in about 40 states. The brand kicks off a wholesaler incentive program this month to help broaden its base so it will be more readily available on St. Patrick’s Day. Scottish & Newcastle also is pushing its John Courage brand with Beamish as a “Black & Tan” combo.

Murphy’s also intends to promote “Black & Tan,” taking advantage of its own two brands, Stout and Irish Amber. That push will last until St. Patrick’s Day, with a sweepstakes tie-in and tasting programs to stimulate trial. During the summer, programs will focus on Murphy’s Irish Amber.

Whether it’s whiskey, cream liqueur or beer, Irish products offer a range of tastes for a variety of occasions. With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching, it’s not a bad idea to get your Irish up early and start educating your customers on the many ways they can incorporate Irish beverages into their celebration plans.


Michael Sherer is a Seattle-based writer and consultant specializing in beverages and foodservice.


Wearin’ O’ The Green

Since we’re all Irish one day of the year, the one thing you can count on is that many of your customers will be wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. That means an opportunity for you to see a lot of green at the cash register. Unlike the holidays just past, St. Patrick’s Day is here and gone before you know it. Many suppliers recognize that fact and have designed promotions to try to lengthen the St. Patrick’s Day “window.” And while the holiday seems to have been taken over by beer and babes, remember the host of Irish spirits you have to merchandise. Here are a few ideas from fellow retailers.

* Theme displays. “Theme displays really help,” said Brian Bowden, spirits buyer for Beverages and more!, San Francisco. “Three weeks after the holiday, we get another spike in business when people run out of what they purchased.”

“Right after Valentine’s Day we flip over to St. Patrick’s Day decorations,” said Rick Curtis, Curtis Liquors, Weymouth, MA. “It’s a quick hit, but a concentrated hit.” The stores are turned into Irish pubs with displays that feature all the Irish spirits they carry.

* Tastings. Where legal, sample Irish products. Let consumers compare Beamish, Guinness and Murphy’s at a tasting, or introduce them to other ales they might not have tried, like the recently introduced Caffrey’s. Many Irish creams have a non-alcoholic alternative to give customers a taste of their products. Baileys has a truffle and O’Mara’s offers a bottle-shaped candy. For whiskies, sample Irish whiskies against single malt Scotch and explain how each is made. Host a whiskey tasting at a local restaurant for your customers.

* Cross-merchandising. Display and sample Irish spirits with food. The deli at Schaefer’s, Skokie, IL, features Irish bangers (sausage), rashers (bacon), corned beef and cheeses around the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. The weekend before St. Pat’s, all the departments work together to orchestrate what will be tasted — Irish coffee, coffee with Baileys, beers, cheeses and sausages, for example. Shopper’s Discount Wines & Spirits, Madison, NJ, displays Irish beers near Irish cheeses in the deli department, and will put Irish beers out on display when sampling the cheeses.

* Create impulse sales. In addition to feature displays, put Irish spirits out in other areas of the store, too, to catch the customer’s eye. “We always do a couple little end caps to merchandise different products,” said Ken Lewis, owner of The Party Source, Bellevue, KY. “Over the years, it’s gotten easier to merchandise Irish spirits, particularly at the high end of the market.””It’s a no-brainer to do huge displays of Guinness and Baileys,” said Todd Jacobson, general manager at Happy Harry’s Bottle Shops, Grand Forks, ND, “and, in addition, we’ll play up anything that sounds Irish that week with side stacks and end caps.”

* Advertise. Feature Irish spirits in your weekly newspaper ads a few weeks before the big day.

* Merchandise year-round. Find other occasions on which to feature Irish spirits other than St. Patrick’s Day and year-end holidays. Beverages and more! advertises Jameson or Bushmills about once a quarter as a reminder to customers. Create a holiday, such as a “half St. Pat’s Day” in September, as an excuse to merchandise Irish spirits.

With a little extra effort, you can convince your customers to be Irish on more than just one day a year.


Irish Vodka? What Next?

The Russians have been making their own version of stout for more than a century. Vodka, it seems, is produced by just about every country in the world with a distillery. So, it was probably only a matter of time before the Irish came up with one.

Less than two years ago, a couple of former executives with R&A Bailey formed the Roaring Water Bay Spirits Co. in Dublin. Its first product, Boru Vodka, was launched here a year ago. Available in Original, Citrus and Orange, Boru also has a “Trinity” pack featuring the three flavors in stackable 200 ml bottles.

In time for St. Patrick’s Day, Boru will be available in a 100 proof version. Packaged in a black bottle, Boru Extra Strength Vodka will be supported with display racks, case cards and shelf talkers. Crews from the distillery will do tastings and talks in key markets.

Next up for the new company? No, it’s not tequila. In February, Roaring Water Bay introduces Clontarf Irish whiskey, in single malt and two blends. Clontarf, too, will be available in the stacked sampler pack.

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Facing Facts


Facing Facts

What category management – or fact-based selling – can do for you.

FrugalBeer

It and its components go by many names: category management, fact-based selling, shelf management, micro-marketing, schematic development, space management.

But just what is category management?

“Category management is good business practice,” declared Joe Patti, vice president of retail planning and category management for Anheuser-Busch. “It is understanding the consumer/shopper and developing strategies and tactical plans to meet their needs, while also meeting your business objectives.”

Category management is when a retail operation, most often in partnership with a supplier or suppliers, gathers information pertaining to a type, or category, of product, such as vodka, and uses that information to make business decisions. Category management, or as it is often called, fact-based selling, can affect a retailer’s decisions about what products to sell, how many and which brands of those products to carry, how many of each brand to keep in stock, where to put those products in the store and how to arrange them on the shelf.

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Creating optimum shelf
sets should place “the
right product at the
right price at the right
location.”

“Category management applies an analytical discipline to making decisions about the category. It is about what is best for the consumer and the category,” said Jeff Schouten, group director of category management for Miller. “Prior to category management, the business process or model was all about the deal. Negotiation was king; success was based on negotiating the best deal.”

However, the analysis that goes into fact-based selling can be quite complex.

“Category management is a process in which manufacturers and retailers combine efforts and information to determine the changes needed to a category for maximum returns to the retailer while providing the most efficient assortment for the consumer. The process includes analysis of assortment based on sales and dollars, fair share of shelf to dollar returns, shelf inventory, SKU placement, consumer loyalty, pricing analysis as well as promotional planning for a category,” explained Kristy DeGuisto, category management manager for Allied Domecq Spirits, North America. “The end result would provide a retailer with an easily shopped, consumer-friendly category that is organized with a methodology that a consumer can follow, yet provide price, flavor [and] size options for a consumer to maximize category purchases.”

The starting point for a retail operation looking at a category would be its own sales history for that category. But that — and the sales taking place now — is just the beginning, experts say.

Category management also looks at demographic information about consumers in the store’s area and at the sales history of the category in nearby markets and competing stores. This is traditionally where suppliers come in. They are able to provide retailers with such information, using general consumer data purchased from marketing information companies, such as ACNielsen, IRI [Information Resources, Inc.] and Spectra. These companies collect and analyze vast amounts of information, including point-of-sale data from hundreds and thousands of stores and consumer panel and consumer survey information. This information can help determine what the potential sales of a category could be for the retailer.

“Suppliers can add value by providing [an understanding of] category dynamics and consumer/shopper behavior,” said Patti. “Information on how consumers shop the category in channel (consumer decision trees) and their behavior once they are in the store are valuable for retailers to understand.”

Other suppliers agree.

“Generally speaking, what you are looking to do is simply understand consumer purchasing. How do they buy the product? Why? From where? When? What is their trip frequency? What are the other items in their shopping basket?” said Sam Anderson, a strategic account leader at Brown-Forman.

And the continuing enhancement of computer technology has enabled suppliers and retailers to collect and analyze such information. “Category management is not anything new,” said Anderson, “but technology has enabled us to understand the consumer a little more. When scan data was first collected, we had it, but we didn’t know what to do with it. Now, using technology, we can mine through it and really understand the consumer. The biggest change in category management, for both retailers and manufacturers, has been the technology.”

This technology allows retailers and suppliers to efficiently and effectively use the huge amount of information available to them. The industry has been able to “leverage technology and computer processing advances to automate processes that used to be done in a much more data-intensive fashion,” said Anheuser-Busch’s Patti. “Technology combined with the greater breadth and depth of information (for example, store-level scan data, shopper behavior) has improved our productivity and ability to deliver plans quickly with more targeted insights.”

But what can category management realistically do for a retailer?

When it comes to category management, “an increase in business is the least of expectations,” said Allied Domecq’s DeGuisto. “Implementation of a category management plan will do the following: remove items not selling well in the category, increasing shelf space for exceptionally moving items that may be losing sales to out-of-stocks, it will bring in hot items in the market not currently being sold [by] the retailer and, lastly, it will organize the shelf to place items on the best shelves for their positioning to maximize sales. When done properly, accurately and without manufacturer bias, category management is simply the right product at the right price at the right location.”

Still, retailers do wonder about bias. Here, after all, is a supplier, with products in a category, offering them free advice and support. Who wouldn’t wonder about the advice being given? Is it really meant to grow the category as a whole or is it aimed more at increasing sales of the supplier’s own brands?

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Understanding
consumer purchasing
habits is an important
element in creating
effective category
management programs,
suppliers say.

Traditionally, a retail operation works with one supplier, called the “category captain,” on a category. Increasingly, retail operations are also designating a second supplier as the category’s “validator.” Allowing the validator to see the information and advice being presented to the retailer is meant to ensure against bias.

Suppliers are also concerned with the perception of bias but say that the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. A retailer can see, soon enough, what kinds of sales increases occur when a supplier’s program is followed.

“The key to a good working relationship is trust,” said Anheuser-Busch’s Patti. “The retailer must trust the supplier to provide objective, information-based insights that will benefit the category. The supplier earns this trust by providing solutions that meet the retailer’s overall category objectives, not by focusing just on doing things that will grow sales for the supplier’s products.”

Allied Domecq’s DeGuisto agreed.

“Suppliers and retailers can take years to develop a partnering relationship to the category captain level, and from there, it could take several more years to perfect,” she said. “A mutual trust must exist between the two for the objective to be completely successful.”

And, of course, suppliers do benefit when retailers employ category management practices and increase sales. Indeed, suppliers have very good reasons to jump at the chance to help the retailers of their products. According to a recent report about beer, wine and spirits produced by IRI Information Resources, Inc., “the single greatest opportunity [for] increasing merchandising effectiveness . . . appears to be improving retailer execution.”

Clearly, by using better technology and focusing more intently on relevant demographic, sales and consumer-based data, suppliers and retailers are making strides in their approach to successful category management, or fact-based selling, or category optimization, or…

No matter what you call it, it’s all good. *


WHAT’S NEXT?

It’s all a matter of degree, according to Herb Sorensen, president of Sorensen Associates, an in-store research company based in Troutdale, OR.

“Many years ago, the focus was on specific brands. Then the retailer took a broader perspective and looked at the whole category,” he said. “Then, the newest idea, in the last year or so, was to expand beyond the category and look at aisle management.”

[Aisle management considers how categories interact and how they should be placed in relationship to each other in a store. If data shows, for example, that vodka consumers are also likely to purchase rum, it might be beneficial to place those two categories near each other.]

Now, Sorensen Associates has developed a tool with an even wider focus. Called the PathTracker, this tool is meant to analyze and manage the performance of all the aisles and displays in a store.

The idea is ingeniously simple. PathTracker uses radio frequency tags on a store’s shopping carts and baskets. These tags emit a uniquely coded signal every four seconds which is picked up by antennae located throughout the store. The PathTracker system is able to “triangulate” the position of the tags as people wheel their carts through the store. This information is then integrated with information on what these customers actually buy at the check-out.

