Mixing the perfect martini is an art – you need an iced glass, refrigerated vodka or gin, a touch of vermouth, the perfect olive or twist – but how do consumers get mixed drinks when they are far away from their favorite mixologist? Ready-to-drink (RTD) producers bring mixed drinks to poolsides and picnics with their canned and bottled products, but Independent Distillers says it is doing it better with real spirits.
Instead of the malt-based beverages many companies offer, Independent Distillers’ products use whatever spirits are in the name – whether vodka, bourbon, rum or tequila. This prevents sale of its products at establishments with only beer and wine licenses. “But we’re willing to accept a slightly smaller potential distribution base given the ability to put real spirits in our RTDs,” CEO Bruce Herman insists. “We think that consumers will find us because our products taste better. We believe there are a number of consumers who have rejected malt-flavored RTDs and are looking to accept ours.”
New Zealand-based Independent Distillers introduced its products to the United States in November 2010. Products such as Woodstock Bourbon and Cola, Crazy Mexican Tequila and Lime, KGB Black Ice Vodka and various fruit flavors of Cruiser Vodka drinks should be available in up to 30 states by October and in all of the continental United States by early 2012. They have been sold in Canada for eight years.
“We are the fourth-largest producer of spirits-based RTDs in the world yet relatively unknown here in the United States, but we do have a nice business in Canada,” Herman concedes. “We made a decision when we came into the United States to actually make our RTDs with real spirits as opposed to making them malt-flavored beverages. That gave us a sense of authenticity. We also believe it makes our products taste better, and therefore differentiates our products from most of the other RTDs in the marketplace.”
So far, the demographics of Independent Distillers’ RTDs are both urban and rural. “For example, our Woodstock, which is bourbon and cola, is gaining traction in what you and I would call the classic bourbon belt – Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Missouri, Indiana and parts of Texas,” Herman notes. “We’re finding that some of our other RTDs – which would be KGB Black Ice Vodka and Devil’s Triangle Rum and Cola – are catching on in California, Louisiana, Arkansas and Georgia, as well.”
Besides RTDs, the company has introduced its single-serveTwisted Shotz into the United States, which are 25-milliliter servings in flavors such as pear or butterscotch vanilla, tequila/lime, orange/coffee cream or blue curacao/raspberry. “Those things have really taken off because they’re fun and they’re party starters,” Herman reports. “We find that they are appealing to a broad demographic, a broader geography. So they are actually appealing to women on one hand from 25 to 35 years old as party starters or girls-night-in drinks, as well as appealing to males about 25 to 45 depending on the type of Twisted Shotz that interests them.”
Twisted Shotz gain much of their cache from their provocative names based on popular shot drinks, such as B52, Rattlesnake, Strawberry Sunday, Buttery Nipple, Sex on the Beach and Porn Star. “Those things are just fun and seem to be really capturing people’s imaginations as impulse sales near the cash register,” Herman points out.
Herman sees RTDs and Twisted Shotz as enhancements, not replacements, for traditional mixed drinks and shots. “We don’t believe consumers are going to stop mixing their own drinks – that’s fairly ingrained in the American psyche, whether at home or a restaurant or a bar – but we think there are occasions where a premix works,” he asserts. These include around swimming pools where glass is not desirable, at outings like picnics and in refreshment carts, such as at golf courses.
We’re trying to develop a distribution and consumer base separately at this time, and we’ll see where that takes us.
“We’re finding that bartenders love our Twisted Shotz because they’re portion-controlled and easy to pass out to their customers as opposed to trying to mix at the bar on a busy night,” Herman adds. “A number of those shot drinks take an awful lot of different ingredients.” That premixing also makes them attractive for home use, where consumers do not want to have to spend $25 on each of three bottles of liqueurs to make one shot drink. “All our products – the RTDs and the shots – are to a degree really based on three principles,” Herman concludes. “They’re occasion-based, they’re convenience-based and they taste really good.”
Marketing to Distributors
“Our portfolio is handled by distributors,” Herman notes. “We do try to get our RTDs and shots into the same outlets. Our shots sit at the front near the cash register as an impulse sale. Our RTDs get into the cold box and on the floor in our displays. We’re trying to develop a distribution and consumer base separately at this time, and we’ll see where that takes us.”
In a typical purchase of beer at a liquor, grocery or convenience store, Independent Distillers is hoping the addition of one of its Twisted Shotz will be considered as an accompaniment to the beer. The company knows that besides appealing to consumers, its products need a strong commitment from distributors and retailers. So it is emphasizing promoting to the trade.
“We think that the most important thing in being a new business venture is becoming well-known among the trade, going after distribution, opening up a number of states and looking at how many stores we’re getting into,” Herman emphasizes. “Because to do any real kind of consumer advertising and not have distribution, you’re just wasting your money. First is to get our product known among the trade. Then really our consumer focus is based on getting it on the floor in the store, and into the cold box, and on the counter, and then follow with opportunities to do legal sampling in the stores or at events.”
Such events could include music festivals. In many jurisdictions, sampling also can be done in stores or at bars. “As a relatively new company in the U.S., we believe it’s important to have strong margins for our distributor partners as well as the retail trade,” Herman says. “So we think that’s one of the important elements to our current and future success is making sure everybody in the distribution chain has a strong margin, but at the end of the day, the consumer must feel they’re still getting a value for a tasty and fun product.”