One particular kind of small BevAl brand has a leg up on other small brands – celebrity-owned alcohol brands.
Aside from copious capital and built-in brand clout celebrities bring to the Bev/Al competition, what are these “start-up” small alcohol brands doing right to win more market share? Let’s take a closer look:
The newest addition to liquor cabinets comes to us courtesy WWE hall-of-famer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. His tequila brand launched in March 2020 and made its way to shelves around the country. Although the product itself is manufactured on a family-owned farm in Jalisco, Mexico, Johnson paired with global distributor Mast-Jägermeister SE (yes, that jägermeister) to win his new tequila shelf space internationally.
Blue Chair Bay Rum
You may have seen Blue Chair Bay in your local liquor store, but what you may not know is that this brand is owned by country singer Kenny Chesney. The rum’s name comes from Chesney’s 2004 hit “Old Blue Chair” about taking a beach-side break. Not only does the brand offer a number of flavors to increase their offering of varieties, but they also released a piña colada coconut ice cream that consumers can douse with their rum to truly indulge. Chesney and his team of CPG industry pros also made sure to leverage a trending product attribute – the ice cream that pairs with their rum is 100% vegan. Their smart strategy paid off, yielding a 24% increase in sales since 2019.*
No estimate would call Casamigos a small brand these days – they sold to Diageo in 2017 for one billion dollars. But they did start small with modest ambitions. When George Clooney met ex-nightclub owner Rande Gerber (and husband to Cindy Crawford), neither of them needed money. They were just two guys with a passion for good tequila. After many a vacation to Mexico (and a lot of nights drinking tequila together), the two decided to set out on a mission around Mexico to find the best tequila producers in the country. Their single-minded drive to create the perfect product, complete with pared down branding on a simple bottle, produced an unpretentious tequila that appealed to consumers around the world – and eventually caught the eye of investors at Diageo, who since acquiring the brand have also launched a mezcal. Their once-small brand helped make tequila and mezcal consumption “cool”. Tequila is one of the fastest growing categories of alcohol in terms of sales (it grew 30% since 2019*), and mezcal is growing even faster, increasing sales by 89% since 2019.**
Aviation Gin was actually the brainchild of a Portland duo looking to develop an American-made dry gin that was lighter on the juniper flavor with a smoother finish than other varieties. Canadian actor and Deadpool lead Ryan Reynolds leant his investment to the start-up and his star power to the product’s marketing campaign to catch the attention of spirits giant Diageo, winning them an acquisition of $335 million initially with an additional $275 million based on the brand’s performance over the next decade. So what’s the lesson for small brands here? Win the loyalty of a Hollywood hunk and offer him a minority stake in the company – simple as that!
D’usse Spirits (Cognac)
Cognac enjoyed an 18% increase in retail sales since 2019** – perhaps in part thanks to the star power behind brands like D’usse by Jay-Z. Jay-Z didn’t just slap his name on any old cognac brand, though – he met consumers where they are at. A European might tell you that cognac is meant to be enjoyed neat, but Jay-Z and his team knew that US consumers were looking for a cognac they could enjoy in the club (perhaps while vibing to tracks that Jay-Z also produced). This cognac and a set of cocktail recipes became a centerpiece to Jay-Z’s tour and album promotions. With names connected to his music like the Code, the 13th, and Bam, these cocktails became the perfect complement to the party atmosphere Jay-Z wanted to cultivate on tour, and an ideal gift for fans to take home with them.
Heaven’s Door Spirits (Whiskey)
From the looks of things, Bob Dylan released a set of three whiskey varieties to boost the release of his album “Triplicate”, but in doing so he created whiskeys that fans genuinely love – perhaps even more than the album. Since its release, the brand has won 35 awards and has become one of the best-selling whiskeys in the Super Premium category. Heaven’s Door features Tennessee Straight Bourbon, Heaven’s Door Straight Rye, and Heaven’s Door Double Barrel, and continues to win awards and more retail sales – growing 115% since 2019.*
Proper No 12 Whiskey
UFC fighter Conor McGregor is a colorful figure, so when his whiskey premiered to controversy, it couldn’t have been more on brand. Despite lackluster reviews and the whiskey experts enjoying taking a swing at McGregor’s Proper No 12, McGregor commands a loyal fan base – and sales of his whiskey prove that, growing a whopping 862% since 2019.* So whether you’re a fan of McGregor or just buying his whiskey out of morbid curiosity, perhaps we owe McGregor and his team credit where credit’s due – they know his brand well, and they’ve developed a product that suits it perfectly.
Gran Centenario Tequila
If there’s any marriage more perfect than music and alcohol brands, it’s sporting and alcohol. Perhaps that’s why the Mexican Fútbol Federation and Soccer United Marketing (SUM), the commercial arm and partner of Mexico’s U.S. Tour, announced a multi-year partnership with Gran Centenario, naming the brand the “Official Tequila of the annual Mexican National Team U.S. Tour”. Historically, it’s been challenging to encourage American fandom of soccer, but the marketing experts at SUM knew that Americans love tequila, so why not coax fans in with something they already love to introduce something we hope they’ll grow to love? The strategy appears to be working as the brand’s sales have grown nearly 83% since 2019.*
In perhaps the most genius combination of celebrity-backed spirits brands on this list, Pink Whitney owes its fame to a perfect marriage of notoriety and product features. New Amsterdam, the brand’s owner, bought a simple sponsored ad with Barstool hockey podcast Spittin’ Chiclets featuring two former NHL players. The podcast’s cult following – and the host’s love of pink lemonade – launched Pink Whitney to fame nearly overnight, yielding an incredible 1112% increase in sales since 2019.*
*Nielsen Total FMCG data, 1/1/2020 to 10/31/2020 versus YA
**Nielsen Total FMCG data, 52 weeks ending 8/25/2020 versus a year ago.
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