Basically, the system records how customers shop: how long their shopping trip lasted, which aisles they went into and in what order, how long they stayed in front of particular displays, how fast they moved and what they ended up buying.

So far, Sorensen has used PathTracker in six supermarkets around the country. And the resulting information has showed some interesting trends. Most shoppers the system tracked, for instance, traveled through only one-quarter of their supermarket. In fact, a large percentage of shoppers only traveled into the first 10 to 15 feet of a store aisle. Also, the system’s reports indicate that people prefer to travel in a counterclockwise direction while shopping and, on average, spent $2 more when in a store with a layout that allowed them to move in that direction.

“People also shopped faster near the end of the trip than they did at the beginning,” said Sorensen. “We called that effect ‘the check-out magnet.'”

How can information like this be used?

Most broadly, it helps suppliers and retailers to better understand customers and their shopping experience. Do customers linger for a long time in the beer aisle? Or do they quickly pick up their purchase and go?

It can help a retailer make decisions about the layout of the store. Can the entrance be placed to allow counterclockwise shopping? Can items requiring a lot of thought to purchase be placed near the entrance of the store when customers are naturally taking more time? Are there aisles and categories where shoppers spend a lot of time, but don’t make many purchases? Are there others that aren’t getting the foot traffic but could be a good source of sales?

Sorensen thinks that his system could even become an integral part of the daily operations of a store. “Certainly, right now, it is intended to be a research tool,” he said. “But maybe in 10 years, every store with scanners will have a cart tracking system.”

Why?

A cart tracking system could, for instance, keep the retailer informed about where people are in their shopping trips. “It could alert store managers to open another check-out lane because X number of shoppers are going to be coming — five minutes before they actually arrive,” said Sorensen.

With ever-increasing sophistication, it’s almost as if retailers and suppliers can know how consumers are going to shop, even before the consumers do.


GETTING TO THE CORE OF THE MATTER

Diageo is currently testing a category shelf management tool for spirits in California that retailers can use themselves. Called CORE Store (CORE standing for “Category Optimized Retailer Executed”), it is designed to provide smaller retail operations with a fact-based approach to category management by laying out spirits categories on shelf in the way that consumers like to shop them.

“We know the cognitive associations consumers make and what consumer motivations and occasions influence their purchasing behavior when it comes to spirits,” explained Stuart Barker, Diageo’s director of category management. “In addition, we have a good handle on brand interaction and know how consumers look at the shelf and what cues help them make purchase decisions.”

The support materials for CORE Store include basic spirits category shelving principles, as well as laminated schematics pages. The support materials are created based on statewide and regional category sales data, from companies and institutions such as IRI, DISCUS and Adams Beverage Group, along with Diageo’s own in-house research, and the latest best practices in category management.

“Depending on how much category management work has already been executed,” said Barker, “retail operations can sometimes see business growth of an estimated 1% to 5% by using a CORE Store type approach to optimizing the shelf.”

Arguably, category management is the attempt, using all the available information, to run a retail business in the best way possible.

“A key word in our industry is optimization — specifically category optimization,” said Barker. “Diageo firmly believes in fact-based selling. At the end of the day, Core Store can help increase category sales, improve consumer shopability and reduce out-of-stocks.”

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Miami Neat

Many of the best independent wine and spirits retailers are multi-generational family businesses and many are long-standing partnerships. Miami’s Foremost Sunset Corners is both. Long regarded throughout Florida’s populous and prosperous Dade County as the place to go to purchase the best in beverage alcohol, the store will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary in December. Owners and cousins Larry Solomon and Michael Bittel are second-generation partners in the business founded by their grandfather in 1954, since none of the original owners’ children chose to go into the business.

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Larry Solomon (left) and Michael Bittel, co-owners of the well-known Foremost Sunset Corners, in Miami, FL.

Both men have been around the business their entire lives. Solomon recalls his first jobs as putting bottles in bags and mopping up the lounge in the days when, like many Florida retailers, the business included an on-premise establishment in the same building, but with a separate entrance. (A decision was made several years ago to close the lounge, which allowed the retail operation to expand and fill the 5,000-sq. ft. building.) As adults, the 50-year-old Bittel claims tenure of 30 years and Solomon, who is two years younger, 25 years.

“The way I’d characterize our store is that we specialize in wines and spirits,” said the understated Solomon. “For the most part, I do the operations and the liquor buying. Michael does the wine buying and the wine selling. But what we really specialize in is providing a lot of service.” He pointed out that unlike the supermarkets, warehouse stores and even large beverage alcohol chains, which deal primarily in heavily branded items, at Sunset Corners the emphasis is on the upper end of the business.

“We are extremely knowledgeable about the products we carry. We’re able to go out and find things for customers, specialty items.”

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“There’s been a world of changes,” said Bittel of his three decades in the store. “Just look at it item by item. Beers are a very important part of our business. Years ago, it was pretty much domestic beers plus Heineken, St. Pauli Girl and Beck’s. Today, we probably carry 300 different kinds of beers. We’ve got all the Belgian beers and many other specialty and imported beers. Back then, it was about $1.29 for a six-pack of inexpensive domestic beer. Today, you can’t buy a bottle of beer for $1.29.”

SUPERPREMIUMS DRIVE MARKET

“If you look at the liquor category, it used to be that there was a fairly small premium brand business. Everything was dominated by either low-end or mid-range products. Today, it’s almost the exact opposite, where our business is dominated by superpremium products, whether they are vodkas or single malts or tequilas. So, that whole pyramid has been turned upside down over the last 30 years.”

Solomon added, “Over the years, you basically had a low end, a high end and a middle in terms of spirits. Let’s take vodka, for instance. What we’ve seen in this store, and it might be because of our clientele, is that the low end of that category has virtually disappeared, primarily as a result of the introduction of different ultra-premiums. Absolut used to be the major ultra-premium vodka, but that’s not the case anymore. You have brands like Grey Goose, Belvedere, and Ketel One that have all stepped up to the plate. Of course, you still need to have your inexpensive stuff on the shelf, your $10.99 jug of vodka, but at our store those sales are pretty much gone these days.”

Any discussion of distilled spirits in the retail market these days has to include the proliferation of new flavors and line extensions in a number of spirits categories. The big question for retailers is always, which ones do they take and where do they put them? It’s a question that Solomon has faced often in recent years.

“A lot of times it’s the customers who are going to make the decisions,” he said. “It’s what they’re looking for that matters.” Solomon added that the downside of all the new flavor introductions is that the suppliers and distributors expect to get more facings on the shelf. “The retailer has a limited amount of space and it can be a little oppressive when you have a vodka in the three regular sizes — 1.75, 1 liter and 750 ml — and they want to make a placement of four flavors in three sizes. That’s 12 additional facings. So you’ve got to make a decision. Maybe you want to carry the product, but you don’t want to carry all three sizes, or you don’t take all the flavors.”

Foremost Sunset Corners, according to Solomon, has long done a big business in single malt whiskies and high-end cognacs, and it’s one of the things that have always set the store apart. “What we like to look for, both in wines and spirits, are the more obscure items that have a lot of quality,” Solomon explained. “You can turn your customers on to these and kind of make a brand within your own store. We’ve been very successful at that through the years.”

In Solomon’s opinion, retailers often don’t know how to make the most of the opportunities they have in front of them. It might be easier to sell a well-known branded spirit, but he’d rather take customers back to the tasting table and turn them on to a new experience. “Our customers come in and they ask for recommendations,” he said. “They’re often looking to try something new.”

STRONG WINE PRESENCE

That’s also true when it comes to wine, which according to Solomon’s estimate, accounts for 60% of the store’s business. (He pegs the spirits portion of the business at 30%, with beer and food making up the remainder.) With wine accounting for such a large part of the operation’s sales, it’s understandable that one of the partners spends the majority of his time and focus on that area. “What we try and do is stay one step ahead of the game. We want to be trend-setters rather than trend followers,” explained Bittel. “That’s the great part of being in the retail business. We have the capacity to follow good wines, wherever they come from. Southwest France is an area that’s particularly strong. Portugal is doing well. Italy is doing very well. We look for pockets of interest. New Zealand is very hot for us. We’re beginning to actually experiment with Greek wines.”

beer260Foremost specializes in superpremium products — in wine, beer and spirits — and offers approximately 300 different beers in the store, including many specialty brands and imports.

To anyone who only knows Greek wine through an acquaintance with retsina, one might wonder about the nature of such an experiment. But Bittel inspires confidence that he knows what he’s doing. “There’s a timely interest in Greek things at the moment because of the Olympics, but that’s just one piece of the equation. For people who are marketing higher-quality Greek wines — and in fact, there are some wonderful estate-bottled wines being produced — this is an opportune time for them to introduce their products to the marketplace. The question is, can you get beyond retsina to more basic reds and whites. We’ve found a few that we like and there’s no doubt that there are lots of them that are of excellent quality. Right now, it’s something that we’re just experimenting with and which has been very well received by consumers.

“I think one of the major differences between retailing today and 25 years ago is that there’s an enthusiasm and a passion for wine and an enjoyment of experimenting with new and different things. People are excited when they can be exposed to something that they haven’t tried before,” Bittel said.

GIVE THEM A TASTE

Bittel’s responsibilities also include overseeing the store’s many wine tastings. “There isn’t a week that goes by that we aren’t doing a couple of tastings,” he said. “We always take the time to make sure that the staff rotates in and out, that they have the same opportunity that we do to try the wine.

“The tastings have different focuses,” he continued. “We do what I call thematic tastings. It might be wines of a given vintage. For instance, in the last 30 days we did a tasting of 25 different wines from the 2001 Bordeaux vintage. We try to have an educational component to everything we do. We also recently had seven wine producers from New Zealand in the store, who poured about 15 of their wines. We conducted a tasting on a Saturday in May, where we had nine different wine producers from Italy pouring their wines. And we try to mix it up a little bit. We’ll sometimes do dinners in restaurants.”

CREATING STORE EXCITEMENT

“That’s another way the business has evolved,” Bittel said. “In retail today, to a certain extent, you’re in the entertainment business. You have to create reasons for people to come to your place of business because the fact is, if you segment out wine from liquor, everybody sells wine today. The grocery stores have an excellent selection of wine. There has to be some reason, other than service, that makes customers say, ‘I’m not going to buy that wine in the grocery store, I’m going to make an extra stop at a retail store.’

“There was big article in our local newspaper the other day, an analysis of retail, that said Americans talk about how important service is, but at the end of the day, what they care about is price. That’s why you have the success of these big box stores like Costco and BJ’s, where they provide no service but sharp prices. I think you need sharp prices, but also excellent service.”

keg display266Wine sales, which have been growing steadily, account for approximately 60% of the store’s business.

At the same time, Bittel added, “I think you also need what I call the entertainment component to draw people to your business and create a reason for them to shop your store. You give them that educational experience, that opportunity to try the wine, that opportunity to meet people.”

Indeed, Bittel maintains that you have to sell customers their wine before they shop for food. “If they pick up the fish first, and they don’t have the wine at home already, they’re going to buy it in the grocery store. You’ve got to help them make the wine decision before they go and pick up the fish.”

All of the in-store tasting events are presented free of charge. According to Bittel, turnout can vary tremendously with the biggest crowds (100 to 140 people) coming on Friday nights “in season.” A weeknight event is likely to draw a much smaller crowd. “The one we had last night was from 5:30 to 7:00 and we got about 17 people,” he said. “But I learned a long time ago that the measure of success is not necessarily how many people you had in attendance, but how many customers you made and how much product you sold. Last night was an extraordinarily successful event. We sold six cases of wine. And these were expensive wines, averaging $50 to $60 a bottle. We’ve had events with 40 people at them and haven’t sold that much wine.”

