This month, Tom Vierhile from Datamonitor considers the blending of drinks sectors in the NPD arena.

Should we credit the 'Cronut' for the mash-up trend? Last year, New York, NY-based Dominique Ansel Bakery created a media sensation by combining the croissant and the donut to produce the “Cronut.” Since then, bakers have responded with the “biskie” biscuit cookie cake, the “scuffin” scone muffin and countless other mash-ups.

Alcoholic beverage makers appear to have been taking notes, demonstrated by a recent wave of new mash-ups and hybrid drinks. UK-based SHS Drinks appears to have channelled Dominique Ansel Bakery with the recent introduction of a beverage it calls a “spider” drink – a marriage of spirits and cider. The company’s new Orwell’s Amaretto-Flavoured Cider is a 5.5% abv, ready-to-drink product said to introduce an “adventurous and unexpected blend of alcohol flavors” into the newly-created “spider” category. SHS Drinks believes the “spider” concept will have legs, growing to a value of GBP50m (US$84.9m) per year by 2018.

Whether the “spider” concept will grow or get squashed will ultimately be decided by consumers, though SHS is clearly enthusiastic about the concept. Mark Hopper, head of innovation & development at SHS, notes that the Orwell’s launch “demonstrates that there is still plenty of ‘stretch’ within the cider category”. He adds that the blurring and crossover of categories is not limited to alcoholic beverages, stating that “we’re seeing it throughout the FMCG market from chocolate-flavoured cheese to pizza burgers”. Hopper believes that the “hybrid spirit-cider combination will extend cider consumption into new occasions, as it is more likely to be purchased for higher energy, brand-in-hand social occasions than the mellower, lower-key social occasions usually associated with cider”.

SHS Drinks is actually a frequent-flier when it comes to mash-up beverages, recently coining the term “speers” to describe the combination of spirits and beer for its Dead Crow brand. Last year, the company revitalised the packaging and marketing for the 5.5% abv rum beer and bourbon beer flavours in the Dead Crow line.

SHS believes that the “speers” sector in the UK has the potential to grow from GBP95m today to around GBP400m in the next two years.

This belief that growth in alcoholic beverage categories can be fuelled by tapping ancillary categories is widespread and growing. No less than alcoholic beverage giant Diageo is signing on to the concept with its new Nola Vodka Spritz, which is intended to give wine a run for its money by combining key elements of wine and spirits. The fruit-flavoured, ready-to-drink vodka spritz has roughly half the alcohol by volume and 35% fewer calories than a typical glass of Pinot Grigio wine.

Diageo’s creation may lack a snazzy name like “spider” or “speers,” but the concept is similar to these hybrids. Alice Ponti, senior innovation manager for Western Europe for Diageo, says that the company “created Nola after realising how little choice women have for a great tasting, lighter alternative to wine”. Ponti adds that “a 12% abv drink (like white wine) is not ideal for all occasions (Nola contains just 6.4% abv)”. The drink is specifically aimed at women in their 20s and 30s that are looking for new and exciting drink alternatives for casual get-togethers.

Also seeking to poach consumers from wine is Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin Infused with Wine. New in the UK, this hybrid spirit is distilled in small batches using regional German ingredients, but is infused with locally-produced Riesling wine post-distillation to create a spirit with an abv of 44%. Sold in a bottle topped with a wine cork, the wine infusion gives gin more of a youthful, fun image.

Blending different types of alcoholic drinks together is where the mash-up trend started, but that doesn’t mean that non-alcoholic beverages to be on the outside looking in. Popular beverages like coffee, for instance, can be a great springboard for novel mash-ups. Coffee is the innovation source for Friends Fun Wine, a US launch offered in Cabernet Coffee Espresso and Chardonnay Coffee Cappuccino flavours.

The 6% abv range has roughly half the alcohol content of traditional wine, but traditional wine does not typically include flavours like espresso coffee and a hint of chocolate, like the Cabernet Coffee Espresso product does. Interestingly, the line is packaged in 25cl aluminium slim cans, not traditional 75cl glass bottles.

Sports and energy drinks are other non-alcoholic beverage markets providing inspiration for new mash-ups. Canada’s Lean Machine Brands recently introduced Lean Machine Functional Lager, a sports recovery beverage intended to help replenish the body’s natural fluids after a workout. The canned beverage has just 77 calories per 35.5cl serving, yet also contains seven grams of protein and seven vitamins. The abv of 3.2% is slightly lower than usual for a Canadian lager.

The proven ability of alcoholic beverage mash-ups to drive dynamic growth virtually ensures that the trend will be with us for a while. A case-in-point is Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Bud Light ‘Rita line of beer-based margarita drinks in a can that saw US sales more than double from US$150m in 2012 to nearly $500m in 2013, according to IRI data. But, most importantly, over 60% of the brand’s sales now come from women – more than double the percentage of female buyers for the firm’s flagship Bud Light beer brand.

That should help prime the pump for more beer cocktail launches like Mixery Beer Cocktail from Germany’s Karlsberg Brauerei GmbH, a new German beer cocktail in flavors like Caiprinha, Mojito, and Raw Bomb that is geared toward women that do not consume beer regularly.