Andy Morton

The beverage business blog from Andy Morton

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Mead moves out of the dark ages as honey buzz continues

16 Apr 2014 16:19

A sign that the modern world's love of nostalgia is getting seriously out of hand appeared today with news that mead is the fastest growing category in the US alcoholic drinks market.

Admittedly, this bombshell came from the potentially partisan American Mead Makers Association.  But 130% growth last year, as the association flagged, is still impressive. As one mead maker said: “The last 300 years have been kind of rough for the business, but it's been picking up.” 

But that the dark ages' favourite flagon-filler is firmly back in fashion should be no surprise. Most mead, after all, is made using honey, and as the world's whisk(e)y producers have discovered over the past few years, consumers are very keen on that ingredient.

Strong growth for Brown-Forman's Jack Daniel's range has been built on its Tennessee Honey variant, while Diageo last month launched a honey-flavoured version of its J&B Scotch brand. 

Ads and packaging across the spirits categories are increasingly emblazoned with buzzing bees and dripping honeycombs as marketers make the most of a sweetener that manages to be both authentically sweet and wholly natural. 

Was it ever thus?

According to the American Mead Makers Association, evidence of honey in fermented beverages dates back more than 9,000 years. Which goes to show that, underneath all the marketing and branding, consumer tastes never really change. 

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Will Kestrel take flight with golfers?

10 Apr 2014 15:11

Most marketing campaigns have familiar goals - an increase in sales, wider consumer recognition.

Others, such as the latest from Scottish beer brand Kestral lager - seek to change the entire lexicon of one of the world's most popular and venerable sports.

The Kestrel Brewing Company, owned by former Wells & Young's MD Nigel McNally, is asking golfers to call a hole-in-one - when the ball finds the cup in one shot - a “kestrel”. The company claims this would dovetail nicely with golf's other bird-based terms such as birdie, eagle and albatross, while also raising awareness of dwindling kestrel numbers in the UK.

To achieve this, Kestrel will launch a campaign in 250 UK golf clubs. But while I laud the brewer's lofty aims, let's hope bigger beer makers don't get ideas about other popular sporting terms. Otherwise, come the World Cup in Brazil this year we may all be watching players scoring the winning Budweiser. 

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A Kentucky whiskey that's not a Bourbon? Only in America...

20 Mar 2014 16:30

Diageo and Brown-Forman have been at loggerheads the past week over what is best for the Tennessee whiskey category. (For a full run down of the unseemly, yet wholly enjoyable, affair, read just-drinks' managing editor's take here).

What spiked my interest, though, was Brown-Forman revealing how it handles its Early Times whiskey brand across its markets. 

Now this is complicated, so please bear with me.

Diageo had claimed to be “defending the honour” of the rival Early Times because it is aged in used casks, something which Brown-Forman had previously said was a mark of inferior quality in the Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey categories.

But, in an interview with just-drinks, a Brown-Forman spokesperson said Early Times, despite being made in Kentucky, is not actually a Bourbon. Well, not in the US at least. The version of Early Times that is produced for its domestic market is aged in used casks and, hence, is known as an American whiskey. However, for its other major market, Japan, it is aged in new casks, and IS a Bourbon. 

Still with me?

Any suggestion that Early Times is a Bourbon is, as the spokesperson made clear, erroneous. Unless you are in Japan: Then it's most definitely a Bourbon. 

Talk about joined-up marketing.

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Small step for vodka but Cognac wins the space race

24 Feb 2014 22:41

La Martiniquaise-Bardinet's vodka brand Poliakov has today (24 February) claimed a first with the news that it has launched a bottle into space. Well, 20 miles up, at least.

As far as marketing tactics go, the footage of the bottle rising into the stratosphere is fairly impressive, though strikingly similar to that of other amateur YouTube space launches that have seen action figures, and even a slice of pizza, hit similar heights.

Vodka, however, has a surprisingly limited relationship with the great unknown - which is surprising, bearing in mind its connections with that most space-travelled of nations, Russia. 

While US missions have always been alcohol free, cosmonauts have long been allowed the odd tipple, though not of vodka, of Cognac. Handy for those cold nights on the Mir space station.

According to this article in the UK's Daily Telegraph, back in the 1990s, Mir crew members used to have so many bottles of the French spirit hidden around the vessel, they would show up unexpectedly.

"Sometimes we would bump into a bottle of Cognac," one said. "What a joy it was."

 

 

 

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Diageo's Bell's whisky ad proves industry is a soft touch

07 Feb 2014 12:28

It seems to me that ads for alcohol used to fall into two categories - funny or cool.

Nowadays, our marketing men are branching out into a third option - touchie-feelie. Last week's Super Bowl provided us with more than a few cry-fests (and an adorable puppy). And now Diageo's Bell's whisky brand practically pokes us in the tear-ducts with its South African commercial that shows an illiterate man desperate to read a particular book.

After the Super Bowl, a marketing professor told Reuters: “We are seeing companies talk about more inspirational topics.” 

