Blog Entries in Category: General Blogs

The Big Apple

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Category: General Blogs

 

Since this is our ninth annual HIT List issue, I’ve been doing some thinking about which beverage category would qualify as the most HIT-worthy. It didn’t take too long for me to decide. As we noted on the cover of our May 2013 issue, few segments are enjoying the kind of momentum that cider has been experiencing. Growth has been in the mid to high double digits and the large beer producers have been taking notice, marketing their own interpretations of the classic category. The real tipping point came in 2012 when MillerCoors bought the artisanal cider brand Crispin, one of the real standouts among modern cider brands. And Boston Beer has been one of the top innovators in the space with its Angry Orchard line.

Now, like craft beer, the category is starting to get its own specially designated weeks. October brought New York Cider Week, a sizeable success, especially from an educational standpoint. It really highlighted just how diverse and culturally dynamic a product fermented apples (and often pears) can be, well beyond just the sweet, low-ABV products American consumers have traditionally encountered in mainstream channels.

And, when we think of cider-producing countries overseas, there’s a lot more going on across the continent, beyond the U.K. and Ireland.

Spain, specifically its Asturias region, boasts a rich cider heritage, with offerings whose flavor profiles are more reminiscent of the wild ales of Belgium than the sweetness-forward brands that have made up the lion’s share of the category’s U.S. volume. The Spanish also have their own pouring method: The pourer holds the bottle up high, a good five or so feet above the glass and lets a perfectly linear stream artfully descend toward the serving receptacle. It’s not just theater; the practice actually aerates the liquid and cuts some of the sourness.

Back on U.S. shores, those transitioning from craft beer likely will be enamored of this next concept: Gianni Cavicchi, beer sommelier at Café d’Alsace, part of New York’s Tour de France restaurant group, teamed with Warwick, N.Y.’s Doc’s Cider brand to produce  a wet-hopped cider (Check out our video at beverageworld.com/videos).

That roar you hear is the sound of IPA fans nationwide yelping with delight. 

Saving Time in a Bottle

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Category: General Blogs

 

As I write this, in the middle of November, it seems that time itself is weighing heavily in the air. There is a strong feeling of nostalgia over the 50-year anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. The Congress just overhauled its filibuster rules for the first time in a generation. And (as editor-in-chief Jeff Cioletti so richly detailed in our last issue) the beverage alcohol industry in the U.S. reflected this year on the 80th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition—its meanings and its lessons.

And then, of course, there’s the issue you hold in your hand. As you see, it contains our HIT List, our annual roundup of the (mostly) winning things that happened in the beverage business in the past year.

Al of this, as you could imagine, had me thinking about “time” itself and the special relationship the beverage profession has with it. For the beverage business is one of the oldest ones in existence. If anyone asks you what you do for a living, you could say, “Well, I work in one of the oldest professions,” and have them give you a funny look.

This is especially true of the beer business. The Washington Post began this year—on Jan. 7, to be exact—by publishing an article which suggests that beer may have been the crucible of civilization! Ok, I may be exaggerating a little, but not by much. The article, entitled “Discovery of ancient breweries offers clues of primitive lifestyle,” details the recent discoveries of ancient brewing and feasting halls dating back 11,000 years (in Turkey) and 3,500 years (in Cyprus). It then cites archeologists who suggest the social lubricating effect of ancient beer may have served as the glue that helped rival villages bond and merge into larger communities.

So what’s different about the beer business today and the one that helped give rise to civilization thousands of years ago? I’d bet you its pace, as in, one was pretty darn slow, while the other is scatter-brained fast! And this doesn’t just hold for the beer business, but the entire beverage business.

It all makes me wonder: have we reached a point where our sense of time is so compressed that we are hurting our companies’ chances of success?

Case in point, I attended a trade show recently where I was chatting with the owner of a new beverage startup and asked him how old his company was. He told me two years and I matter-of-factly said, “Oh, so you’re pretty new.” His point-blank reply:  “Not really.” It struck me that his sense of time was different than mine. As an entrepreneur doing business in America today, he considered himself a tried-and-true veteran after just a couple of years in business.

