Olly Wehring

Comment – Wehring's Way: Maker's Mark - Everything Ventured, Nothing Gained

By | 18 February 2013

Consumer pressure saw Beam Inc change its mind over Makers Marks abv

Consumer pressure saw Beam Inc change its mind over Maker's Mark's abv

I got quite angry yesterday. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. But, when Beam Inc advised us that it is abandoning its plans to lower the abv of its Maker's Mark brand, I got eye-rollingly annoyed.

For the record, I am a big fan of Maker's Mark. I like the way it tastes, I like the way it looks, I like the way it's positioned in the whisk(e)y world. Even so, I understood completely why Beam was looking to move the brand from 45% to 42% abv; I even went so far as to defend the decision.

You'll understand the reason for my chagrin, then, as Beam apologised profusely to those of its consumers who took to their social media outlets and vented their fury at the proposal.

We’re sincerely sorry we let you down,” said the COO and chairman of Beam's Maker's Mark unit in a joint-statement on the brand's website yesterday. Indeed, in an interview with Drink Spirits, chairman Bill Samuels Jr went even further: “We are also a little embarrassed about being so stupid,” he said.

We're certainly agreed that the adjective 'stupid' applies here. But, I think Messrs Samuels and myself would disagree, however, over which part of this mess we'd describe as being stupid.

Existing consumers are naturally overjoyed at the U-turn, but this change of heart is short-termism writ large.

As China continues to soak up whatever strong, international, brown spirit that is thrown at it, and India is proving equally thirsty, getting more Maker's Mark out of existing stocks and then heading for the new Frontier would show that Beam has intentions on a global scale.

After the initial announcement, I was told in no uncertain terms by Beam that the taste of the lower abv Maker's Mark was indecipherable from the original abv version. Rather than tough it out with existing consumers, however, Beam has abandoned the move.

Now, don't get me wrong: Having spent seven years working in the retail sector, I am well aware that the customer is king. I am also well aware, however, that you have to understand your customer; who they are, what they like, what they don't like... It is this golden rule that, I feel, Beam has got horribly wrong.

In a world where the craft distilling scene is burgeoning, Maker's Mark stood last week at the crossroads of moving from the niche underground to the global overground.

But, in a shocking case of brand management gone wrong, Beam blinked.

Expert analysis

Beam Inc. (BEAM) - Financial and Strategic SWOT Analysis Review

Beam Inc. (Beam), formerly known as Fortune Brands, Inc, is a premium spirits company. The company offers branded distilled spirits products. The product portfolio of the company consists of bourbon whiskey, Scotch whisky, Canadian whisky, tequila, cognac, rum, cordials, and ready-to-drink pre-mixed cocktails. The renowned brands offered by the company include Jim Beam Bourbon, Canadian Club Whisky, Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Sauza Tequila, Courvoisier Cognac, Teacher’s Scotch, Laphroaig Scotch, Knob Creek Bourbon, Cruzan Rum, Basil Hayden’s Bourbon, Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey, Hornitos Tequila, Skinnygirl Cocktails, EFFEN Vodka, Pucker Vodka and Sourz Liqueurs among others. The company’s major markets includes North America, Australia and Europe, and also maintains presence in the markets of India, Brazil, Russia, Central Europe, Asia, and other geographies. The company is headquartered in Illinois, the US. The company is expanding its operations as evident from its recent acquisition related agreement with White Rock Distilleries to acquire the fast-growing Pinnacle Vodka and Calico Jack rum brands and other related assets for $605m in cash.

Sectors: Spirits

Companies: Beam Inc

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