LOVING THE BUSINESS

But whether it’s selling a $50 bottle of wine, a rare cognac or a six-pack of imported beer, like many retailers who have the business in their blood, these two men can’t see themselves doing anything else. “I love the human interaction,” said Bittel enthusiastically. “When people come into the store, it’s because wine and spirits adds something positive to their lives. If they’re buying for a special occasion, typically it tends to be something positive. If they’re getting something to have with friends, it’s a positive element that they add to their lives, and it’s a very social thing. I’ve been blessed over the course of time that a significant number of my own personal friends are people that I’ve met through the store who have the same kind of interests that I have. My wife and I have been blessed with a wonderful life and a lot of that is attributable to the industry that I’m in.”

Similarly his partner can’t think of anything he doesn’t like about the business. “I loved growing up in it,” Solomon said, with equal passion. “It’s all-consuming. I love everything about it.

“The bottom line is that to be successful you really have to have a niche in the business,” added Solomon. It’s obvious that he and his partner have found the perfect niche for their business as they begin the second 50 years of the Foremost Sunset Corners operation.


Robert Keane is a contributing editor to Beverage Dynamics and writes for a variety of other business magazines.

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Eye Spy

Ever since people first started trading and making deals with one another, there has been theft, robbery and fraud.

And stores — filled with products people want and the cash they used to pay for them — have always been a big, fat target. cover_mailer copy

According to the 2002 National Retail Security Survey from the University of Florida, the average shrinkage rate reported by retailers this year in the survey was 1.7% of their total annual sales. Nationwide, according to the survey’s report, this would amount to losses of approximately $31.3 billion for retailers.

Meanwhile, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2001, the crimes it tracks (murder, robbery, burglary and larceny/theft among them) showed a 2.1% increase over the previous year, the first such increase since 1991. And according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health, beverage alcohol store workers continue to suffer the second highest rate of homicide on the job, after taxi drivers.

Retailers, however, are fighting back — and are using a spectrum of the latest high-tech equipment to do so. BioPay 200 with DL color

The BioPay 200 with DL color, which verifies identity through fingerprints, helps prevent check-cashing fraud.

Take Brightseat Liquors in Landover, MD, for example. For years, Brightseat would have liked to offer a paycheck cashing service because, if it weren’t for fraud, such check cashing can be a lucrative sideline. But, explained Benjamin Ilkovitch, co-owner, “We kept our check cashing business to a minimum because we consistently got burned on bad checks.” He explained that it wasn’t uncommon to lose $500 in a single transaction. “And you need to cash a lot of [good] checks to make up for that $500,” he said. “Many times we had to turn away potential check-cashing customers because we just didn’t know the customer or if the check was good. But that’s all changed now.”

The change is like something out of a science-fiction movie. Brightseat now uses a system from a company called BioPay that allows them to identify someone from his or her fingerprint.

Here’s how it works: when a customer first comes to Brightseat with a check to cash, Brightseat employees use their system to record the prints of the person’s index fingers, a digital picture of the customer and an image of the person’s ID, such as a driver’s license. Brightseat’s system also has a device that verifies that the MICR encoding on the bottom of the check — and therefore the check itself — is authentic and not a counterfeit produced on a laser printer.

Panasonic WV-NM100

Panasonic WJ-HD500BV
The latest in electronic surveillance includes the Panasonic WV-NM100 (top) and the Panasonic WJ-HD500BV (bottom).

After being enrolled, customers don’t have to present ID with their checks. They just place their fingers in the system’s reader to verify their identity.

Meanwhile, if they have tried to cash a bad check in the past, the BioPay system alerts Brightseat. In fact, since BioPay maintains a database of all the people enrolled in its system — according to the company, it has enrolled over 500,000 people in 31 states so far — Brightseat is alerted if that person has an outstanding bad-check history at any BioPay merchant throughout the country.

Ilkovitch originally paid $5,000 to $6,000 for the BioPay system, including the computer used to run it, three years ago. While it does not eliminate all the problems with checks — it cannot, for instance, tell him if the business that issued the check has money in its account — Ilkovitch says he has noticed a dramatic decline in fraud in his store. “It’s been worth every penny,” said the retailer, who has increased his check-cashing business ten-fold since using BioPay.

Closed-Circuit Advances

There have been many such advances in the technology used to combat retail crime. “There have been advances in closed-circuit television (CCTV), electronic article surveillance (EAS) and exception-reporting software in the past 10 to 15 years,” said Robert Blackwood, a founder of Loss Prevention Solutions, a consulting firm based in Winter Park, FL. “And the real advance is in how retailers are applying those tools.”

According to the National Retail Security Survey, 73.3% of the retailers surveyed used live, hidden CCTV and 50.8% used digital video recording systems. Almost half, 49.2%, used POS data-mining software and 17.8% used POS-exception-based CCTV recording, when a camera aimed at the register is triggered to record when certain types of transactions, such as a return, are rung.

Many retailers use EAS systems, which include a product with a tag that causes an alarm to go off at the exit if the tag has not been deactivated by a store clerk. A small percentage (almost 2%) of all the retailers surveyed use the very latest EAS technology, radio-frequency identification tags, or RFID.

Two months ago, Schaefer’s in Skokie, IL, invested in a 16-camera digital system. “We spent $10,000 to $11,000,” reported George Schaefer, co-owner. “A couple of years ago, it would have been at least twice that much, if not more.” IDCheck new photo2

Intelli-Check’s ID-Check terminal, which analyzes and displays information encoded on driver’s licenses, military identification and other forms of state and government identification.

Basically, when it comes to surveillance or closed-camera systems, the term “digital” means computerized. The term for the old video-tape systems is “analog.” The computerized images produced by digital video recorders are stored on a computer’s hard-drive. How much can be stored at one time is a matter of how much computer memory is available.

One big advantage for digital recording is that no one has to remember to change the tape. Digital recording systems can be programmed to automatically continue recording, even if the storage space is full, and to erase the oldest stored images first. “And if you suspect something, you can always save or print out that image,” said Schaefer.

But cameras on these systems can be programmed to start recording only when something happens. By using a cursor at the computer on the image, retailers can block out areas that they do not want to trigger the camera. For example, Schaefer blocked out the view of the street from the camera at his store’s front entrance so that every passing car did not trigger the camera to start recording.

The other advance in surveillance systems is the ability to be networked. “The trend toward networked video surveillance systems opens up a whole new realm of camera viewing and control possibilities,” said Frank Abram, vice president for Panasonic Security Systems. “Networking provides many different ways for retailers to monitor their facility or facilities from remote locations and allows them to interface their video equipment with related devices such as POS systems, more easily.”

Retailers, for instance, can view their store’s live surveillance from a remote location, even from their PC at home. Schaefer thinks such remote viewing possibilities can help with customer service issues as well as security. “Right now, I’m watching a woman wandering around in an aisle and I’m wondering why someone isn’t helping her,” he said, from his office.

Another cutting-edge feature of Schaefer’s new system is a small wireless camera. “We can hide that in places we think we have a problem,” said Schaefer.

Rick Curtis, owner of the Curtis Liquor operation based in South Weymouth, MA, also has digital systems, each with 10 cameras, in his three stores. “It allows you, after the fact, to focus in on what’s been recorded, slow, stop, reverse the action, zoom in 500 to 600%,” he said. “The technology is amazing.”

Curtis paid $3,000 to $3,500 per recorder. “Believe me, it is money well-spent,” he said. “If you catch just one employee, it can pay for itself.”

Green’s, a chain with six stores in Georgia and South Carolina, uses a surveillance system from Sensormatic (a company recently taken over by ADT), which is connected to its POS system with software called POS/EM, short for POS Exception Monitoring. There is a camera trained on each register and what is being done on the register is superimposed on the image from the camera. “It’s fascinating to watch what a dishonest employee will do,” said Lock Reddic, managing partner. “They’ll scan something with the UPC code facing the ceiling. They’ll keep labels at the register and use those instead of scan what they are supposed to be selling.”

With exception-based reporting, a retailer can create a report of any unusual transactions. “If the retailer spots a transaction that in any way seems out there, there will be a camera icon next to it, which will show him a copy of the receipt and a video clip,” said Thomas Dinkel, chief operating officer for Mirasys Communications, a digital video recording company.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these retail-crime fighting technologies is that they are beginning to converge. Not only can surveillance cameras be connected to POS systems, but EAS tags, specifically the ones using radio-frequency technology, can be linked to other systems as well. For example, Mirasys and Checkpoint Systems recently demonstrated a “smart shelf” at the annual Food Marketing Institute (FMI) show. Products were tagged with RFID tags with a sensor located underneath the shelf. When a product was picked up, it sent a signal to the sensor which triggered a surveillance camera to begin recording. And the camera could automatically be set to send the image elsewhere, even to a personal digital assistant (PDA). So, if someone grabbed a high-priced bottle off the shelf, the store’s manager’s PDA could sound an alert and show what was happening, in real time.

Although Jack Bondon, president of the 14-store Berbiglia Wine & Spirits operation in Kansas City, MO, doesn’t connect his POS system to a camera system, he stays on top of exceptional transactions. “I watch those every day. I get a report of all the cancelled transactions and returns and, if there’s a return, for instance, the manager checks the inventory of the returned item that day. If there’s supposed to be 17 bottles but there are only 16, the manager starts asking what’s the matter here — and the employees all know that,” he said.

Exception-based reporting can be a real eye-opener. “For years, people would talk to us about internal theft,” said Bondon. “Insurance people, camera salesmen, people selling door chimes, all kinds of security people. And we‚d say, ‘Oh, no, not us.'”

Now, Bondon sees things differently. “Internal theft has always been around but retailers weren’t aware,” he said. “Now, with the computer systems, we are more aware.”

Bondon, however, is not a big believer in the effectiveness of camera systems. “In 30 years, we have never caught someone because of a camera,” he said. “After all, the employees run the cameras.”

Advertisement

Summer Spirits Bonanza

0206ss16

Quench your customers’
summer thirst with
fast-growing white spirits.

By Michael Sherer

Summer’s the season for backyard barbecues, picnics in the park or just kicking back on the porch with a tall, cold drink, watching the world go by. About the only thing as hot as the summer sun are the white spirits consumers are using to build those frosty cocktails.

White spirits — vodka, gin, rum and tequila — are experiencing tremendous consumer interest, and for the most part constitute a growing category. There were some big bumps in the road last year for the industry as a whole as well as individual brands. The ride looks smoother this year, though, allowing a number of brands to step back on the gas and grow faster again.

Last year’s mixed bag was the result of factors as varied as they were numerous, ranging from recession and industry consolidation to terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. But consumer trends and enthusiasm dampened much of the negative effect of outside forces. Stoli.Butterfly

Stolichnaya, from Allied Domecq Spirits USA, has debuted its new “See what unfolds” ad campaign.

The surge in growth of white spirits in recent years, especially above-premium and imported brands, has been largely due to the economic boom times of the ’90s.

“We enjoyed 10 years of the longest economic expansion in U.S. history with a corresponding expansion of personal income,” said Douglas McCreadie, vice president of marketing, Nolet Spirits USA. “Consumers have discovered new ways to express themselves in the things and brands they buy.”

For the past decade, consumers have been trading up, and even the recession didn’t changed their behavior. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that even middle income consumers are buying more luxury brands. Consumers consider high-priced goods such as ultrapremium spirits and even bigger ticket items like cars, to be affordable luxuries, even in a down economy. That is putting a squeeze on middle-of-the-road brands, though.

Younger consumers, from legal drinking age to their 30s, are perhaps even more brand- and image-conscious than older generations. The growth of this group also has helped fuel growth of higher-end brands.

