The Brand Radar: Kylie Minogue prosecco rosé, Benchmark Drinks and how brands thrive in booze

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how brands can thrive in the alcohol space – and why booze brands themselves are soaring in areas like snacks, fashion and accessories.

One of my favourite trade magazines is The Grocer. I am a great believer in trade magazines and the positive role they play within a business sector. A good trade magazine can help drive an industry forward, hold it to account and stimulate fresh thinking. The Grocer does all of those things.

It delivers interesting topical news, provides thought-provoking analysis and shines a light on people in the industry. Published by William Reed Limited, The Grocer is very much a go to publication for the food and drink industry. It is established as a brand in its own right and has developed a number of its own brand extensions including live events and conferences.

It also provides very useful category analysis of specific food and drink categories. A recent report looked at Britain’s biggest alcohol brands. The report was focused on performance of brands within the category and also highlighted trends within it. For example, The Grocer reported a slump in sales of champagne with many well-known brands affected. Conversely, some prosecco and cava brands saw sales increase. One explanation is that consumers are switching to more affordable brands and products.

The Grocer list of Britain’s biggest alcohol brands was quite thought provoking in terms of brand licensing and a reminder of how active some alcohol brands are in licensing. Generally licensing in the category flows into two distinct product streams…

Firstly, alcohol brands working with food companies where the featured alcohol brand is used as an ingredient, flavour and brand. Secondly, a number of alcohol brands feature in the general brand licensing market as licensed brands. Another more recent trait is for companies to buy in licenses to use to create licensed products in the alcohol category.

A really good example of a brand being used to create a product range under license is a range of Kylie Minogue wine and prosecco developed by Benchmark Drinks. Kylie’s wine range currently sits at number 147 in The Grocer chart, with her Prosecco Rose being the number one branded Prosecco Rose.

Brand Radar, Ian Downes

A well-known and trusted personality like Kylie Minogue creates impetus for the producer and helps achieve an immediate presence in the market. Kylie is newsworthy and will attract a lot of publicity. Benchmark also work with personalities such as Ian Botham, Gordon Ramsey, Gary Barlow and Graham Norton. Their website talks about building brands and working with brand personalities is one way of accelerating this process.

Brand Radar, Ian Downes

As always when working with well-known personalities, there has to be a careful curation of the partnership to ensure there is an authenticity around it – and of course the personality has to maintain their position in the market. This includes their profile and reputation.

There have been other examples of brands being licensed into the category with companies like Harrogate Tipple working with the RHS and Downton Abbey, while in the beer category band brands like Iron Maiden have enjoyed considerable success.

Brand Radar, Ian Downes

Other licensed brands such as Peaky Blinders have got involved in the category. Thornbridge Brewery have launched a Shelby India Pale Ale whilst The Original Stormtrooper design brand has a long-standing partnership with The Sourceror to create a range of craft beers.

Brand Radar, Ian Downes

Iconic comic character Judge Dredd also recently appeared in the category via a collaboration with Northern Monk Brewery that was tied into the Thought Bubble Festival. In this case original specially commissioned artwork was commissioned and featured on the product giving it further kudos.

These kinds of partnerships give the brewers an opportunity to engage with retailers and consumers that they may not have had otherwise. They also open up opportunities for innovative PR, digital marketing and can create new distribution opportunities such as composite gifting and at events.

Brand Radar, Ian Downes

Brands that featured prominently in The Grocer’s list included Budweiser, Jack Daniel’s and Baileys. All of these are great examples of alcohol brands that lead active licensing lives.

Jack Daniel’s is very successful in categories such as apparel, gifting and accessories. Arguably a key consideration here is the opportunity that licensing creates to build on the brand’s lifestyle credentials, particularly in regards to the role licensed apparel can play. Categories like accessories work well in terms of gifting and also allow the brand to feature in different distribution channels.

Alcohol brands also feature in the food aisles where the flavour profile of a brand is important as its overall appeal and market position. Food manufacturers are often looking for innovative ways to bring new products into a category. Tapping into alcohol brands gives them the opportunity to create unique products under license which are insulated from their competition, while providing their retailers with noteworthy NPD launches.

Brands like Budweiser and Baileys bring a loyal and active consumer audience with them. A few current examples of licensing from these brands provide a great insight into how alcohol brands make an impact in the food aisles.

Baileys features in a range of products, including cakes from Finsbury Foods, ice cream in Iceland and biscuits from Bahlsen. Working with Baileys allows manufacturers to use a proven and distinctive flavour in NPD and in categories like biscuits create a more premium product within a category that is heavily price driven.

For Baileys, it opens up new ‘occasions’ that their brand is consumer around, widens their distribution and builds a new dialogue with consumers. It is also an opportunity to sell their ‘flavour’ as a bulk ingredient which must have a financial upside.

Brand Radar, Ian Downes

Budweiser have just launched a range of flavoured peanuts with snack company Humdinger. Humdinger have created three flavours – Smoky Texan BBQ, Buffalo Chicken Wings and Flame-Grilled Ribs.

Georgia Doe, Senior Brand Manager at Budweiser, gave some insight into Budweiser’s thinking in regards to moving into this category: “Expanding into more occasions is hugely important for the brand and these nuts were developed to pair perfectly with the smooth, crisp taste of Budweiser”.

This range plays well to Budweiser’s heritage particularly with a nod to its American origins. It extends the brand experience, allowing consumers to match their drink with a suitable snack. It’s also a fresh, subtle way for Budweiser to connect with new consumers. Product is being stocked in retailers like Iceland, which gives Budweiser on shelf presence within a very popular retailer – and features their brand in a new location within the store.

Brand Radar, Ian Downes

Other brands in The Grocer list that have had success in licensing include Guinness, Courvoisier and The Famous Grouse. Seemingly common attributes for alcohol brands succeeding in licensing seem to be the size and scale of the brand… They have to have a market presence, but it’s also important to have an interesting brand story and a distinct flavour.

For food companies seeking to work with alcohol brands, a fundamental challenge is ensuring that any licensed brands are successful in delivering the taste experience. Guinness has featured in a broad range of products including pies, sausages, crisps and cakes.

Brand Radar, Ian Downes

Speakeasy Ice Cream are another example of a company that has used licensing partnerships with alcohol brands as a way of differentiating themselves in the market and delivering a unique taste experience.

Speakeasy work with brands such as Ableforth’s and Lazzaronni to create ice cream with spirit. A key for their product is to develop a product with a very distinct taste and flavour profile. Here the NPD and flavour experience is a vital part of the partnership with the product being sold with a heavy emphasis on the taste. This is an element of alcohol brands’ DNA which lends itself well to licensing.

Brand Radar, Ian Downes

It’s also not uncommon to see alcohol brands enter into brand collaborations with other brands to create special editions for a limited period of time. Brand noise and consumer connection is often a driver for these kind of partnerships.

A good example of this is the recent partnership between Brewdog and confectionery brand Candy Kittens. The alcohol sector is one that is subject to checks and balances in terms of marketing, but one can imagine this kind of ‘collab’ becoming more popular with like-minded brands working together.

Brand Radar, Ian Downes

When reviewing The Grocer’s list, there are a number of brands on it who seem to have the attributes and status to drive a licensing programme. Brands such as Dead Man’s Fingers Spiced rum, San Miguel and 19 Crimes are ones that stand out.

It will be interesting to see if other alcohol brands make the leap into licensing or if there are licensees out there that recognise the potential that alcohol brands hold in licensing.

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