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Interview, Part 1: David Barnett, Chief Commercial Officer, Mark Anthony Brands

May 3, 2023

Founded in 1972 by Anthony von Mandl, Vancouver, Canada-based Mark Anthony Group continues to expand in both the U.S. and global markets, with 2023 revenues estimated at $3.5 billion. The driving force behind the hard seltzer phenomenon, Mark Anthony’s White Claw brand continues to lead the U.S. market with a roughly 50% share of malt-based hard seltzer. Impact Databank estimates that the core White Claw seltzer slipped 4.5% to approximately 85 million (2.25-gallon) cases in the U.S. in calendar 2022, but it has returned to growth in recent months.

This year, Mark Anthony Brands—which ranks as the fourth-largest brewer in the U.S.—has launched the White Claw trademark into the spirits and RTD segments with the rollout of a new range of vodkas and vodka sodas. SND executive editor Daniel Marsteller recently caught up with Mark Anthony Brands chief commercial officer David Barnett to hear more about White Claw’s spirits launch and the company’s plans for the future.

SND: Hard seltzer has been on a wild ride in the U.S. the past several years. How are growth prospects moving forward for White Claw’s core seltzers?

Barnett: The hard seltzer category is one of the greatest success stories in alcohol beverages since Prohibition. In its first five years it achieved volumes that took energy drinks 15 years and scaled two times faster than light beer in the 80s. When that happens, you have a gold rush of brands, and the category is just now starting to refocus. Consumers are gravitating back to White Claw, which is back to consistently growing volume and value. All other malt seltzer brands are -35% by volume in the calendar year to date. This has led to rapid share growth over the past 18 months, which is now back to a 50%-plus category share with recent periods in the mid 50s. This gives us confidence in the power of the White Claw brand.

SND: What are your aspirations for White Claw’s new vodka and RTDs?

Barnett: We believe vodka is ready for its White Claw moment. Over the years, there has been minimal innovation and disruption in the category. White Claw Vodka uses a first-of-its-kind filtration process with pressure equal to three 30-foot waves, which creates a unique vodka with distinctive taste, aroma, and smoothness. If you want a better Vodka + Soda drink, you have to start with a high-quality vodka. Our White Claw Vodka + Soda is setting a new standard for ready-to-drink cocktails by using our White Claw Premium Vodka plus real juice. This brings a new level of smoothness to Vodka + Soda along with our iconic flavors that consumers have grown to love from White Claw.

SND: Do they have the potential to carve out significant space within the spirits category?

Barnett: We’re entering these categories with the objective of leading them one day, but it will take time. Our confidence comes from the strength and scale of the White Claw brand and the opportunity to capture incremental occasions. White Claw is currently in 15 million households in America, which is 20% more than the leading vodka brand and 2.5 times the leading vodka seltzer brand. We also know White Claw consumers are purchasing full-strength vodka on a weekly basis and participating in other beverage alcohol categories too. Consumers consistently let us know that they want to buy more products within the White Claw brand.

SND: How has the early response been?

Barnett: We’re encouraged by what we see on both White Claw Premium Vodka and White Claw Vodka + Soda RTD. The RTD is already the third-ranked spirits seltzer brand in the U.S., with distribution still building. The 8-pack variety pack is the fifth-ranked spirits seltzer SKU, only behind the leading spirit RTD brand. In some of our early launch markets and chains, where distribution has achieved up to 90%, it’s already the third-ranked spirits seltzer SKU. On the vodka, we’re happy with our initial distribution, awareness, and trial. Retailers are excited about the brand and its potential. Our consumer activations and media are just beginning as we head into the summer. We’re learning quickly, especially in vodka, where we are a David amongst Goliaths.

We’ll have more on the Mark Anthony portfolio in the second part of this interview.

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