The biggest wrench in the works last year was the events of September 11. The terrorist attacks put an immediate damper on the travel and hospitality industries. People stopped going to restaurants and bars where so many spirits brands are discovered and consumed. Mandrin bottle/bkgd

Absolut Mandrin, introduced to great success last year by The Absolut Spirits Co./Future Brands, has continued its positive sales momentum.

Surprisingly, even that didn’t slow spirits sales much. A side benefit of people’s fear of going out has been a corresponding increase in the amount of time they spend at home.

“One of the positive repercussions of September 11 was a pick-up in off-premise business because people started entertaining at home more,” said Steve Meyers, senior brand manager for Tanqueray at Schieffelin & Somerset.

The shift to more “cocooning” also fueled another trend that has been growing in recent years. Consumers exposed to the explosion of flavored cocktails appearing in restaurants and bars are now trying to recreate them at home.

“It’s curious how people walk in to someone’s home and ask for their usual drink — a glass of white wine or Scotch on the rocks — but put it down when they see a martini shaker come out and someone offering Cosmopolitans,” McCreadie said. “People aren’t willing to give up luxuries, but they may be willing to change where they consume them.”

Also surprising is how quickly consumers have shown a willingness to return to “normal.” According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant sales started to rebound in December, and exceeded year-earlier figures in January and February, too. The strongest gains, however, have been in casual dining, presenting a challenge to ultra-premium brands. 6807PRD04

Finlandia, from Brown-Forman, introduced both lime- and cranberry-flavored vodkas last year.

“White tablecloth restaurants saw the biggest hit from September 11,” said Dennis Greenwood, national brand manager for Finlandia Vodka Americas, Inc., “but family-style restaurants saw growth. Finlandia saw growth because it’s not priced as high as ultras.”

Vodka Volume Up

Vodka, which accounts for about 25% of industry volume, is still a hot category. Total volume last year was up 4.0% to more than 37 million 9-liter cases.

Much of the growth has been the result of consumer interest in high-end products and flavored vodkas. The resurgence of classic cocktails like the Martini has spurred interest in high-end brands. Younger consumers, though, are taking those classics to new places by demanding different flavors and experiences.

“Younger consumers have grown up on a lot of different flavors even in products like cereal,” said Susan Overton, director of marketing for Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc. “They want those choices.”

Vodka is an ideal spirit to use in mixed cocktails because of its neutral taste. Flavored vodkas have given consumers that much more to play with in terms of drink combinations. Because flavored vodkas are not as sweet as liqueurs, they create a “more sophisticated cocktail than a drink with a paper umbrella in it,” according to Overton.

Flavored vodkas also appear to be adding incremental volume to the segment rather than stealing volume from core brands. Top brand Smirnoff led the pack last year in growth with an impressive 9.6% volume increase. The brand was helped by incremental sales of new flavors it introduced last year, as well as the buzz generated by its “malternative” brand, Smirnoff Ice. SkyyLORES

Skyy Citrus joined the vodka flavor parade last year, adding to the growth of the superpremium Skyy Vodka.

Number-two brand Absolut saw sales dip slightly last year, falling about 1.1%, as it adjusted to new ownership and a new sales force. It continues its award-winning ad campaign, however, with new executions that help keep the brand relevant with consumers.

A brand that fared well under new ownership last year was Stolichnaya. Overlooked in recent years, the brand is getting fresh attention from Allied-Domecq, which took over the brand in January 2001. Sales last year ended up 10.4%. A new ad campaign tagged “See what unfolds” features the Stoli label folded into origami “animals” in natural settings. It’s the first new campaign for the brand in five years, and initial print ads are being supplemented by radio and new p-o-s materials this spring.

A summer program focusing on Stoli’s flavored vodkas features a patio umbrella display, drink cards and more to remind consumers that Stoli was the first vodka to introduce flavored varieties. VOX.palms

The ultra-premium VOX Vodka, from Jim Beam Brands/Future Brands, recently introduced two new sizes to its lineup.

Another hot brand is Skyy. Up about 18.8% last year, the brand continues on a roll with its “cinematic moments” campaign. Seven new executions are expected this year. Skyy Citrus also was a big factor in building both consumer calls and volume for the brand.

Like many brands, Skyy is focusing a lot of effort in on-premise accounts to build awareness. It’s distributing a “great Martini moments” kit to accounts this spring that contains disposable cameras so bar patrons can take pictures of their martini moments. Off-premise sales will be supported with point-of-sale materials that tie into the ad campaign.

Finlandia is pushing its infusion program heavily in on-premise accounts in hopes of driving more consumers to off-premise. There, the brand is featuring lots of new p-o-s materials, including bins and racks, with a metal theme. This month, the brand is launching a new package and ad campaign for Finlandia Lime. MRC03LORES

Sidney Frank Importing just added Grey Goose Le Citron to its ultra-premium Grey Goose and Grey Goose L’Orange vodka line.

“It’s a challenging time for vodka,” Greenwood said. “You always have to be on the cutting edge. The category is very different than it was five years ago with all the flavors and ultras and packaging.”

The smaller ultra-premium brands are counting on continued word-of-mouth to help build sales. Using grassroots education programs like brand ambassadors and bartender and waitstaff training, they’re trying to build a ripple effect with small budgets.

Ketel One is leveraging its heritage as hand-crafted product that has been handed down from father to son. In time for Father’s Day, the brand is creating a micro-CD featuring a video story of how the brand was created. The CD will be given away on a bottle-necker. Thors Monde Award Case Card

Barton Brands’ Thor’s Hammer, another fairly new superpremium import, just debuted a national radio campaign.

Grey Goose, imported from France, continues to tout its taste in print ads, having won a blind taste test conducted by the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago. The brand has grown dramatically in the last few years, jumping from sales of 100,000 9-liter cases nationally in 1999 to 600,000 last year, an increase that was “goosed” by the successful debut of the flavored Grey Goose L’Orange. Indeed, the brand just introduced Grey Goose Le Citron, a lemon-flavored line extension.

Rather than push flavors, brands like Belvedere, Chopin and Wyborowa leverage their heritage. All three are marketed as authentic Polish vodkas, with Belvedere and Chopin positioned as ultra-premiums and Wyborowa a little more attainable. The former, marketed by Millennium, use event marketing at elegant functions like last year’s wedding ceremony for actress Angie Harmon and New York Giants defensive back Jason Sehorn.

Wyborowa, recently purchased by Pernod-Ricard, is concentrating on getting word out to the trade this year, and has plans for a consumer ad campaign next year. 6811A2301

The Millennium Import Co. has staked out solid ultra-premium positioning with its Polish vodkas, Chopin and Belvedere.

Vox, in just a short time, has grown to the number-three ultra-premium behind Belvedere and Grey Goose. It recently introduced two new sizes and will increase its sampling push this year. “Vox Martini Week” will celebrate the classic cocktail, not its flavored cousins, in top restaurants around the country. New p-o-s is designed to highlight the virtues of pure and clear Martinis made with Vox.

Sazerac’s Rain Vodka also is eschewing flavors in favor of straight vodka for people who appreciate the subtle nuances among really fine vodkas. The brand is concentrating on education programs, explaining the brand’s point of difference to bartenders, waitstaff and retailers, and giving consumers the opportunity to sample the product where legal.

“You can’t really tell the brand story in ads,” said Rain brand manager Rebecca Green. “You have to have time to explain and give consumers the opportunity to taste. When you talk about volume, though, you have to have off-premise sales. We hope the ripple effect will drive those sales.”

Leading Brands of Vodka
(Thousands of 9-Liter Cases)

Brand Supplier 2000 2001(p) % Chg
Smirnoff Guinness UDV 5,783 6,340 9.6%
Absolut Absolut/Future Brands 4,500 4,450 -1.1%
Popov Vodka Guinness UDV 1,910 1,830 -4.2%
McCormick Vodka McCormick Distilling 1,595 1,700 6.6%
Gordon’s Vodka Guinness UDV 1,759 1,590 -9.6%
Stolichnaya Allied Domecq Spirits USA 1,350 1,490 10.4%
Barton Vodka Barton Brands 1,383 1,459 5.5%
Skyy Skyy Spirits 1,090 1,295 18.8%
Skol Vodka Barton Brands 1,108 1,157 4.4%
Kamchatka Guinness UDV/Jim Beam Brands 1,050 1,086 3.4%
Total Leading Brands 21,528 24,312 4.0%
Others 14,499 15,055 3.8%
Total Vodka 36,027 37,452 4.0%

(p) 2001 Preliminary. Source: Adams Handbook Advance 2002

Another relatively new superpremium, Thor’s Hammer, imported and marketed by Barton Brands, has taken a more ambitious tack. Last year, Barton supported the brand with a fairly heavy schedule in The Wall Street Journal. And it features a full line of off-premise merchandising materials as well as a line of quality on-premise materials. In addition, “in 28 markets we run Viking Night promotions, where we feature various giveaways (T-shirts, etc.) and make it fun for bartenders and consumers,” said Ed Gualtieri, Barton’s director of marketing. Searching for more brand awareness, Thor’s Hammer debuted a national radio campaign on the Howard Stern show last month.

Gualtieri believes the brand, introduced a year and a half ago and available nationally, has a distinctive story to tell. Made from 100% wheat, Thor’s Hammer is produced with water from an underground lake that has a unique chemical composition, including a high ph. “The result is a vodka with a very smooth mouthfeel and lots of clarity,” he said. “Depletion percentage gains have been in the solid duble-digits; however, the brand is still in its infancy.” Because of its clarity and smoothness, Gualtieri said the brand is most popular in Martinis, “but it is also good in Cosmopolitans and Gimlets.”


Evaluating Vodka

Vodkas, especially the ultra-premiums, are in a war of words over which is better. Finlandia, for example, is in the process of using independent labs to prove that it is the “purest” vodka available. Why all the fuss over a spirit that by definition is supposed to be odorless, colorless and have no taste at all?

Even though vodka is a neutral grain spirit, it does have a certain taste and mouthfeel. The objective of a good vodka is to be as smooth as possible on the palate. A number of factors will affect both smoothness and taste.

PRIMARY INGREDIENT. The ingredient with which vodka is made will have an influence on taste. Traditional Polish vodkas such as Belvedere and Wyborowa, for example, are made with rye. Absolut boasts about its Swedish wheat. Stoli is made with winter wheat. Finlandia uses six-row barley. Rain uses only organically grown grains. Some vodkas are made with potatoes. Each will impart its own subtle flavor.

DISTILLATION. How vodka is distilled, as well as how many times, can have an effect on vodka’s smoothness. Some claim continuous distillation is better than distillation in a pot or column still, and there’s disagreement about which of those two types of stills is best. Some, like Vox, are distilled as many as five times, the idea being that each distillation removes more impurities from the alcohol. Several, such as Rain, discard the “heads” and “tails” of each distillation, again to remove impurities.

FILTRATION. Once vodka has been distilled, it’s usually filtered to remove even more impurities, often through charcoal. Wyborowa is triple-filtered. Stolichnaya is filtered first through quartz sand, then through birch charcoal.

WATER. The other main ingredient of any spirit is water. The mineral content certainly can have an effect on taste. Thor’s Hammer, for instance, draws its water from an underground lake in Sweden, 200 feet beneath the surface, which provides a unique chemical composition. Glacial water is big with a number of brands. Limestone is another. Again, each brand will suggest its water results in a superior, distinctive taste.

Ultimately, taste is on the tongue of the beholder. When you sample vodka, however, look for flavor notes when it first touches your tongue such as sweetness, citrus or floral tones, or a hint of grain such as rye. Next, look for mouthfeel of the alcohol and smoothness as it hits the back of your mouth and throat. Is it soft or harsh? Finally, look for a minimum of aftertaste in the finish.

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Mad For Malternatives


Mad For Malternatives

SALES OF ALTERNATIVE MALT BEVERAGES ARE EXPLODING. WILL THE TREND LAST?

