Blog Entries by Jennifer Cirillo

’Tis the Season

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, brewing, beverage, holiday, seasonal

Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier each year. Retail windows decorated in snowy wonderlands, Christmas tunes filling department stores and seasonal beverages appearing on restaurant and bar menus.
I always know the official Christmas season has begun when Starbucks switches over from its iconic white cups with green emblem to its red holiday cups; this year the coffee house chose snowmen, carolers and a fox in wintery scenes to welcome the holiday season.

I’m not the only one who looks forward to this changeover. A quick Google search reveals there is a website dedicated to counting down the days until the red cups return and millions of search results return for the words “Starbucks holiday cups.”

But the seasonal return of these fun and festive cups also seemed to come a bit earlier this year. It was early November when I walked into a Starbucks outside of the South Kensington tube station in London craving a Pumpkin Spice Latte only to find a menu of Christmas-themed coffees—Eggnog Latte, Gingerbread Latte, Toffee Nut Latte and Praline Mocha.

“Are you making Pumpkin Spice Lattes still?” I asked with my fingers crossed that they could still make the fall drink.

“No,” the barista replied. “I’m sorry.” So, I opted for the Praline Mocha, new for this Christmas. It’s warm bittersweet chocolate infused with the flavor of hazelnut combined with espresso and steamed milk topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of mocha sauce.

Even though I was disappointed that fall was over and winter had begun—at Starbucks, anyway—I found myself switching gears and getting into the holiday spirit, making a mental Christmas list, getting excited about upcoming holiday parties and enjoying my tall Praline Mocha, no whip.

On the alcohol side, breweries continue their seasonal offerings moving into darker beers, bourbon barrel aged ales, beers with higher alcohol. Anheuser-Busch Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale, Freemont Brewing’s Bourbon Barrel Abominable and Widmer Brothers Brrr Seasonal Ale are just among a few of the many beers crafted to warm us up during the winter months.

At a recent Bacardi holiday event, the brand showcased how to spice up the holiday season with drinks other than traditional eggnog. Take the Coquito for example. A traditional holiday drink of Puerto Rico, the Coquito is made with half a bottle of Bacardi Superior, one can of evaporated milk, one can of condensed milk, two cans of cream of coconut and two teaspoons of cinnamon. Slowly blend the evaporated milk, condensed milk and the cream and coconut. Then add the cinnamon and slowly add Bacardi Superior until everything is incorporated.

Brand ambassador David Cid took us through a selection of five other cocktails at NY’s Abe & Arthur’s—The Bacardi Cocktail, The Selleck, Airmail, Bacardi Holiday Punch and La Noche. Bacardi Holiday Punch, for instance, consists of 750 ml of Bacardi Superior or Bacardi Gold rum, 2 liters of ginger ale chilled, 8 ounces of orange juice, one ounce of lime juice and one and one-half ounce of lemon juice.

Now that the holidays have officially arrived, take your drink menus to the next level and introduce your guests to some new flavors. Happy holidays.

Beverage Branding Fit for a Dragon

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beverage, marketing, lifestyle brands, innovation

 

I came across a program while in the U.K. called “Dragons’ Den,” which is similar to the U.S.’s “Shark Tank” that airs on ABC. The dragons, like the sharks, are big time moneymakers in their respective industries and are looking for their next big investment. On this episode of “Dragons’ Den,” two men, Padrig and Dewi, present their toffee-flavored vodka, Toffoc, to the panel and ask for a £75,000 investment to help expand their brand. 

Though Padrig and Dewi had the backing of Michelin-starred celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, they revealed to the dragons that while the Anglesey-based company made a profit in its first year, the following two were not profitable. Dragon Hilary Devey, an English television star responds, “Well, something is wrong there isn’t it.”

Another dragon, Peter Jones, founder of the U.K.’s first Enterprise Academy, asks why Rhodes’ name isn’t on the bottle and how much he’s invested in the brand. His advice: “Get your celebrity endorser to do more work for you.”

The duo came up with the idea to create a toffee-flavored vodka about eight years ago while skiing in the French Alps. The spirit, apparently, is a popular drink choice among skiers there. This particular brand is available in Wales and retails for about £15 for a 70cl bottle, according to its website. The vodka, along with apparel and other swag items, also is available for purchase online. It is triple-distilled U.K. grain vodka that is infused with toffee that results in a clear, golden-hued liquid.

