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FMBs Bounce Back With New Flavors, New Products And New Packaging

July 14, 2011

Just when the flavored malt beverage (FMB) category seems on the brink of failure, it manages to reinvent itself. The major players lately have been launching new products, and they’ve been successful. Smirnoff Premium Mixed Drinks—a line of flavored malts inspired by classic cocktails—achieved sales of 2.5 million (2.25-gallon) cases in 2010, its first year on the market. In April, Diageo nationally launched a line of Jeremiah Weed flavored malts, and Diageo North America’s director of marketing and innovation Abby Wise says the new line is capturing market share by value and volume.

Smirnoff on the Rocks, another new Diageo FMB, is now being tested in several states. Packaged in a one-liter bottle and retailing at $9.49, the product is meant to be poured over ice. “The bottle takes FMBs into a more sophisticated space,” Wise says. “It’s meant to be shared with friends at more intimate gatherings—much like a bottle of wine at a book club evening or a movie night.” The bottle also can be re-sealed, representing a new format for flavored malts.

Variety packs, long utilized by craft brewers, have become a useful tool for FMBs. Seagram’s Escapes, marketed by North American Breweries, offers a variety pack featuring four different flavors, with the most recent version including Wild Berries, Lime Melonade, Sangria and Jamaican Me Happy. Seagram’s Escapes also is offering a summer “Fiesta Pack” available through September. Smirnoff Premium Mixed Drinks also unveiled a variety pack this year, featuring four bottles each of Classic Lemonade, Cranberry & Lime and Blueberry & Lemonade flavors.

Some FMB marketers have added cans to the packaging mix, seeking greater opportunity for occasions when glass isn’t the best option. Boston Beer Co. even markets a cardboard keg for its Twisted Tea Original product, containing 14 servings of 12 ounces each. The Jeremiah Weed flavored malts—Lightning Lemonade, Roadhouse Tea and Spiked Cola—are available in cans only. That’s a nod to the male consumer that Diageo is seeking to woo. The Jeremiah Weed line has received strong TV advertising support on networks like ESPN. “The product is designed to be a credible alternative to beer for male consumers,” says Wise. Jay Wilson, assistant vice president, wine and spirits, at Midwestern supermarket operator Hy-Vee Inc., says some FMBs are making headway with male consumers, citing Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Twisted Tea as being particularly successful so far.

Another issue being tackled by FMB marketers is seasonality. Seagram’s Escapes brand manager Jennifer McCauley notes that up to 60% of Seagram’s Escapes sales occur in summer. “We’re trying to increase our relevance in other seasons,” she says. Since last year, North American Breweries has offered seasonal flavor Pink Punch from August-October and a winter seasonal from November-January. Diageo is also seeking to conquer the seasonality issue with Smirnoff Mixed Drinks and Smirnoff On The Rocks. “The format and taste profile of these products will see them enjoyed year round—in the holiday period as much as in the summer,” Wise says.

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