By now, you think you’ve seen it all. You watched dry beer turn as parched as the Dust Bowl. Packaged draft turned into a one-trick pony. Ice beer melted almost as fast as a snow ball in Palm Beach. Clear beer was invisible to consumers from the very get-go. Micros, despite popping up by the hundreds, got so micro they disappeared altogether. 0206mlt

Smirnoff Ice sold about 22 million 2.25-gallon cases last year, giving life to the flavored, spirits-branded malt beverage segment.

Hold onto your hats because here come malternatives. The flavored malt beverage category, including hard lemonades, malt-based coolers and a new breed of spirits-branded alternative malt beverages, grew 26% last year, according to Morgan Stanley Forecasting. Sales this year are expected to more than double, compared to 12% growth for imported beer and only about 1% for domestic beer.

Smirnoff Ice, in its first full year of distribution, sold about 22 million 2.25-gallon cases, single-handedly creating a new segment within the category. This spring, another half dozen major new brands have been introduced, increasing the competition and raising the stakes. Can the market support them? Will the trend last, or be a fleeting fad, just the latest gimmick in the industry’s bag of tricks to try to boost sales?

Five years ago, when the first wave of alternative malt beverages swept ashore from places like Australia and the U.K., major brewers here looked on cautiously from the sidelines. Hard lemonade and fruit-flavored malt brews suddenly became the rage with nearly 60 new entries in the space of a year, most from small producers.

Coors, which had already introduced Zima, the first “malternative,” in 1993, took a pass. Miller Brewing tested the waters with a lemon brew, but decided not to get wet. Anheuser-Busch dabbled with a couple of test products and eventually settled on Doc Otis lemon brew.

The introduction and instant success of Smirnoff Ice, however, has created a whole new ballgame. Attaching a spirits brand name to a malt-based beverage has given spirits companies and brewers a new way to market to consumers. So much so that these new products may quickly create their own segment of what was already a growing category.

Facing flat sales despite an influx of new legal drinking age consumers, the beer industry has been quick to take advantage of the trend to flavors this time around. In February, Anheuser-Busch launched Bacardi Silver in partnership with Bacardi, one of the world’s largest spirits brands.

Miller quickly followed with the March launch of Skyy Blue in partnership with Skyy Spirits. Then in quick succession, Miller announced an alliance with Allied-Domecq to produce Stolichnaya Citrona and Sauza Diablo, and another partnership with Brown-Forman to make a yet-to-be-named Jack Daniel’s malternative. Stoli Citrona and Sauza Diablo both bow this month with a national rollout in June. The Jack Daniel’s-flavored product will be available this summer.

Finlandia is testing a flavored malt beverage in Australia and Puerto Rico this summer, and may introduce it here by the end of this year or early next. Others are sure to follow.

Coors, with 10 years already invested in the Zima brand, is taking a different tack. Leveraging the Zima brand name, Coors is launching Vibe this month in selected markets including Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Columbus, Houston, Denver, San Diego and Pittsburgh. Roll-out to additional markets will be gradual.

Timing Is Right

Whether the market can withstand this onslaught of brands in so short a time remains to be seen, but the timing seems right. Zima, in fact, was probably ahead of its time.

The fact is that every generation has had its alternative beverage for young entry-level drinkers not yet accustomed to the taste of beer, wine or spirits.

BacardiSilver 6803PRD01
This spring saw the launch of Bacardi Silver, a partnership between Anheuser-Busch and Bacardi USA, and Skyy Blue, an alliance between Miller Brewing and Skyy Spirits.

“There has always been the consumer who looks for flavored beverage alcohol,” said Marlene Coulis, director of new products for Anheuser-Busch, “someone who doesn’t like the taste of beer and doesn’t want to move to spirits.”

Distillers, brewers and vintners have been adding flavors and fruits to their products for centuries to make them more palatable. Liqueurs and cordials, for example, were created to disguise the harsh taste of alcohol.

More recent generations have seen their own alternatives. The ’60s offered sangria and Boone’s Farm. Popular beverages in the ’70s were sweet rosé wines like Lancer’s. The ’80s brought us wine coolers. Then came Zima, hard lemonades, ciders and teas. And every generation has had its favorite sweet mixed drinks — rum and cola, rye and ginger, Tom Collins, daiquiris, sours, margaritas — the list goes on.

The new generation of entry level drinkers is unusual in that it has grown up on an incredible variety of flavors in a wide range of food and beverage products. These consumers are used to a tremendous number of choices, from flavor varieties of a single product like oatmeal to the wide range of products in each category that are available to them. In the past decade, consumers have seen an explosion of new products in the beverage aisle, from flavored teas to energy drinks.

“Across a lot of categories, consumers, especially those from 21 to 27, are demanding a lot of flavors in food and beverages,” said Ann Stickler, director of strategy and new business development at Miller. “I think these products are exciting, unlike just another beer. People are looking for different flavors.”

This generation also is more sophisticated than its predecessors. Fueled with information in an ever-shrinking world, these consumers are very brand-conscious and aren’t afraid to spend money on brands they perceive to offer quality and image. The new breed of malternatives does just that.

Young consumers today have shown strong preference for superpremium and even ultrapremium brands and a willingness to pay for them. So, when brands like Smirnoff, Skyy, Stolichnaya, Bacardi, Sauza and more attach themselves to a new beverage product, consumers sit up and take notice. Consumers are well aware of these brands, and more will likely become aware as a result of malternatives.

Stoli.Citrona Sauza.Diablo
Miller Brewing and Allied Domecq have joined forces to create Stoli Citrona and Sauza Diablo, both of them bowing this month.

It also doesn’t hurt that both the spirits companies and brewers behind these new products are spending heavily to raise that awareness. Smirnoff spent an estimated $50 million last year to market Smirnoff Ice, which equates to about $2.39 a case. Guinness/UDV plans to spend twice that on the brand this year to make sure the product is more than just a fad.

Anheuser-Busch is spending an estimated $50 to $60 million this year on Bacardi Silver. Miller is spending an estimated $40 million on Skyy Blue, and budgets for Stoli Citrona and Sauza Diablo likely will be comparable on a pro-rated basis.

“Compared to our $10 million on Skyy Vodka, Miller’s $40 million on Skyy Blue is like quadrupling our ad budget,” said Gerard Ruvo, senior vice president of sales at Skyy Spirits.

In other words, everyone wins — assuming consumers like the products.

What spirits-branded malternatives also offer that most malternatives haven’t to date (with the possible exception of Zima) is a sophisticated image. Coolers and hard lemonades are positioned more as refreshment for regular folks when a beer might not be appropriate or desired because of its taste. The new malternatives appeal more to those who aspire to today’s cocktail culture, but want something a little less potent than spirits.

“We want to make sure the product and the package carries a higher level of sophistication than beer,” A-B’s Coulis said of Bacardi Silver. “It’s priced higher than our beer brands, and everything we do reflects that. Our p-o-s is more upscale. There are fewer items and they’re higher quality.”

Ads also portray these brands as a social lubricant like beer, but on a more sophisticated level. Packaging plays a significant role to raise awareness among consumers so they know what to ask for when they try them at bars and restaurants. Skyy Blue’s package, for example, mimics Skyy Vodka’s upscale cobalt blue bottle. And initial focus for all the new brands will be in on-premise accounts where consumers often first “discover” new brands.

While brands will be pushing sampling on-premise, display in off-premise is important. Brands will be encouraging retailers to use classy new point-of-sale materials to build displays. Promotion plans for most of the new brands hadn’t yet been set earlier this spring, but strong support is anticipated.

ZIMA.6citrus vibebot02
Zima, from Coors Brewing, has revamped its product as well as launching Vibe in selected markets this month.

Zima is responding to the competition and the new consumer interest in the category by revamping the product. New ads and a $1 million under-the-cap promotion tied to CBS’ “Survivor 4” in April and May signaled the changes. A slightly different formulation will appear in new smooth glass bottles in metallic six-pack carriers with new graphics and a sleeker, more modern logo by June.

Stumbling Blocks

While the new products appear to be poised to take the market by storm, it won’t all be smooth sailing. The brands face opposition not only from competition, but from consumer advocacy groups as well.

The biggest concern is whether these products mislead consumers into believing they contain a distilled spirit rather than malt-based alcohol. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is taking a close look at the way in which these products are labeled and marketed.

Words on labels such as “flavored malt beverage made with natural flavors containing vodka” won’t be allowed under new rules issued by ATF because they suggest to consumers that the products actually contain distilled spirits. Though taking the words “vodka” or “rum” off the package may have some impact on sales, spirits brand names are still going to drive interest and sales. And consumers are still likely to be confused, assuming that a name like Smirnoff, Bacardi or Sauza means the product actually contains vodka, rum or tequila.

Seagram's Raspberry Peach S
Seagram’s Coolers has launched a couple of new flavors and has recently settled in with United States Beverage, the company that also markets Hooper’s Hooch (below), which also recently introduced orange and berry flavors.
hoochfamily

The other concern voiced by industry watchdogs is the fact that like beer, these products can be advertised on television. That is giving spirits companies a way around the network-television ban on liquor advertising. Promoting spirits-branded malternatives will encourage young consumers to step up to spirits brands, opponents say.

Marketers are taking the criticism seriously and taking responsible action. Guinness/UDV has promised that at least 70% of the target audience of any media it buys must be legal drinking age or older. And it has devoted a substantial portion of its media budget to a responsible drinking campaign.

Miller and Allied-Domecq noted that they would take pains to address ATF and advocacy group concerns about labeling and marketing before their products are introduced.

Hard lemonades also stirred up a storm of controversy when they hit the market. Marketers were accused of promoting the “alco-pops” to underage consumers. That storm blew over, however, and it’s likely this latest will, too.

Got Lemons, Make Lemonade

For their part, hard lemonades continue to make inroads and are helping the category increase its volume and share. After the initial influx of brands several years ago, the category has settled down with survivors like Mike’s Hard Lemonade from Mike’s Hard Beverages getting stronger.

Two Dogs was acquired by Pernod Ricard recently, giving that spirits company an entree into the malternatives category. The brand should benefit from its new parent company’s size.

A-B’s Doc Otis dropped “Otis” to become just “Doc’s” this spring. Humor-based ads and a product-based spot to raise awareness of what the product is are part of $19 million in support this year. A sailboat-themed program this summer reinforces appropriateness of outdoor usage as well as how refreshing and drinkable the product is.

United States Beverage has become a major player in the malternatives category, having picked up Hooper’s Hooch, Rick’s and Seagram’s Coolers. Hooch introduced orange and berry flavors this spring, giving consumers even more choices.

“Look at what the product is inside the bottle,” said Jerry Greenstein, vice president of marketing. “Smirnoff Ice is a lemon-citrus flavor, just like Hooch or Mike’s. So is Bacardi Silver and Skyy Blue. Lemonades reignited this category, but flavors will differentiate products in the category.”

The company is betting that the wide range of flavors among its three brands will help all of them grow. To help promote its new flavors, Hooch is supporting them with a “Play Hard” sweepstakes promotion offering consumers chances to win a trip to Italy and motor scooters among other prizes.

Now that there are even more products in the category that address a wider variety of usage occasions, growth may be even stronger.

“If you look at international trends and how the category has done in the U.K. and Australia, you’ll see 10 years of growth, and it continues to grow,” Stickler said. “We don’t have the sense that it’s a fad at all, so we intend to get out there with strong brands, brands that carve out the most unique spots.”

Industry experts, in fact, suggest the category could grow to represent anywhere from 5% to 7% of beer industry sales. The category also appeals almost equally to men and women, which opens up new opportunities for marketers, but also poses new challenges.

“It requires a new way of looking at and advertising the brand,” Stickler said.