The dragons got to sample the vodka and most seemed impressed with the flavor and quality, remarking that the smell and taste were good. However, none of the five dragons were interested in investing in the brand. In the drinks industry we’ve seen scenarios like this before. A new product that is struggling to get the word out, partners with a celebrity or a pop culture entity, and then what? Does celebrity affiliation automatically equal success? 

That depends on the celebrity and the brand. I recall going to a Sopranos wine tasting at the Trump World Tower in New York City a few years ago. It was for a range of Italian wines that were branded with “The Sopranos” TV series that aired on HBO. While there was a lot of hype surrounding the brand at the time produced by The Sopranos Wine Co./Vesuvio Import Co. the buzz seemed to fizzle out with the show. 

On the other hand, take brands like Ciroc with P Diddy or Jim Beam’s Red Stag and its affiliation with Kid Rock. Those are two good examples of celebrity done right. That’s because these celebrities do more than just attach their name to a new brand, they embody that brand, they live it and they represent what that brand stands for. In turn, consumers that relate to a particular lifestyle—luxury or rock ’n’ roll in this case—directly relate to that brand.

While Padrig and Dewi seemed reluctant to get Rhodes more involved in their brand, saying that it was “their toffee” and not Rhodes, Jones was on target with his advice. A successful celebrity endorsement needs more than just a face or a name printed on a sell sheet; it requires an authenticity that consumers won’t compromise on—and neither will the dragons.  

Cocktail Culture

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beverage, alcohol, spirits, spirits pairing

We talk, and write, a lot about what wines pair well with which foods, and which beers pair better than those wines with those foods. But what about cocktails? Typically, it’s, “let’s grab a drink before dinner,” or “let’s grab a drink after dinner.” The during is usually cocktail-free. 

I attended two events last month that have reopened my eyes to the cocktail culture that continues to thrive in this country and how spirits too can pair equally as well as wine or beer with food. 

Skyy Vodka recently named chef Marcus Samuelsson as its first culinary ambassador. Samuelsson is a James Beard Award winner and also is Food Network’s Chopped All-Stars champion this year. He is the owner and chef of Red Rooster in Harlem where I got to experience first-hand what his partnership with the vodka brand will entail. From September to December, Samuelsson will focus on how to create high-quality cocktails at home that he has developed using his culinary skills through a program called Captivating Cocktails. At the Red Rooster we sampled some cocktails from the program: Basil Gimlet paired with skagen toast, an Apple Spiced Martini paired with a turkey meatball slider on a biscuit with cranberry chutney, and an Earl of Harlem cocktail made with Earl Grey Tea, coriander syrup, lemon juice and orange rind paired with chicken and waffles with spiked Skyy syrup. Other cocktails passed throughout the evening included The Savoy (made with red and white grapes, lemon juice and agave syrup) and a White Sangria.

While I’ve sampled my fair share of culinary crafted cocktails, I was surprised to find the cocktails to be light, refreshing and balanced with the food choices that weren’t your typical dinner items.

Further downtown, it was a Sunday brunch and Patrón Silver cocktails at Maya, a Richard Sandoval restaurant, specializing in modern Mexican cuisine. The newly redesigned restaurant now includes Tequileria Maya, a bar and lounge with more than 100 agave-based spirits and 30 house-infused tequilas. Cocktails that day included a traditional margarita, a pineapple sage margarita, spiked agua frescas, tequila punch and a Maria Verde made with tamatillo, chiles, cilantro, jalapeno and lime all paired with small Mexican plates like chef’s special chicken enchiladas, tacos and tortas like smoked brisket tacos and cazuelas (baked eggs served in cast iron skillets) like eggs albanil—scrambled eggs, chicharron, black beans, salsa verde and crema fresca. 

Tequila for brunch isn’t the normal go-to cocktail, but as the tequila culture continues to grow, consumers are learning that tequila can be enjoyed in many cocktails and even sipped like a fine cognac. In fact, Sandoval has partnered with Herradura to craft his own limited-edition double barrel reposado tequila. Following the traditional barrel aging process, this reposado was then rested in new toasted oak barrels and aged for an additional 30 days. Only 240 bottles are available. The tequila has aroma notes of fruit and vanilla and caramel-like flavors derived from the cooked agave and aging in oak barrels. It has a sweet finish with a light alcohol taste. Salud!  

Banning the Ban

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beverage, soft drink, soda

 

span style="letter-spacing: -0.3px">There was a soon-to-be mother of two, a middle school teacher and a journalist sitting around a kitchen table in a Manhattan apartment. Sound like the start to a bad joke? It could be, but the matter we were discussing was nothing to laugh about. (I’m the journalist and the other two women at the table are my childhood friends.) As many New Yorkers have been voicing concerns, or praise, over the proposed big soda ban, the topic got the three of us debating the issue. 

