Wine & spirits: A flavourable forecast
You'd think that after nearly 30 years of closely observing every wiggle and shift in consumer wining and dining preferences, I'd have seen everything by now. On the contrary, each new vintage brings fresh surprises and forces my mind (and palate) to open just a little wider.
The most profound change has been the proliferation of artificial and fanciful flavours added to traditional booze categories. There was a time when vodka was breathless, rum went with Coke, and cognac was a gentleman's drink. Now, traditional spirits like gin, rum and whisky are beginning to change; in order to compete for a share of the public gullet in the current era, they're available in an increasing variety of flavours.
Whoever planted the flavour seed is long forgotten, but some of the more successful players include Absolut (Citron, Peppar, Kurant, Mandrin, Raspberri and Vanilia) and Bacardi (Cóco, Limón, O, Razz and Vaníla). These brand-name spirit-makers lead the market with their contemporary flavours. They're a bartender's dream as raw materials for cocktail culture, and they appeal to most home shaker-schleppers looking for a ready-to-pour alternative to basic mixology.
Hendrick's Gin is a perfect example. Infused with Bulgarian rose petal essence and raw cucumber mash, it didn't exist a decade ago. Sales are growing slowly, steadily, globally. Quick, someone pass me a chemistry set!
Five years ago, Maison Lafragette (formerly known as L&L) introduced XO Beer, a blend of XO cognac and beer. It's an all-in-one shot and chaser. If that mix sounds odd to you, it shouldn't. The company teamed up with the U.S.-based Kobrand to create Alizé, a blend of cognac and tropical fruit juices, which led to another set of line extensions, and was later mimicked by Rémy Red and others.
I believe the success of these strange brews stems from a focus on effective target marketing. Advertisers try to appeal to the most youthful of legal consumers, as they are the ones who (a) are not yet set in their drinking patterns and (b) generally look for something different from what their parents and older friends drink. It's much like the successful introduction of the screw cap -- despite its benefits for all drinkers, the cap has been subtly marketed to women, who represent the major purchasers of wine and spirits today.
And how's this for creative rebranding? The fascination with all things wine has led marketers to turn it into the new bikini-clad model. More frequently, advertisers are including wine bottles, glasses, corkscrews and other related paraphernalia in their ads. And whether they're selling business travel, furniture, appliances, stationery or photographic equipment, marketers are, indeed, finding that adding wine images catches people's attention. The auto companies, thankfully, have not gone there -- yet.