Maybe he’s right? My gut was that he’s not. I still think it takes years and years of hard-work to really build the support structures that result in a successful beverage business, one that lasts and isn’t fly-by-night. It takes time to cement strong, deep relationships with consumers, distributors, and retailers. We may live in a fast-paced world, but relationships take time to build.

Or, am I just stuck in the past? 

Mile-High Musings

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

Those who have attended the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) over the past several years will know that the Brewers Association-presented event has grown into much more than the four tasting sessions that accommodate 49,000 brew seekers over a three-day period. It’s become a news-making platform for craft brewers and even the big brewers that extends beyond the walls of the Colorado Convention Center to the rest of Denver and in many cases well beyond the city limits. As always, it was a whirlwind few days for me as, like always, I tried to be three or four places at once so as not to miss anything. While that’s against the laws of physics, I was able to pick up a few tidbits.

Community Support
GABF took place barely a month after the devastating floods in the festival’s home region and the beer community banded together to help neighbors rebuild. The festival had a specially designated flood relief donation area, headed up by two of Colorado’s leading craft brewers, Oskar Blues and Left Hand. Both earlier this year set up their own charitable organizations designed to give back to the community and help in crises such as these natural disasters. Left Hand in May introduced the Left Hand Brewing Foundation and Oskar Blues in September launched Oskar Blues CAN’d Aid Foundation.

Wholesale Honors
Congratulations are in order for Mechanicville, N.Y.-based DeCrescente Distributing Co., which the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) and Brewers Association selected as Craft Beer Distributor of the Year. The two organizations presented the award jointly at GABF, noting that DeCrescente is well on its way to achieving its goal of 20 percent craft share in its local market by 2018.

Here Be Dragons
Preceded by the type of fanfare, mystery and intrigue reserved for the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, Cooperstown, N.Y.’s Brewery Ommegang finally revealed on night one (Thursday, Oct. 10) of GABF what the latest addition of its Game of Thrones line would be. Fire and Blood Red Ale will be the third offering in the line officially licensed by HBO to tie-in with its hit series based on George R.R. Martin’s epic “A Song of Ice & Fire” book series. It will debut through Ommegang’s nationwide distributor network in spring 2014, coinciding with season four of “Game of Thrones” on HBO. Ommegang offered GABF attendees a sneak peek at the Fire & Blood’s artwork, which incorporates the series’ three dragons: Drogon, Rhaegal and Visarion.

Life After Death
Finally, I have to give a shout-out to Shmaltz Brewing Co. founder Jeremy Cowan who was showcasing He’Brew Death of a Contract Brewer black IPA. The beer marks Shmaltz’s transition this summer from 100 percent contract-brewed to running its own brick-and-mortar brewery in Clifton Park, N.Y. It’s been quite an eventful year for Shmaltz. Shortly after opening the brewery, Shmaltz announced the sale of its Coney Island brand to Alchemy & Science, a subsidiary of Boston Beer. 

Hitting a Moving Consumer

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: soda

Beverage marketers today are faced with the ongoing challenge of finding their way through the ever-growing thicket of media opportunities and getting their ads watched by consumers. Boy, how times have changed since the ’70s when Coke tried to teach the world to sing or offered Mean Joe Green some refreshment! Yes, things were relatively easy back then when there were just a handful of channels and no internet.

Actually, beverage brands, at least for now, have been relatively lucky. While many viewers already record their favorite shows and fast-forward through the commercials, they still tend to tune in to live television events, especially sports. And, as we all know, beer and soda go great with that Sunday game.

But advertising against live sporting events can only go so far. So increasingly, beverages have turned to YouTube, video games, smart phones and any number of other emerging media to reach consumers.

