Shaking Up Drink Sales

Press enter to search
Close search
Open Menu

Shaking Up Drink Sales

By Natalie Hammer Noblitt - 12/12/2016

Every season lends itself to serving a cocktail or specially crafted drink — so it's no surprise there are products designed to help shoppers entertain for any occasion, using the finest ingredients and mixing up the trendiest flavors. Whether consumers like to add spirits or make mocktails that anyone can enjoy, retailers can help shake things up and make drink suggestions year round.

Cocktails and specialty drinks usually mark an occasion, whether it's a prelude to a meal, a gathering with friends or celebrating a special day, and the drink should share the same feeling. Finding out what the consumer likes and how he or she likes to enjoy it can help provide clues for recipes that are a good fit. Some shoppers may have an occasion but not be at all sure what they want to drink.

"We find that merchandising stories are the best way to sell this category," says Kelly Gilmore, buyer at Kitchen Kapers in Cherry Hill, N.J. "We always have some type of cocktail story that highlights the time of year, whether it's whiskey for Father's Day, cocktails for the winter holidays or tiki themes for the summer. It's really a fun way to suggest the products."

While there are plenty of packaged specialties that make mixing drinks incredibly easy, retailers like Dean & DeLuca also let fresh ingredients of the season dictate the cocktails and flavors they suggest.

"Seasonality is really important when it comes to the advice we give our customers," says Jennifer Judson, marketing manager for Dean & DeLuca in New York City. "We love small-batch products and telling their stories when suggesting cocktails. But fresh berries are always at the top of our list when they are in season. Herbs and fresh-pressed juices are also a great way to add flavor."

Mixology Goes Home
Going out for drinks is as popular as ever, but entertaining with craft cocktails at home is also on the rise. Home entertainers take inspiration from a great bar or cocktail menu and want to have the same experience on their own schedule.

Craft cocktails continue to grow in popularity, and experience with these drinks at bars and restaurants gives consumers the confidence to make them at home. Classic drinks with a twist, as well as using craft and premium spirits to make cocktails, are on the rise, reports the Distilled Spirits Council in Washington.

"Adult consumers have been gravitating toward the timeless drinks of their grandparents, such as the gin martini," says Kelley McDonough, director of public relations for the Distilled Spirits Council. "The biggest difference is that mixologists are adding their own special flair to these classic recipes, giving their customers a new experience."

One reason for the shift to entertaining at home could be cost. The price of ordering a drink at a restaurant or bar rose more than twice as fast as the retail cost of spirits and ingredients over the past 12 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the cost of a cocktail served at an establishment rose 46 percent from 2003 to 2015, whereas the cost of mixing at drink at home rose by only 20 percent. While shoppers may get their inspiration from professional mixologists at their favorite bar, they may not be willing to go visit there frequently for budget reasons.

Classics Find New Flavor
Retailers agree with these trends and find consumers more willing to try new ingredients when making craft cocktails at home.

"There are a lot of domestic and local purveyors of maple syrups and other additions that we suggest, but our shoppers know we are willing to go around the world to find the finest foods. We talk about international ingredients they might not think of, like a saffron from Rumi Spice in Afghanistan or Mymouné Rose Syrup from Lebanon," Judson of Dean & DeLuca explains.

Judson loves to suggest rose syrup for a Champagne cocktail and the saffron can be used in something classic, like a gin and tonic. The story behind each product, such as the social cause Rumi Spice champions while partnering with Afghan farmers, is another part of the experience that staff share with customers.

"There definitely seems (to be) an increase in the craft cocktail scene for consumers," says Jocelyn Etherington, co-owner and director of the Wild Hibiscus Flower Co., in Sydney, Australia. The artisan provider of Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup began in 1999 and has now expanded to offer flower extracts that boast both natural flavors and natural colorings for creating exotic cocktails and drinks. "People love to visit a great bar and I think get inspired and want to be creative. With so many stores these days that stock such a great range of liquor, mixers and garnishes, the sky is the limit," she says.

Nick Carlino, chief marketing officer for Carlino's in Ardmore, Penn., finds shoppers willing to include many unusual ingredients in their regular cocktail creations. "These ingredients are proving to be delicious, and we see shoppers coming back to buy more," he says. He specifically mentions Bittermilk, a line of unique cocktail mixer compounds from Charleston, S.C., which includes flavors such as Charred Grapefruit with Sea Salt, and "Arrowhead Farm's Back Porch Herbal Cucumber Cooler Mix, infused with cucumber, cilantro and basil. Yum!"

Bitters are another category of cocktail ingredients Carlino brought into the store, but one he worried consumers may not know about. The first stocked was Fee Brothers Bitters from Rochester, N.Y. "At first, we were hesitant and not sure if our customers would understand the product. But almost immediately we sold out of our first shipment, and they have been doing well ever since. We think this has a lot to do with the fact that bitters are being used regularly in bars, so customers like to use bitters at home when entertaining," Carlino says.

