It is a fact that many consumers, especially the younger ones, do not like the taste of alcohol. The purpose of drinking alcohol is the effect.
Hence, historically, consumers have looked to disguise the taste with mixers or in the form of cocktails. It’s no coincidence that cola is still the biggest single mixer for this very reason.
Enter the role of flavors – another masking device, but introduces an extra dimension to that simple blender…
Case for flavors – vodka
Vodka flavors add a natural dimension to a category that represents variety and fun. History has also proven that flavors can redefine category appeal as consumer trends change and evolve. Absolut Peppar and Absolut Citron, launched in 1986 and 1988 respectively, were staged as prescription “drivers” for the likes of Bloody Mary and Cosmopolitan.
At the end of the record market in 2008, flavors continued to spread, introducing nostalgic childhood concoctions including cotton candy and whipped cream. For the target audience, they brought fun, excitement and disrespect to the vodka drinking experience.
But as tastes have changed, so has the fortunes of single-flavored vodka, seen as sweet, artificial, and somewhat outdated…
In 2018, Ketel One launched its vegan range, reinventing the concept of flavored vodka…on-fashion, designed to compete with gin and consume with the likes of soda.
All other major vodka brands have now followed suit in order to broaden the brand’s overall appeal.
The case for flavors – whiskey
Whiskey represents the most valuable category in the world of spirits. It offers versatility of the service along with endless opportunities for excellence. Historically, this category has been seen as intimidating and challenging to many younger consumers and women.
Big brands have started releasing flavors to attract new consumers and expand the variety and use among their existing franchises.
The likes of Jack Honey (2011), Crown Royal Apple (2014), and Jim Beam Apple (2015) delivered impressive and instant amounts, and the flavored whiskey is here to stay.
These huge brands continue to increase in size and are now beginning to replicate as RTD offerings, increasing the brand’s use and appeal.
Earlier this year, Jameson announced the launch of Orange, with the flavor of Lime & Ginger to follow, clearly convinced that this strategy helps the brand continue its strong growth and appeal.
Big Business Opportunity – Um “Sleeping With the Devil”…
Do these attractive business opportunities create potential damage to brand ownership in the long run? For example, did Baileys flavors contribute to commoditizing the brand (versus the ‘specialty’ of its early days?). And since Jameson Orange can’t describe itself as Irish whiskey, will this over time erode the brand’s overall authenticity?
Are brands overreacting to competitors, rather than driving with an agenda of their own, with the risk of this approach releasing “fake” flavors that have nothing to do with the brand and its consumers?
Finally, will brands ultimately forget about the consumer, releasing flavors to dominate the retailer’s shelf space as well as to deliver the annual business plan (vs previous years’ flavor volumes)?
The answers to many of these questions may only be known in ten years, to see who has passed the flavor opportunities in the smartest way possible.
About the author
Mike Spurling has worked in the international beverage industry for some of the world’s most recognized brands, both on the client side and on the consulting side. He started his career at IDV/Diageo and built a career that has taken him to senior sales and marketing positions in the United States, South Africa and Europe.
During that time, he ran Smirnoff’s US business, heading up a string of global brands including Bombay Sapphire and Malibu. In 1998, he was chosen by Seagram (now Pernod Ricard) to head their global whiskey business, including leading brands such as Chivas Regal and The Glenfiddich.
In 2001, he founded his own innovation consulting firm to support new product development at the world’s major beverage companies. Among his accomplishments was introducing a comprehensive new innovation agenda to Johnnie Walker, including the expressions Double Black and King George V. In addition, Mike has also worked with the likes of Gray Goose and Jack Daniel’s to provide superior quality expressions for powerful brands.
In 2014, Barfly co-founded with Nick Dudley-Williams – an innovative beverage consultancy focused on commerce, and now represents all of the world’s leading beverage companies.