For inspiring, read emotional. So, will 2014 be the year of the advertising weepies? Well, put it like this - the Bell's ad already has half-a-million views just a week out from its launch.

That's pretty impressive for a single-market commercial.

Hankies at the ready, everyone.

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Pernod Ricard looks for material gains with wearable tech

29 Jan 2014 17:23

Here at just-drinks we like to be on the cutting-edge of technology, so here's a nod (and a wink) to the latest in fashion unveiled at Pernod Ricard's "innovation" day in Paris this week. 

Below is our exclusive footage of a T-shirt that displays personalised messages and images keyed in from a computer or mobile device. The women holding it is creator Alison Lewis, who owns Californian wearable technology firm Switch, and the prototype design was only completed a few days before it was brought to Paris.

But what's this got to do with drinks?

Well, the technology is part-funded by Pernod's blended Scotch whisky brand Ballantine's, who's marketing team came up with the idea a few years ago. An earlier prototype in 2012 managed to bring about 200,000 visitors to Ballantine's website and was featured in about 500 blogs. That prototype, however, was not very wearable, and came with a EUR14,000 (US$19,000) price tag. The new one is washable and scrunchable, and a comparative snip, at just EUR3,000!

What you won't find on the T-shirt, however, is the Ballantine's logo. Brand managers are aware a personalised message system is open to abuse and don't want the whisky associated with the questionable words and images that users will inevitably broadcast on their chests. Which rather raises the question, to what end is Pernod investing in this tech?

On Tuesday, I was told that the success of the earlier prototype in raising Ballantine's profile means the project can already be deemed a success. But why keep investing in something that doesn't appear to give anything back to the brand? Pernod doesn't even have rights to the technology - that belongs to Switch, with the French group merely owning the project's name, T-shirt OS.

Strange that a campaign that is all about delivering a message might not do the same for Pernod.

To read a comment piece on Pernod's innovation day, click here.

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Monster Beverage Corp may regret latest punch line

21 Jan 2014 16:33

Does Monster Beverage Corp wish to make itself more of a target than it already is?

Currently bogged down in food safety investigations and lawsuits, the energy drinks firm has announced a new line. Punch Monster will start shipping to US retailers in the first quarter, company CEO Rodney Sacks told analysts in a business update this month.

It will replace the underperforming DUB Edition but is a brand new formulation. “Changed flavour, changed positioning, changed cans,” as Sacks said.

Perhaps he should consider changing the name, too? Punch Monster, in these embattled times, sounds like an offer, metaphorically speaking, some of the people behind the lawsuits and investigations may find hard to turn down. 

 

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Did somebody mention breakfast? Not PepsiCo's new Kickstart flavours

15 Jan 2014 10:51

A late breakfast

A late breakfast

“Kickstart Your Night,” shouts the ad logo for PepsiCo's new Mountain Dew Kickstart flavours, unveiled yesterday (15 January).

But hold on, wasn't the original Kickstart marketed as a “breakfast beverage”Perhaps PepsiCo's ad men pulled a few too many late nighters and breakfast got forgotten about. 

Not so, a PepsiCo spokesperson told me. The new flavours and branding are "an expansion of the line, not a marketing change".

Whatever the reason, Kickstart has obviously not been missing out on its own fortifying breakfast as the brand has amassed US$150m in sales since its launch last February. Now that's news worth staying up late for.

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From absinthe to wadadli: Around the world in 80 drinks

10 Dec 2013 15:38

Here's an interesting guide - a list of 80 countries and their most iconic drinks.

The infographic, from the Wine Investor courtesty of Visual.ly, has all the usual contenders in there: sangria from Spain, single malt from Scotland and vodka from Russia. 

But some drinks firms will be pleased to see a few of their brands make the list. The Coca-Cola Co has the US sewn up with its namesake soft drink, while Rémy Cointreau gets a look in with Barbados's Mount Gay rum. And while SABMiller may have had a few problems with Foster's Group since it bought the unit in 2011, at least its Victoria Bitter beer is this list's Australian representative. 

Around the World in 80 Drinks
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A Britvic Q&A, without the Qs

26 Nov 2013 15:05

Britvic, you would think, is a company that's worth analysts unpicking a bit. 

Today saw the release of much-improved full-year results after a miserable 2012 hampered by bad weather and the recall of its Fruit Shoot brand. The company is also in the middle of a major cost-cutting plan that will close three of its UK and Ireland sites, while a concurrent expansion of its US franchising strategy continues apace.

All of which made it very surprising when, in the post-results conference call with investors and analysts this afternoon, there was a long, and slightly embarrassing, silence when it was turned over for questions.

No one, it seemed, wanted to ask Britvic anything. Either that, or the world's drinks analysts were still at lunch.

To put it into context, I've listened in to countless numbers of these calls, across the global beverage industry, and there has always been a few questions. 

CEO Simon Litherland, who was fronting the call, took it in his stride. “Thank you very much everybody for listening in to the call,” he said after a slight hesitation. “And I wish you a good day.”

Till next time, Simon. Perhaps.

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