Interestingly, as my friends said they thought the idea of putting a ban on soda sales was unfair, they agreed that something has to be done about the amount of sugar or fatty foods people are consuming. While something does have to change with regard to the obesity epidemic that has happened in this country, preventing people from purchasing specific products isn’t that something.

The scenario of someone buying two 16-ounce beverages gets brought up, as does the ability for a consumer to just refill his or her cup at many fast food chains in the city for no additional cost. “The Mother’s” husband chimes in saying that it’s about portion control. If someone puts a large plate of food in front of him, he’ll eat it all, but if a smaller plate of food is presented and he takes a step away from the table after eating, he’s satisfied. Point taken. But do we need a law to regulate portion control?

The discussion then turned to schools, as “The Mother” is now looking at schools in Manhattan for her daughter, and the restrictions on selling sugary drinks and fatty foods in those schools. While that may or may not be a good thing, I reminded them that when we were growing up, we had access to soft drinks in vending machines and sugared teas and French fries and pizza and chocolate chip cookies, among other things, in our school cafeteria. None of us are obese or overweight and neither were our classmates. What goes into a Coke or Pepsi or Snapple hasn’t changed (other than adding low-sugar, low-calorie options), so what has?

“The Teacher,” who teaches middle school at a public school in Brooklyn told us that her school has no vending machines, no health class and no after school sports due to lack of funding in many cases. 

Funding is where our discussion came to a halt. Why isn’t money being spent on educational programs in schools on health and wellness? Why aren’t there programs for families to help educate them on portion control? Instead of being reactive and putting a ban on a single group of items, why not be proactive and get back to the fundamentals of what being healthy means?

Today we read about universities and government offices banning the sale of bottled water as a cost-cutting initiative as well as an effort to be environmentally friendly or responsible. PET is 100 percent recyclable and if we drink bottled water, we should be responsible for recycling it. Again, the effort here should be to invest in recycling programs and education, not putting a ban on an inexpensive alternative to any beverage with sugar.

There is no easy fix. This month i>Beverage World takes a closer look at big soda ban in NY as our cover story feature; see page 40.  

Finding the Perfect Match

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beverage, lifestyle brands

There are a lot of options out there these days. Take a close look at the shelves in your supermarket, convenience store, club store, even local gas station or food cart—there’s a drink for almost any need-state and for almost any personal preference. With so much to choose from, the question often is asked: How does one particular brand top the charts?

It’s a question I ask of brand owners and company leaders—what’s the key to success that unlocks the purchasing power of a consumer and leads them to choose your brand over another time and time again?

There’s no easy answer. And that’s because when a consumer falls in love with a brand, it’s not because of one reason; it’s because of many.

It has to do with the first time you were introduced to that brand, the taste of it, the look of it and how much it costs. From there, it’s about consistency, availability in the market and how you feel when holding that product in your hand. Today, consumers also are concerned with where the brand comes from, how it’s produced, if it contributes to society at large through promotions or its corporate structure—is the company that markets or produces the brand a good corporate citizen?

Finding a brand that matches you is like finding a partner. Initial attraction, values, timing, common interests all play a role in deciding whether a first date turns into two, into three and so on.

The brands that have been successful—such as Monster Energy, Beverage World’s Liquid Refreshment Beverage Company of the Year—often refer to themselves as lifestyle brands. Consumers choose that beverage over a competitor’s because of its messaging and what that brand represents, whether that’s hard core action sports, an organic way of living, or luxury.

Finding a match is only half the battle though. The hard part becomes keeping that relationship going and maintaining your fan base.

Jumping on the bandwagon with the latest trend isn’t going to cut it. Consumers are looking for authenticity and they want to be heard when they feel that they’ve been betrayed in some way, and expect to see solutions.

Overall, brands that have managed these relationships successfully have maintained their loyal following by otherwise staying true to what consumers know them to be. Cases in point are the recent misteps of two strong brands—Coca-Cola, with the confusion around its promotional white holiday can, and Tropicana with its packaging change that went wrong.

Even though no relationship is perfect, it’s how companies recover from the small battles that makes their bond with consumers that much stronger.  And at a time when the lines of communication are so open with social media outlets, there is no excuse to not be listening to what your consumer has to say.

Love is a tricky thing to conquer—in the beverage world or otherwise. But with a good product, hard work, a consistent product and message and open-ended conversations with your fans, finding a perfect match that can last a lifetime is possible.