New Booze Products: Brilliant and Dumb

Wine and Spirits Daily had two announcements about new spirits product recently. One makes sense and the other, well, you decide.

Highlander honeyGood Idea

The flavored whiskey category has been on fire with brands like Wild Turkey American Honey, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, and Jim Beam Red Stag among others. Now the folks from Dewar’s Scotch (owned by Bacardi) are entering the flavored whisk(e)y category with Highlander Honey, a scotch infused with honey.

Imagine, they have the audacity to try to break down the stuffiness and out-of-date sacred walls of the blended scotch category. Never mind that blended scotch growth has been declining to flat in the past decade while other whiskies (including malts) have been growing. It’s not about adapting to changing tastes, it’s about a stiff upper lip refusing to swallow change.

Check this out. The Diageo head of whisky outreach (huh? I think that’s a way of saying, ‘can I buy you a drink?’), was quoted as saying Scotch has too much “integrity” and “authenticity” to get into flavors. Diageo and integrity in the same sentence? My word! Also, the Scotch Whiskey Association is not very happy about it. Better to go down with the ship, eh, what?

Hey, it’s a good idea for the reasons I shared with Wine and Spirits Daily,

“It’s a terrific idea and well worth trying,” long-time industry exec Arthur Shapiro told WSD. ” First, the blended scotch market is declining and this could be a shot in the arm. Second, the flavored whiskey (US) brands have ‘greased the skids’ so consumer acceptance would be easier than it might have been before these brands came on the market. Third, it adds contemporariness to the scotch area and removes the stuffiness. Fourth, probably makes for a good mixed drink. Finally, I like the ‘seriousness’ of scotch and the fun of a flavored scotch product.”

Put that in your copper still and cook it.

Mama WalkerYou gotta be kidding me

Pernod Ricard, who until recently earned my respect for terrific innovations and new products, has launched what seems to be an April Fool’s joke.

They are introducing a line of new products under the Hiram Walker name called Mama Walker’s breakfast liqueurs. Apparently it’s intended to “tap into the comfort food, sweet and savory flavor combinations” trend (or is it fad?) not to mention the confectionary/cake vodka flavors. This breakfast of champions is available in Maple Bacon, Blueberry Pancake and Glazed Donut.

Come on folks, are you serious? Next thing you’re going to tell us is that they hardly taste artificial.

Can’t you just see the ad campaign?

“A bit hung over from a hard night of drinking? Looking for something to smooth out the rough edges? Forget about the all night diner and the bacon, eggs and pancake special. Try some of Mama Walker’s breakfast liqueurs… we’ll perk you right up with our original comfort booze. Just remember… your Mama knows best.”

Or:

“Tired of the same old breakfast? Cereal, eggs or fruit can be soooo boring… Start you day off right with Mama Walker’s breakfast liqueurs. What a great way to face the stress of what awaits you. Boss on your back? Kids on your nerves? Mama can help…Comes with or without a brown paper bag… But, remember, don’t eat breakfast and drive!”

Any thoughts on either product?

 

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Absolut Tales

The Gulfstream took off from Stockholm’s Arlanda airport with a full load of executives, all of whom had the satisfaction of knowing that the global distribution rights to Absolut were signed, sealed and delivered.

If you’ve ever flown on a corporate jet, you know how great it is. You board quickly and easily, take off on time (or even ahead of time) and generally are met on the tarmac a few steps from the plane and off you go.

Despite this great convenience, I’ve heard people complain about the absence of frequent flier miles, which always makes me laugh at the silliness of the thought. For me, however, this particular flight had one disadvantage — it was full of Seagram brass. Every one of the 14 seats was taken and there was no place to hide. And, every one of the 14 had 5 or 6 ideas about marketing and how best to grow the brand further. After all, we were taking over the brand from the legendary Michel Roux who grew the brand with a series of innovative and effective marketing actions.

While getting the brand elated us, we were also mindful of the daunting task ahead. Especially the marketing guy…me.

This was best summed up by the owner who, after laying out his thoughts and vision, said, “Arturo, I have four words for you — don’t f**k it up.”

Michel Roux was indeed a hard act to follow. Carillon Importers was part of a large corporation, but he ran the brand entrepreneurially, with vision and resources to take this fledgling brand to renowned marketing levels.

There is a great story about Michel’s brand champion efforts that I recently asked him to confirm. I wasn’t sure if it was true or a booze business myth.

It seems he was in the Detroit airport waiting to depart when he noticed a man wearing an Absolut t-shirt. Alarm bells went off in his head for two reasons. First, there were no Absolut t-shirts and he and didn’t want them, so clearly it was counterfeit. Second and most important, the man in question (according to Michel) must have weighed over 350 pounds and despite the triple XL size, it was a very snug fit.

Clearly bothered by his brand portrayed in such a manner, Roux stopped the man, told him he was looking for that particular t-shirt and offered him $100 to buy it. The man accepted the generous offer. They went to a souvenir store, bought a replacement and now Michel owned it.

The man left happy with this transaction and the Absolut t-shirt was promptly tossed in the trash.

True story.

In my opinion, the Absolut brand has gone through 4 periods in its development. The first era was with M. Roux and Carillon Importers. Next came the Seagram years and further, albeit different, growth. The third period was one in which the brand began to languish despite the efforts of some (but not all) capable people. Today, the ownership of the brand is in the hands of Pernod Ricard with the difficult task of once again polishing its luster.

I plan to cover the Absolut story from these vantage points in the future.

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