In Adult Beverages, Differentiation Through Collaboration

2014 may well be the year adult beverage categories collide, both in the bottle and in the glass. The practice of mixing categories certainly isn’t new; brandy brings weight and complexity to sangria, while the Irish Car Bomb typically marries Guinness with Baileys Irish Cream and Jameson Irish whiskey. But such marriages seem to be on the rise.

Recently, suppliers and bartenders alike have brought forth a bevy of cross-category concoctions designed to pique consumer and patron interest and provide that all-important differentiating factor that drives purchase. Supplier examples include Pernod-Ricard’s Malibu Red (rum and tequila) and Absolut Tune (vodka and sparkling Sauvignon Blanc), Blue Moon’s Vintage Blonde Ale (involving Chardonnay), and Dogfish Head’s winter seasonal, Piercing Pils (pears, white pear tea). Launched in the fall, Winter Jack from Brown-Forman mingles apple cider liqueur with Jack Daniel’s.

Operators also are tapping into the cross-category combo trend. Red Robin’s beer-fueled milkshake tipped off the trend’s mainstream appeal when the Samuel Adams-spiked libation made headlines in 2012. This past summer, the burger chain featured two Can-Crafted Cocktails, one of which combined Coors Light with ginger liqueur and lemonade, while the other mixed Blue Moon with Svedka Clementine Vodka, orange juice and lime juice. Both were served in open-top aluminum vessels resembling the beer brands’ packaging. The Coronarita remains a major hit at Chili’s Grill & Bar, offering a combination of the popular Mexican beer with the chain’s flagship cocktail in a unique presentation. And bartenders across the country are mixing cider with a range of spirits, from Fireball Cinnamon to white whiskey to aromatic liqueurs, and also with bubbly wines and various beers.

The hybrid trend continues to grow as 2014 kicks off. The teams behind the Svedka and Corona brands—both housed under the Constellation roof—are collaborating to launch a national Svedka Coronation Cocktail initiative this year. The proprietary beer cocktail will leverage the brand equity, on-premise market penetration and marketing muscle of both brands. Boston Beer continues to offer recipes that combine Angry Orchard with various spirits and beers as it promotes the now nationally distributed cider.

As consumers increasingly seek new flavor experiences, product innovators who think outside traditional category confines and collaborate with other brands and suppliers stand to differentiate themselves and gain new fans. The key to success is ensuring the venture strengthens the brand’s positioning and reach; the risk of eroding brand equity with an ill-conceived brand association is very real, as is the negative impact of a less-than-satisfying flavor experience. Bottom line: The concoction, whether in a bottle, a can or a glass, must reflect well on the brand and taste good, especially if it’s designed to bring new consumers to the category or brand. We’ll continue to monitor the emerging hybrid products on our DRINK database’s New Product Tracker and will assess how consumers perceive and engage with the adult beverage categories through our ongoing insights work.


Donna Hood Crecca

Donna Hood Crecca is Senior Director of Technomic Inc.’s Adult Beverage Resource Group. She has covered adult beverage in both the on-premise and retail markets for nearly two decades, most recently as Publisher and Editorial Director of Nightclub & Bar.

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