Skyy Blue, for example, is playing up the visual appeal of its packaging and buying space in women’s magazines as well as men’s.

Coors has given Zima a more masculine look and targets advertising to men, but has tried to make them appealing to women as well. Vibe, on the other hand, targets male consumers even more directly.

Best of all, however, so far the products seem to be bringing new drinkers and incremental sales to the malt beverage industry.

“What’s great is that it’s almost all incremental to the beer business,” Stickler said. “Only about 40% of sales is coming from beer drinkers.”

Should you hop on the bandwagon? Tastes do change. But even if malternatives eventually lose their luster with consumers, it ought to be a heck of a ride. *

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Wine In The USA

The 1990s were an excellent decade for the California wine industry. Robust economic growth and lifestyle demographics, generally favorable to upscale consumer products, benefited the premium varietal wine market and the peponderance of California producers who found themselves prospering in an extraordinary “sellers” market.

In 1999, the U.S. wine market reached the close of the 20th century up 5% from the previous year with the total including a huge (26%) spike in sparkling wine shipments destined for millennium celebrations. The market moderated to 3% growth in 2000, although shipments of table wine (including California, other states and imports) still hit a record high. Excluding coolers, the total U.S. wine market also reached a new pinnacle, in spite of huge declines for sparkling wines.

6809CALI3

The trend of upscaling to better quality varietal wines remained a pervasive U.S. market driver, even as growth stalled slightly in the fourth quarter. Demand for high-end California table wines remained strong and premium wine producers with sufficient inventories generally enjoyed solid growth. Premium wine market leaders such Robert Mondavi, Beringer-Blass Wine Estates, Kendall-Jackson and Beaulieu Vineyard all posted strong increases from already large volume bases.

A Window of Opportunity
for Quality Foreign Producers

Although global wine production has outstripped demand for many years, much of the wine lake had little appeal to American consumers. Recent vineyard and winery upgrades have elevated quality in old world wine regions and in newly emerged exporting nations. A new wave of wine company investment across national boarders has intensified, producing savvy interntional exporting companies with marketing programs targeted at the U.S. In addition, the dollar reached its highest level in relation to the French franc and Italian lire in 15 years (when imports last captured their highest share of the U.S. market.). Importing companies capitalized on favorable exchange rates, and bottled still wine imports to the U.S. surged by 8.2 million cases in 2000. Although Italy, France, Spain, Germany all achieved market penetration, 40% of the imported table wine increases came from the Southern Hemisphere. Wines from Australia, Chile and Argentina all hit consumer-friendly price points in upscale packaging well suited for mass market on- and off-premise outlets. From a smaller base, wines from New Zealand and South Africa also attracted strong trade attention and consumer sell through.

A Look at Food Store Sales

ACNielsen/Adams Business Research food store reports illustrate the pervasive consumer shift upward in purchase patterns in 2000. Sales of all table wines $7 and above (American and foreign) advanced by 1.9 million cases (+22%), while everyday wines (below $7, and which make up 80% of food store volume) declined by 380,000 cases, or 1%. Most of these losses were in large-sized generic wines (jugs, priced below $3), which by themselves declined by 920,000 cases (-4%). Wines in the high premium range were only 20% of total volume but represented 43% of dollar revenues, while everyday wines were 80% of the volume but just 57% of the revenues. 6809CALI1

According to ACNielsen/Adams, the greatest absolute volume growth in food stores was in the $7 up to $10 price category, which grew by 1.3 million cases, up 22%. Newly bearing vines primarily from California’s Central Coast became the foundation for “Coastal” brand line extensions hitting these price points from Mondavi, Beaulieu, Beringer, Callaway and Villa Mt. Eden. Other brands in this important niche include Meridian, Farallon, Hawk Crest, Indigo Hills, Rosemount Estates, Clos du Bois and Echelon from the Chalone group.

Brands at higher price points also grew rapidly. From a smaller base, wines in the $10 up to $14 category jumped 23%, while wines in the $14 and over segment climbed 18%. In contrast, wines in the fighting varietal price range of $3 up to $7 grew by only 3%.

Chardonnay achieved the largest growth among all varietals, gaining nearly 1.1 million cases, or 12%. Merlot was the second-largest gainer, growing by over 800,000 cases, or 17%. With an increased supply available, Cabernet Sauvignon sales climbed by over 500,000 cases, up 12%. Among other varietals, Pinot Grigio (+44%) and Pinot Noir (+20%) both grew rapidly, but White Zinfandel declined 5% in part because of cannibalization by low-alcohol, flavored varietals.

The Big Picture

With all its wealth relative to other nations, only one-quarter of U.S. adults are wine drinkers, according to recent Wine Market Council research. Exporting nations have always viewed this narrow consumer base for wine as an obvious marketing opportunity but success has been elusive. U.S. table wine consumption (including imports) remained smaller than dessert wine volume until 1968. Imported table wines that were about 26% of U.S. consumption at their peak in 1984, plunged in the last half of the 1980s to about 12% by 1991. This period saw the rise of California “fighting varietals” priced at ($3-$7 per bottle), which emerged from varietal planting excesses of the 1970s. That era’s weak dollar also benefited California’s finest high-end producers and California Cabernet appeared on East Coast wine lists that previously featured primarily Bordeaux. New premium wineries opened in coastal regions from Mendocino to Santa Barbara and California premium table wine grew substantially — but in a stagnant overall market. Interest rates were high, the dollar weak, phylloxera hit California’s most prestigious vineyard regions, and vocal anti-alcohol forces in the U.S. Congress threatened new “sin taxes” and onerous label regulations. Wine marketing was no fun and consumption languished.

Premium California table wine supply lagged the demand that developed as the U.S. economy strengthened in the ’90s. The surprise “French Paradox” broadcast health revelations blunted anti-alcohol sentiment giving the California Wine Institute, Women for WineSense and other industry groups research supporting more balanced legislative policies toward wine. A new wave of imported table wines packaged with consumer-friendly varietal designations gained ready acceptance.

Chart3

In a 1983 benchmark study, Gomberg-Fredrikson & Associates segment California table wines into categories that have become industry standards. Wines below $3 per 750 ml bottle (mostly generic blends packaged in large sizes) made up the Economy or Jug wine sector. California premium wines were primarily those identified by varietal and selling above that level. This category was subdivided into Popular Premiums ($3-$7), Super Premiums ($7-$14), Ultra-Premiums ($14-$25) and Luxury wines priced at above $25 per bottle. At that time, GFA found that total premium volume was about 10% of wine sold but represented approximately $27% of winery revenues. By the year 2000, California premium shipments had reached 63% of volume and represented 87% of revenues.

At mid-year 2001, the California wine industry is in transition to a much more competitive environment. More and better wines are being made all over the world and many are in excess supply. Imports, which also rose significantly in the buoyant markets of the late 1990s, are once again at appoximately 20% of U.S. table wine consumption. Inventory supply and demand has finally reached a balance for most California producers and large increases are anticipated from newly bearing vineyards in 2001 and upcoming vintages.

As the U.S. consumer has continued to move upscale, California’s popular premium wines have largely taken the place of jug wines as “house pours” and form the foundation of most restaurant wine-by- the-glass programs. These wines when added to jug wines, now make up the “everyday” table wines from California and represent about 73% of California volume.

Chart1

Chardonnay, now in abundant supply, and Merlot, also reaching high inventory levels, will become very competitive with newly popular imports in the $6.99 category this year. “High Premium” wines (everything above $7 at retail) will also benefit from expected drops in grape prices across most varietals in the upcoming vintage. The “ratchet up” effect that has characterized recent California wine pricing should mediate eventually in all price segments.

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Brandy’s Dandy

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Think brandy or cognac, and you may envision holding a snifter by the fire or a glass of eggnog at a holiday party. Just the spirit for the upcoming season. But brandy isn’t a hit just at the holidays anymore. While brandy volume spikes during the winter months, year-round sales are steadily growing.

Total brandy and cognac sales were up 5.9% last year to nearly 8.7 million 9-liter cases, according to the Adams Liquor Handbook 2001. Cognac alone grew at an even faster pace, but sales at nearly all price levels are growing. Category performance also has been steady for several years, putting it in an enviable position, especially among brown goods producers.

A number of trends have driven brandy’s success in recent years. Traditional brandy drinkers — think residents of the three largest brandy markets, Wisconsin, Minnesota and northern Michigan — stick with what they know. The urban culture of African-American and Hispanic consumers is moving to the suburbs, along with beverage preferences. Younger adult consumers are turning on to the sophistication these products offer. And, as with many other categories, consumers are trading up.

All these trends are leading not only to category growth, but a plethora of new products aimed at capturing more of these diverse consumers.

Sticking With Tradition

The holiday season already upon us is a great time to merchandise brandy and cognac. In addition to being perceived as a special gift, consumers associate brandy with relaxing at home with friends. And what better time to get together with friends than the holidays?

“Research says brandy consumers are very loyal; it’s their drink of choice year round,” said Susan Overton, marketing director at Heaven Hill Distilleries, which markets Christian Brothers. “But there’s definitely an upswing in the fall as others also drink more brandy. This is the season when people look forward to a glass of brandy by the fire.”

The big domestic brands continue to use the holidays as a springboard to build product awareness and strategy for the rest of the year. Christian Brothers, which grew 4.8% last year, is offering a cross-merchandising mail-in rebate in many markets, pairing brandy sales with savings on firelogs or eggnog.

The brand’s VSOP was repackaged last year in a clear bottle to better communicate the rich color and value of the product. Marketing efforts into next year will be directed to the trade. 6811COG02

Major focus next year will be placed on Christian Brothers Amber. Several consumer promotions are planned to help build the brand at retail and reinforce Christian Brothers’ quality image.

Paul Masson brandy is promoting a brandy “Martini” made with Amaretto and cherry juice this winter in addition to traditional holiday gift boxes. The brand grew 13% last year to more than a million cases. It’s ad campaign — the Paul Masson brandy moment — is all about being comfortable at home with friends and appears nationally in print media like Vibe, Esquire, Stuff, Golf, Savoy and GQ.

“Paul Masson is growing about twice as fast as the category, which is an enviable position to be in,” said Peggy Fox, director of marketing for Canandaigua Wines. “People are very positive about it. They’re drinking it straight and mixed, so it’s not just a male drink. And while we’re not ignoring women or ethnic groups, we’re aggressively going after the Caucasian audience of men 29 to 45.”

New this fall are 200 ml and 375 ml sizes of Paul Masson VSOP, which was introduced last year. The brand also has plans for a 50 ml package for VSOP and a 100 ml size for VS to drive impulse sales near the register.

Category leader E&J Brandy saw sales rise 8.4% last year to 2.2 million cases. The brand expects sales this year to surpass last year’s by about the ame margin. The brand has been appealing to new users by promoting the mixability of both its VS and VSOP to younger consumers. A partnership with Cadbury-Schweppes has helped demonstrate the brand’s versatility.

For the holidays, E&J is introducing premium-priced Single Vintage Brandy that is available in limited quantities. The seasonal product will be different every year. All the E&J brandies are supported with a comprehensive national merchandising program including a fireplace display, gift boxes and drink recipes.

The brand expects to follow up the holidays with a national cross-promotion at retail in the first quarter of next year.

The retro trend defined by the return of classic cars, clothes and cocktails also is having a positive impact on brandy sales. “As retro cocktails become more fashionable, brandy drinks are coming back, adding to category growth and discovery,” said Tim Laird, senior brand manager for Korbel Brandy.

Korbel Classic is upgrading its packaging and offering a holiday eggnog promotion with recipes and drink ideas this fall. The brand also has introduced Gold Reserve VSOP in test markets to bridge the gap between brandy and super-premium cognac.