But now comes word that many of the major brands have a lot of work to do when it comes to at least one of these powerful new channels—YouTube. According to a study from digital media company Touchstorm, large beverage brands like Coke are trailing smaller brands when it comes to harnessing the powers of YouTube for marketing. In fact, only 74 brands rank among the top 5,000 YouTube publishers in the Touchstorm Video Index: Top Brands Edition. Says Alison Provost, CEO of Touchstorm:  “With only 74 brands appearing in the YouTube top 5,000, it’s clear there’s a significant brand fail on one of the most important platforms today. YouTube has provided a content testing ground where celebrities, users, brands, content producers, retailers, and YouTube stars all have the same tools available to attract audiences. And while brands can afford to buy views and advertise their content, they’ve made very little progress in the organic viewership ecosystem.”

Among the study’s key findings:

  • •Big brands need to study small brands. Blendtec is in the top 10 yet Coke and Pepsi are not; the Mormon Church ranks yet top global brands Apple and Microsoft do not; Ford Models ranks higher than Ford Motors and Little Tykes overwhelms Toys ‘R’ Us.
     
  • Brands need to define the competition broadly. The other 4,926 publishers, which include musicians, teenagers with webcams, and professional content producers, have vastly out-performed brands in finding an audience for their content.
     
  • Brands can’t spend their way to the top. About one-third of the brands made the list by buying a significant amount of YouTube advertising, but the other two-thirds got there through organic growth.
     
  •  International brands build audiences. Brand channels from Brazil, Latin America and Japan make the list, beating out tens of thousands of English-language brand channels.
     
  • And finally, there are two routes to the top. Some brands made the list on the backs of a viral video or two; others made it by publishing less spectacular content more regularly.

The list of 74 brands that place inside the top 5000 channels on YouTube is available at Touchstorm.com.

I'm Making a Spirited Plea

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: alcohol

I was walking the floor at the Holiday Buying Show in New York, jotting down notes and sampling a few brands when I was approached by a woman with a clipboard and a handful of Japanese beverage brochures. She must have had a keen eye for media as the word “press” on my attendee badge would have been barely visible from more than a handful of feet.  “Would you like to taste Japanese spirits?” she asked me. Of course I would.

I was intrigued and impressed by her assertiveness—I’ve been to literally hundreds of trade shows and beyond a few stray hired hands unenthusiastically handing out postcard-size flyers promoting particular exhibitors, marketers rarely venture out beyond the confines of their booths to proactively increase traffic at their stands. As I learned when I reached the array of saké producers at the Japanese beverage alcohol pavilion, shochu marketers are really determined to broaden awareness of their venerable spirit to U.S. consumers and beyond.

I definitely have had my share of exposure to the drink. A few years ago I spent an evening at a shochu bar in Tokyo, where a local gentleman, who was eager to practice his English explained that younger Japanese (legal drinking age) consumers are moving away from saké—something they view as their parents’ drink—and toward shochu. That’s part of the reason why there’s such an opportunity in the U.S. for sake because it still has relatively low awareness and market penetration here and virtually nowhere left to go on its home islands.

One of the challenges stateside saké marketers have been facing is a lack of distinguishable branding—there’s a great deal of visual homogeneity among many of the brands on my local store’s shelves (not to mention, difficult-to-pronounce names for Westerners), despite the fact that there are amazing variations in flavor. As I mentioned in a previous column, that’s starting to change as marketers bring dynamic design elements and simple, memorable names to their products. There are similar hurdles for shochu marketers. But I do think that will change for shochu too, as importers ramp up their marketing efforts and continue to figure out how to market in the U.S., beyond the specialty shop and Japanese restaurant or izakaya.

Of course, bottles need to contain accessible products and I’m convinced that once more legal-drinking-age consumers sample shochu they’ll be converted. On the rocks most are remarkably drinkable with tremendous flavor complexity. Those made from barley provide a good bridge for whiskey drinkers. Those made from rice are good for those who’ve already discovered sake, as many of the aromatic elements are reminiscent of their rice-based cousin. And then for something truly unique and delightfully complex, there’s shochu distilled from sweet potatoes. Meanwhile, rum drinkers might find brown sugar-based shochu appealing.

I hope to see shochu—and the hotbed for shochu production, the Japanese island of Kyushu—represented at a larger number of industry trade shows with even more foot traffic from curious distributors and retailers. Kanpai!