Even vinegar is getting in on the cocktail game. Sonoma, Calif.-based Sonoma Syrup Co., which offers an extensive line of infused simple syrups, extracts and bar mixers, recently added Organic Apple Cider Vinegar with Lemon and Vanilla. The drinking vinegar boasts the healthful properties associated with raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in a tasty way that provides tart flavor to cocktails and other beverages.

While health isn't the first thing people may think of when talking cocktails, producers like Sonoma Syrup do offer the best ingredients possible to ensure quality and taste. "We offer premium, all-natural ingredients, farm-to-bottle organic Meyer Lemons, fresh lavender flowers and mint leaves, unique flavors that are hard to capture like the Meyer Lemon and White Ginger," says founder Karin Campion. "All our products are antioxidant rich using real juice and no artificial flavors or colors and organic ingredients as much as possible."

Reducing sugars and sourcing organic ingredients are attractive to many consumers, says Barry Augus, CEO of Tres Agaves Cocktail Mixers in Berkeley, Calif. "Consumers want all-natural and low-calorie cocktails that are healthier but do not want to sacrifice good taste," he says. Tres Agaves is USDA Organic certified, and Augus says it was the first organic mixer brand on the market. The company now offers Strawberry Margarita Mix, Margarita Mix and Bloody Maria Mix, along with the Tres Agaves tequila line.

"Retailers should keep in mind that high-quality and high-priced products shouldn't be a barrier for growth," Augus says. "I can't tell you how many times people told me ‘I couldn't sell a mixer for twice the price of mass-produced brands.' We believe Tres Agaves Organic Mixers have re-invented the non-alcoholic mixer category and offer a tremendous value for the price."

Premade Pleasers
But aspiring to be a mixologist may not be for everyone. For those who don't want to take any chances on their skills, premade artisanal cocktails, with the spirits already included, are also available. Crafthouse Cocktails now offers high-end ingredients in a complete craft cocktail that just needs to be poured over ice and garnished. Three flavors include the Paloma, Moscow Mule and Southside.

"The palate of the cocktail enthusiast is quickly evolving. It is open to more complex flavors, trying new things and discovery," says Charles Joly, a respected Chicago bartender for more than two decades and one of the founders of Crafthouse Cocktails. He teamed up with Sterling, Va.-based Fortessa to design the line of Crafthouse bar tools. While he sees some trends still alive among mixologists, like using smoke and carbonation in cocktails, he finds that most people are just getting used to enjoying a "proper" cocktail. There is a new appreciation of the right way to make a cocktail and setting standards similar to what is expected of chefs preparing our food, he adds.

"Of course, balance and quality must take center stage," Joly says, noting that products like Crafthouse Cocktails make it very easy to get it right when entertaining. "The cocktail must taste delicious. This may seem obvious, but I try plenty of drinks that read well but fall short in delivery."

Spirited Without Alcohol
Drinks don't have to be mixed with alcohol to provide a special experience. In fact, many shoppers are looking for recipes to provide the flavor and luxurious experience of a craft cocktail — yet can be served to a crowd where some may not want a buzz.

"Alcohol-free is trend that is here and growing for sure," says Bill Gamelli, president and founder of Wenham, Mass.-based Mocktails brand of alcohol-free cocktails, adding that his research shows nearly half of adults in the United States don't consume alcohol. "Consumers are definitely looking for products with less sugar and calories, as well as natural and GMO-free. Overwhelmingly, they want healthier, cleaner alternatives, but they do not want to sacrifice taste. We have found that those who are looking for alcohol-free options are also looking for healthier beverage choices."

Because Gamelli finds consumers desiring classic cocktail flavors, even if they don't want the spirits that typically go with them, the Mocktails line offers a twist on familiar favorites, with the addition of fruit or spices like ginger. Products include La Vida Loca Margarita, Sevilla Red Sangria, Karma Sucra Cosmopolitan and Scottish Lemonade Whiskey Sour. "Consumers' palates are constantly evolving and getting more sophisticated, but they continue to love the classics," he says. 

"I think there is more room for mocktails and lower alcohol by volume (ABV) cocktails to have a focus," says Etherington of Wild Hibiscus Co. Her products often carry nuanced flavors such as the berry notes of the hibiscus or other flowers. "Going without alcohol can be in line not only for the more health conscious but also for those who want to pay attention to the flavors of the non-alcoholic ingredients and low-ABV liqueurs they use." 

Whether or not they include spirits doesn't seem to matter as much as sampling the product when consumers are deciding what to purchase. Many retailers and gourmet cocktail ingredient producers agree that sampling and events do the best at generating sales.