“We’re trying to create some excitement in this category because it hasn’t gotten the same visibility as vodka, single malts or bourbon,” Laird said.

Capturing Urban Culture

“Cognac growth continues to rocket, outstripping almost every other spirit category but vodka,” said Larry Neuringer, category director for Remy Martin at Remy Amerique. “Urban culture continues to transition to pop culture. As that culture moves to the suburbs, cognac is getting new users who see it’s not your father’s drink in a snifter.”

Leading Brands of Brandy & Cognac

(Thousands of 9-Liter Cases)

Brand Origin Supplier
1999
2000
% Change

Brandy

E & J USA E & J Gallo Winery
2,030
2,200
8.4%
Christian Brothers USA Heaven Hill Distilleries
1,050
1,100
4.8%
Paul Masson Brandy USA Canandaigua Wine
918
1,037
13.0%
Korbel USA Brown-Forman Beverages
375
373
-0.5%
Raynal France Shaw Ross
225
228
1.3%
Presidente Mexico Allied Domecq Spirits, USA
236
224
-5.1%
Coronet Brandy USA Heaven Hill Distilleries
170
180
5.9%
Pedro Domecq (ex Presidente) Mexico Allied Domecq Spirits, USA
77
79
2.6%
Mr. Boston Brandy USA Barton Brands
81
76
-6.2%
J. Bavet USA Heaven Hill Distilleries
75
70
-6.7%
Total Leading Brandy
5,237
5,567
6.3%
Others
242
245
1.2%
Total Brandy
5,479
5,812
6.1%

Cognac

Hennessy France Schieffelin & Somerset
1,380
1,500
8.7%
Remy Martin France Remy Amerique
400
489
22.3%
Courvoisier France Allied Domecq Spirits, USA
440
450
2.3%
Martell France Seagram Americas
235
235
0.0%
Salignac France Allied Domecq Spirits, USA
60
68
13.3%
Total Leading Cognac
2,515
2,742
9.0%
Others
15
17
13.3%
Total Cognac
2,530
2,759
9.1%
Total Leading Brandy & Cognac
7,752
8,309
7.2%
Others
450
531
18.0%
Total Brandy & Cognac
8,202
8,840
7.8%

Source: Adams Liquor Handbook 2001

Remy is sticking to a strategic pricing strategy that positions its VSOP in a premium position. The brand has seen sales double in the past two years — sales were up 22.3% last year to 489,000 cases — pleasing retailers, according to Neuringer. Brand support also includes promotions and advertising, including one of the biggest radio spends in the category.

For the first time, Remy also is actively marketing its own VS. It renewed its focus on the product two years ago and recently revamped the packaging. The product has been rolling into AfricanAmerican test markets this fall.

Another product aimed at the urban hip-hop culture that has embraced brandy and cognac is Remy Red. A cognac and fruit juice blend, Red crosses over into the liqueur category, and offers even more mixability than traditional cognac.

Hennessey sales, too — up last year to nearly 1.4 million cases — have been driven largely by ethnic segments, particularly African-Americans. But its popularity is expanding among Hispanics and Asians as well, according to Elizabeth Sorota, vice president, group project director for Hennessey. 6811COG04

A new ad campaign bowing in February positions Hennessey as a premium brand for consumers who can differentiate one cognac brand from another. Media will include print, outdoor and spot radio. The brand also plans some exciting programs for both VS and VSOP next year.

Breaking With Tradition

Urban culture is becoming increasingly popular with younger consumers, and brandy and cognac are among many of the upscale beverages that appeal to these consumers.

“What resonates with young urban adults is what’s hot,” said Stephanie DeBartolomeo, marketing director for Courvoisier. “They’re embracing cognac. Our challenge is to position Courvoisier as hot, fashionable, breakthrough and cutting edge.”

To capture the essence of fashion, Courvoisier is doing unexpected things such as incorporating designer martini and highball glasses into its gift packs instead of snifters, along with party guides and drink ideas. Print and radio ads feature urban R&B and rap artists who make Courvoisier their own, as well as showing people having a good time with cocktails made with the brand. Courvoisier3

Young consumers are in many ways more sophisticated than previous generations. They’re well-traveled, informed and relatively affluent compared to their parents at the same age. They look for products that offer both quality and image and aren’t afraid to spend money on above-premium products.

“Younger consumers are turning on to brandy as a flavorful alternative to vodka and something a little more sophisticated,” said Overton. “Brandy also has a smooth flavor that is an easy drink to pick up and start consuming. It’s not so much an acquired taste as bourbon or single malt.”

Korbel is even launching a product designed especially for younger drinkers to help bring them into the category. Korbel XS (for “extra smooth”) is enhanced with vanilla, orange essence and spices. The result is an easy-drinking brandy that also mixes well with everything from fruit juice to energy drinks.

Trading Up

Young consumers aren’t the only ones looking for sophistication, however. The strong economy for most of the past decade led many consumers to trade up, and the brandy and cognac category benefitted as a result.

“A broader theme than the popularity of urban culture has been `populux,’ luxury for all,” said DeBartolomeo. “Cognac is something people can have that’s very aspirational, and a brand like Courvoisier fits the mold perfectly. It has a leg up on other spirits out there because it’s very authentic with a lot of heritage, but now it’s even more acceptable and approachable because it’s a sociable and mixable product.”

A lot of brands are capitalizing on the continued shift to ultrapremium brands. The more exotic and special a brand is perceived to be, the better in many cases.

“Cognac is like wine,” said Sorota. “The more you drink, the more you know and learn and the more you want to discover about the product. Consumers also want to differentiate themselves further by drinking something special.”

To that end Hennessey is introducing Hennessey Private Reserve, which will be priced and aged between Hennessey XO and Paradis. Paradis also is being relaunched with new packaging. Both products will get full trade and pr support.

Remy Martin, too, has seen its XO business grow significantly “due to market segmentation and new niches such as casinos, Asians, older consumers and Wall Street,” said Neuringer. The brand does a lot of hand-holding with these consumers through brand ambassadors, special events and public relations.

Courvoisier is pushing a 200-year-old cognac in high-end gift-giving guides to burnish its image among the cognoscenti. 6811COG05

Unusual brandies from other countries, including Spain, Mexico and Italy also are seeing an upsurge in business. Ethnic groups who consumed these brands in their homelands are slowly introducing them to their neighbors here.

Cardenal Mendoza, for example, one of few Spanish brandies still aged using the solera method, is building visibility and brand image in key markets here in the U.S.

“It’s a process of education, reminding people of the brand’s heritage,” said Ricardo Febres, marketing manager at Shaw-Ross International Importers. The brand is conducting a bartender recipe contest in four markets to generate new cocktail ideas. Off-premise, it has a strong tasting program in key markets.

What The Future Holds

While no one yet knows what effects the cooling economy or the September terrorist attacks will have on brandy and cognac sales, most marketers believed the category will weather the storms.

“There’s tremendous uncertainty right now, and no one is sure what the impact will be,” said Sorota, “but the total category is very strong.”

That very uneasiness, however, could be an unforseen boon to category sales.

“In times of uncertainty when the pace of change accelerates, people look for an island in the stream, a little place where they can get a break from cell phones and television news and look for something that comforts them,” said Neuringer.

Since a lot of brandy and cognac is consumed at home with friends or curled up in front of the fire, times like these could be made for the category.

Mike Sherer is a Seattle-based writer and consultant specializing in beverages and foodservice.


Brandy Primer

Brandy essentially is distilled wine. The word comes from the Dutch “brandewijn,” used to describe the “burnt” or boiled distilled wine 16th century Dutch traders brought back from Spain and southern France. Its origins date back to the 7th century when Arabs around the Mediterranean experimented with the alembic stills they invented to make perfume.

There are three basic types of brandy:

* Grape brandy — made from distilled fermented grape juice (wine).

* Pomace brandy — made from pressed grape pulp, skins and stems that are left after the grapes have been crushed to extract their juice for winemaking. Italian grappa and French marc are the two best known examples. Not surprisingly, they’re more raw and rough edged than traditional brandies. Some, however, are aged in seasoned casks to take the edge off, resulting in a very elegant product.

* Fruit brandy — made from fermented juice of other fruits. Examples include kir (cherries), Calvados (apple brandy from Normandy), poire (pear) and others. They’re often referred to generically as “eaux-de-vie” (waters of life).

Cognac is brandy made in the Cognac region of France, just north of Bordeaux. The region is divided into six growing areas. Like Champagne, brandy not made in the Cognac region cannot carry the Cognac appellation. Similarly, armagnac (an even older version of French brandy than cognac) is made in the Armagnac region.

There are no age statements on cognac, but many brandies from around the world have adopted some generally accepted terms developed to differentiate cognacs. These include:

* VS/VSP/Three Star. Very Superior or Very Superior Pale usually has been aged a minimum of two years in new oak casks. Most are aged four to five years.

* VSOP. Very Superior Old Pale must be aged for a minimum of four years. The industry average is 10 to 15 years.

* XO. Extra Old cognacs are at least six years old, but usually are 20 years or older. Most older cognacs are transferred to seasoned casks after a few years while they continue to mature. The oldest are stored in glass jugs to prevent them from taking on too much woodiness.

Many Spanish and Mexican brandies are aged using the solera system. Brandy is aged in a series of sherry casks. When brandy is drawn off from the the last cask, no more than a third of its volume is removed. That’s replaced with brandy from the next cask in line, and so on. The first cask in line is then filled with newly distilled product. The resulting blend may contain brandy that has aged for 30 years or more. The best Reservas are aged 12 to 15 years; Gran Reservas are aged from 17 to 20. Cardenal Mendoza recently introduced a product to commemorate its two hundreth anniversary that includes brandy from an original solera.

California brandies generally have a lighter flavor profile and cleaner palate than imported brandies, making them good mixers. Most are aged from 2 to 12 years.

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Deck The Aisles

With retailers looking for every edge they can get to make this a prosperous holiday season, merchandising materials provided by major suppliers is one way to brighten up a store’s decor as well as spur customer interest in specific brands. From gift and added-value packaging to spectacular point-of-sale displays, the following is a sampling of the latest holiday merchandising.

Absolut Holidays

6811MRC25The Absolut Spirits Co. is offering a wide array of merchandising materials using the theme, “Absolut Season.” The brand’s mega mass display features three-dimensional snowflakes that move independently around a festive image of an Absolut bottle. There are also ceiling danglers that highlight Absolut Mandrin and Citron. Other p-o-s materials include a deluxe case card, shelf talkers and recipe brochures with seasonal multi-brand cocktail recipes.


6811MRC26 Party Profits

Bacardi USA has a full line of festive point-of-sale materials to help spur sales of Bacardi Rum this holiday season. Using the tagline, “‘Tis the Season To Join the Party,” Bacardi Light and Bacardi Gold are being promoted via mass case stacking pole toppers and pole topper banners, vertical danglers, two-sided case cards and take-one recipe books and holders, highlighting holiday party ideas. In addition, the brand is offering consumers handsome holiday gift boxes.


CandianClubDisplay Sales Stuffers

Canadian Club, from Allied Domecq Spirits USA, is offering decorative pole toppers and case cards with the theme, “The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney With Care” along with its broader “Can You Handle a Whiskey Drinking Woman?” theme. The brand also has gift-wrapped 750 ml, 1 liter, and 1.75 liter sizes., as well as a value-added gift set that features 750 ml Canadian Club Reserve and a stainless steel-logoed silver flask.


6811MRC19Holiday Goose

Sidney Frank Importing is offering a lineup of special holiday gift sets for Grey Goose Vodka and Grey Goose Vodka L’Orange, imported from France. Both brands are featuring a package of two Martini glasses along with a 750 ml bottle in a handsome holiday box. In addition, the brands also are offering an elegant gift set of a 375 ml bottle along with two, frosted egg-shaped candles.


0112mr5Perfect Profits

Christian Brothers Brandy, from Heaven Hill Distilleries, is telling consumers that it’s “Perfect For The Holidays” in a variety of merchandising materials. The festive holiday wreath case cards are complemented by holiday gift cartons for all the Christian Brothers brandies. Pole toppers and shelf talkers round out the seasonal assortment of point-of-sales aids.


Wild Turkey A Turkey for Turkey Day and Beyond

Austin, Nichols & Company is highlighting Wild Turkey 101 and 80 proof gift cartons, designed to complement each other and enhance the appeal of Wild Turkey floor displays. In addition to decor kits for existing Wild Turkey mass displays, Austin, Nichols is also making pole toppers, case cards, case wrap and floor decals available to retailers.


0112mr7Real Holidays

Jim Beam Bourbon, from Jim Beam Brands, is featuring a rotating pole display that shows the outside of an inviting local bar and then revolves to reveal friends celebrating inside with a 3-D bar scene, stage and band. Themed, “Real Friends, Real Bourbon, Real Music,” the scene is also repeated in case cards. Both Jim Beam White Label and Black Label are offering colorful holiday gift boxes. In addition, Black features a gift set with two logoed rocks glasses.


0112mr8The Family Spirit

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, from Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, is offering case cards and shelf talkers that feature the Jack Daniel’s family of brands in different holiday settings. A richly appointed cocktail table is set in front of a lavish window display that shifts from the small-town atmosphere of Lynchburg to a seasonal suburban scene.

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Aiming for Profits


By Robert Plotkin

0409sht1Shooters are the Rodney Dangerfield of mixology. They get no respect, which is a pity, because ounce for ounce they pack more marketing potential than most other cocktails and drinks. Granted, marketing shooters may require a bit more effort than others. Recipe names might have to be toned down, suggested glassware may have to be changed. Nevertheless, like color TVs and tax refund checks, shooters have a nearly universal appeal.

For one thing, they’re fun, interesting and contemporary drinks. Since most shooters are served neat or straight up, the quality of their ingredients can be more fully appreciated. And by promoting some of the vast array of shooter recipes available, you can also facilitate the turnover of slower moving inventory and provide customers more ways to use standard brands.

So whether you subscribe to the theory that what people drink in bars on Friday nights is what they look to buy in your store on Saturday, or supplying your clientele with creative ideas on how to use what’s on your shelves drive sales, taking another look at shooters makes good retail sense.

CATERING TO EVERY TASTE

At the onset, the word “shooters” encompasses a large and diverse body of drink recipes; ranging from the elegant and sophisticated to the radically bizarre. Shooters are anything but one-dimensional. Long gone are the days when the breadth of the category consisted of a shot and a beer, or a shot in a beer. Today’s shooters are made with nearly every product on your shelves and cater to every taste imaginable.

Svedka Shooter_S&M copyThe Svedka S&M.

The key is to select recipes that target your clientele’s particular tastes. For a swank clientele, for instance, consider promoting shooters as “neat cocktails,” recipes such as the Grand Alliance, which is equal parts of Disaronno Amaretto, sweet ‘n’ sour and Champagne served in a chilled sherry glass; or the Touque Wrench, which uses Midori, orange juice and Champagne; or the Lobotomy, which is a blend of Disaronno Amaretto, Chambord, pineapple juice and Champagne. Change their names to best suit your crowd and you’ve got some highly promotable specialties.

Because of their great taste and dramatic presentation, layered concoctions are ideal for an upscale clientele. Candidates include the Inverted Nail, which uses Drambuie with Glenfiddich on top; the Caribbean Sunset, a combination of Kahlúa, Chambord and Tia Maria; the Neutron Bomb, which features Kahlúa, Bailey’s Irish Cream and butterscotch schnapps; or the Ninja, using Midori, dark crème de cacao and Frangelico.

PROMOTE POPULAR INGREDIENTS

Most retailers, however, cater to a clientele that are well-acquainted with shooters. The key to whetting their appetites is to promote recipes that feature popular ingredients, such as the Yellow Jacket, a blend of Jägermeister, Baeren Jaeger and Kahlúa; the Mexican Itch, which uses El Tesoro Añejo Tequila, Grand Marnier and fresh lime juice in a salted shot glass; and the inflexible Rigor Mortis, which features Absolut Vodka, Disaronno Amaretto and equal parts of orange and pineapple juice.

Our survey of those shooters riding the crest of popularity include the Oatmeal Cookie (Goldschläger, Jägermeister, an Irish cream like Baileys or Carolans and DeKuyper Buttershots Schnapps), the Cement Mixer, (Absolut Citron and an Irish cream like Baileys or Carolans); the Duck Fart (a layered shooter made with Kahlúa, an Irish cream like Baileys or Carolans, and Crown Royal); and the Florida specialty Sammy Jager (equal parts of sambuca and Jägermeister).

SOMETHING A LITTLE WILDER

If these are too tame for you, you may want to consider promoting two New Orleans specialties. The Oyster Shooter is a Gulf specialty made with Tabasco sauce, horseradish, cocktail sauce, draft beer and a raw oyster. The Bloody Nose is a fiery combination of Absolut Peppar, horseradish, Bloody Mary mix and a raw oyster served in a chilled rocks glass. So who needs a half shell?

Other specialties currently sporting celebrity status include the Jamaican Tennis Beads, a blend of Malibu, Midori, crème de banana, vodka and a splash of pineapple juice and cream; and the provocative Sexual Chocolate, a decadent combination of Jägermeister, an Irish cream like Baileys or Carolans, Kahlúa and dark crème de cacao.

The Purple Hooter is an enduring classic made with Chambord, vodka, sweet ‘n’ sour and a splash of 7-Up. Another is the Maui Wowie, which is a blend of Malibu, Midori, pineapple and orange juice; and the Cocaine Shooter, a concoction made with vodka, Chambord, Southern Comfort, orange juice and cranberry.

THE SHOOTER GOES UPTOWN

“When done right, a shooter is a compressed cocktail, a thing of beauty,” contends Dushan Zaric, partner and operator of Cocktail Conceptions, a popular new bartending school in Brooklyn that takes a culinary approach to the classic American bar. “It is open to the same creative approach applied to other cocktails. Shooters should be balanced, elegant and seductive. All of the same ingredients that regularly find their way into cocktails can be featured in shooters.”

The major spirit producers apparently agree. Shooters are something of a hot commodity, appearing in most of their marketing campaigns for both off- and on-premise establishments. Shooters are in.

tequilaHeaven Hill enlisted the services of mixologist extraordinaire Dale DeGroff to assist in promoting Hpnotiq. He dubbed his creation the Pom Pilot Sex, a simple yet luxurious combination of Hpnotiq and pomegranate juice. Another classy shooter in their fall portfolio is Hpnotiq Blue Shot, which features equal parts of Hpnotiq with the chilled superpremium vodka of your choice.

Jim Beam and DeKuyper have rolled out a highly creative shooter program, one that features the Sour Apple Drop, a shooter made with Absolut Citron, DeKuyper Pucker Sour Apple Schnapps and triple sec; and the Blue Drop, which combines Absolut Citron, DeKuyper Pucker Island Blue Schnapps and triple sec. The ingredients in both drinks are shaken over ice and strained into a sugar rimmed shot glass. Their current repertoire also includes the alluring Red Headed Slut, a concoction made with DeKuyper Peachtree Schnapps, Jägermeister and cranberry juice.

Brown-Forman and Southern Comfort intend to shake things up with several new libations, including the Southern Hurricane Shooter (Southern Comfort, pineapple juice and grenadine), the Alabama Slammer Shooter (Southern Comfort, Amaretto, sloe gin and orange juice) and the Soco Lime Shot, an amazingly refreshing combination of Southern Comfort and lime juice.

TEQUILA SHOOTERS

As one would expect, the major tequila brands are well represented in the shooter arena. Popular from Manhattan to Manhattan Beach is the Three Amigos, a field tested concoction made with equal parts of Jose Cuervo Especial Tequila, Goldschläger and Rumple Minze Schnapps. The appropriately named Cuervo Fire Alarm features Jose Cuervo Especial topped with Cholula hot sauce.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Sauza Banana Blow Shot, a drink made with Sauza Gold Tequila, crème de banana, pineapple and fresh lime juice and dollop of whipped cream.

Finally, as evidence that his culinary approach to mixology yields sensational results, Zaric points to two truncated cocktails currently being promoted at haunts in New York. The Vodka Nikolai is made with semi-frozen Stolichnaya Vodka and a lemon wedge coated on one side with sugar and on the other with ground espresso. The New York Sour Shooter features Wild Turkey Rye, lemon juice, simple syrup and a splash of fresh orange juice. The ingredients are shaken and then a thin layer of dry red wine is added on top.

The bottom line — shooters give your clientele one more creative outlet to enthrall their guests and another method for you to empty your shelves.

Selected Shooter Recipes

Looking for some creative shooter recipes to whet the appetites of your clientele?
Try these puny elbow benders on for size. –RP

GRAND ALLIANCE

  • Sherry glass, chilled
  • 1/3 fill Disaronno Amaretto
  • 1/3 fill sweet ‘n’ sour
  • 1/3 fill Champagne

TORQUE WRENCH

  • Presentation shot glass, chilled
  • 1/3 fill Midori
  • 1/3 fill Champagne
  • 1/3 fill orange juice

SVEDKA S&M

  • 1 oz. Svedka Vodka
  • 1 drop Pandon extract
  • Grenadine

Dip shot glass into dish filled with grenadine. Quickly bring into bowl with sugar and push down slowly. Poor Svedka into shaker filled with ice. Add Pandon extract, shake and fill shot glass almost to rim.

INVERTED NAIL

  • Sherry glass
  • Layer ingredients
  • 1/2 fill Drambuie
  • 1/2 fill Single Malt Scotch

TUACA POUSSE CAFé

  • Cordial or pousse café glass, chilled
  • Layer ingredients
  • 1/4 fill grenadine
  • 1/4 fill White Crème de Menthe
  • 1/4 fill Midori
  • 1/4 fill Tuaca

b_2B-52

  • Cordial or presentation shot glass
  • Layer ingredients
  • 1/3 fill Kahlúa
  • 1/3 fill Baileys Irish Cream
  • 1/3 fill Grand Marnier

YELLOW JACKET

  • Rocks glass, chilled
  • 3/4 oz. Jägermeister
  • 3/4 oz. Baeren Jaeger
  • 3/4 oz. Kahlúa

MEXICAN ITCH

  • Presentation shot glass, chilled Salted rim optional
  • 1/3 fill Añejo Tequila
  • 1/3 fill Grand Marnier
  • 1/3 fill fresh lime juice
  • Lime wedge garnish

RIGOR MORTIS

  • Rocks glass, chilled
  • 1 1/2 oz. Absolut Vodka
  • 3/4 oz. Disaronno Amaretto
  • 1 oz. pineapple juice
  • 1 oz. orange juice
  • Shake and strain

OATMEAL COOKIE

  • Rocks glass, chilled
  • 1/2 oz. Goldschläger
  • 1/2 oz. Jägermeister
  • 1/2 oz. Irish Cream
  • 1/2 oz. Butterscotch Schnapps

CEMENT MIXER

  • Rocks glass, chilled
  • 1 oz. Absolut Citron
  • 1 oz. Irish Cream

DUCK FART

  • Presentation shot glass, chilled
  • Layer ingredients
  • 1/3 fill Kahlúa
  • 1/3 fill Irish Cream
  • 1/3 fill Crown Royal

SAMMY JÄGER

  • Presentation shot glass, chilled
  • 1 oz. Sambuca
  • 1 oz. Jägermeister

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