"We have numerous customers that shop on a weekly/biweekly basis to pick up a variety of our drink mixes," says Carlino. "It seems that when customers are uncertain of the taste, all they need to do is try them and they will be hooked."

New Products

Tabañero Bloody Mary Mix
Ripe tomatoes, Key limes, carrots, onions, garlic and Tabañero Original Hot Sauce, along with gluten-free Worcestershire sauce make up this premium cocktail mixer. Tabañero Bloody Mary Mix can be served with vodka, or mixed with tequila to create a Bloody Maria, or served by itself for a non-alcoholic drink. SRP: $10.95 for 32 ounces.
CDS Hot Sauce Products, Boca Raton, Fla., 888-443-4224, www.tabanero.com

Old-Fashioned Syrups
Proof Old Fashioned Cocktail Syrups are locally made, artisan cocktail syrups from the staff of two top cocktail spots in Atlanta. The syrups are designed to be mixed with bourbon to make cocktail recipes simple. The syrups use two different oleo saccharums (a traditional cocktail ingredient of citrus and oil), bitters and simple syrup. To make an old fashioned, add ½ ounce of syrup to 2 ounces of bourbon or rye whiskey and pour over ice. Flavors include Maple Bacon, Traditional and Pecan. SRP: $22 for 16 ounces.
Proof Syrup, Decatur, Ga., [email protected], www.proofsyrup.com

Prepared Mocktails
Ready-to-drink Mocktails are fully prepared drinks that are ready to be served over ice. They come in 18-ounce reusable and recyclable glass shaker bottles. Each Mocktail offers the taste of a cocktail without alcohol. They contain no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup. The drinks are allergen- and gluten-free. Flavors are La Vida Loca Margarita, Sevilla Red Sangria, Karma Sucra Cosmopolitan and Scottish Lemonade Whiskey Sour. SRP: $39.99 for a pack of four.
Mocktail Beverages, Wenham, Mass., 855-662-5824, www.mocktails.com

Organic Drinking Vinegar
To go with its line of artisanal cocktail syrups, Sonoma Syrup introduces Organic Infused Apple Cider Drinking Vinegar. Organic apple cider is infused with lemon and vanilla extract that can be made into cocktails like shrubs, and swizzles that have a tart punch. Many consumers also enjoy the fermented organic apple cider vinegar for health benefits and it can be used in non-alcoholic drinks. It is unpasteurized, unfiltered and gluten-free. SRP: $10.99 for 12 ounces.
Sonoma Syrup Co., Sonoma, Calif., 866-419-6353, www.sonomasyrup.com, FFS 519

Infusion Kits for Cocktails
Infuse the Booze kits from ParTea allows users to infuse their own favorite spirits. The kits contain sachets with organic blends of dried fruits, herbs and spices to add flavor to liquor and come in five varieties: Ginger, Wild Berry, Jalapeño, Mocha and Holiday Spice. They can infuse 750ml of liquor and need 24-48 hours to steep. They can also be used to make non-alcoholic syrups or vinegars. SRP: $15.
ParTea, Somerville, Mass., www.infusethebooze.com

Tres Agaves Cocktail Mixes
Agave nectar, not high fructose corn syrup, is used to sweeten Tres Agaves Strawberry Margarita Mix. This certified-organic mix is only 68 calories per serving and made with all-natural ingredients like strawberry, lime juice and agave nectar. The Tres Agave line also includes Agave Nectar, Margarita Mix and Bloody Maria Mix. SRP: $9.99 for 33.8 ounces.
Tres Agaves Products, Berkeley, Calif., 510-900-8007, www.tresagaves.com

Prepared Craft Cocktails
Crafthouse Cocktails offers three ready-to-drink cocktails made with premium ingredients by professional bartenders. The ingredients are all-natural and gluten-free and each swing-top bottle includes everything, including the spirits, so users need only pour it over ice. Pure cane sugar is used as a sweetener. Cocktails available include Paloma (with tequila), Moscow Mule (with vodka) and Southside (with gin). SRP: $19.99 for 750 ml.
Crafthouse Cocktails, Chicago, www.crafthousecocktails.com

Colorful Flower Extracts
B'lure Butterfly Pea Flower Extract is the first commercial product with the flower designed for creative use in food and cocktails. Just a few drops will add color and won't water down the recipe. It is bright blue and changes colors based on the pH balance of the drink. The color is blue from pH 8 to pH 4 (with water, clear spirits or milk), royal purple at pH 3 and bright pink at pH 2. The only other ingredients are sugar and water. SRP: $10.
Wild Hibiscus Flower Co., Richford, Vt., 800-499-8490, www.wildhibiscus.com