Spirit of adventure – marketing to millennials

10 February 2017



Millennials are today’s most coveted customers, but social media has created a generation that is all but impossible to detain with conventional marketing. Beverage Packaging International considers how drinks manufacturers might grab the attention of this notoriously choosey demographic, and reports on the major packaging launches of 2016.


The word ‘millennial’ was coined in 1987 as a way to label the generation that would begin with those who turned 18 in 2000. It is now used in boardrooms and thought pieces as shorthand for the all-important young-adult market. How do brands win the favour of a supposedly inattentive, demanding and in-demand demographic? For alcohol beverage companies, bold and unusual flavours, healthy alternatives are among the new ways being tried to engage this fickle age group.

Easy does it

The sommelier hovers behind the customer’s shoulder, a combination of arrogance and desperation to please. The taster lifts the glass to the light, searching for visual imperfections. He inhales the robustness, sips it, swirls it and dramatically pauses before casting his judgement.

At worst, this is how the young drinking masses once regarded the wine elite. Fortunately for millennials, this general antipathy towards oenophiles has not gone unnoticed. Young drinkers are unlikely to make buying decisions based on in-depth knowledge of particular varietals. Instead, they are guided by savvy marketing campaigns, popular trends and easy-drinking flavours.

The Drinks Business website published an article by Kingsland Drinks marketing director Neil Anderson citing millennials as being statistically the most likely to lean towards sweeter-tastes, which has led to a real spike in popularity for fruit-fusion drinks. Wine brands have read the reports and listened to the buzz, trying to find new ways to produce interesting and original flavours.

Sweetening the product is important, but so is keeping the target market engaged. Spirit brands have already shown the power of connected bottles, and wine labels are following suit with digital connections. They are “creating innovative social media campaigns to build meaningful relationships with their fans and attract new following through competitions, photo sharing and friendly conversation starters,” writes Anderson. In this way, the wine bottle is just the beginning of consumer engagement.

Being plugged into the digital realm means information is freely available, and trends sweep through online communities like bed bugs in a hostel. A major trend is choosing health or, more importantly, rejecting sugar. These days, the white powder is often regarded as the origin of evil in food and beverages. Traditional carbonated drinks are no longer popular among health-conscious consumers.

Brands combine a healthy alternative with a shot of the good stuff. Flavoured alcoholic beverages or ‘hard seltzers’ have emerged as a promising new niche. Bottled water has been gaining ground on carbonated soft drinks as consumers abandon the latter for drink alternatives perceived to be healthier and lower in calories.

Still water continues to grow, but not as fast carbonated. Still water sales volume in the US was expected to have grown by 5% in 2016, but carbonated water is projected to climb above 8%.

This is the growth scenario that flavoured alcoholic beverage marketers hope to emulate with a new generation of hard seltzer, many of which are colourless to convey refreshment and an absence of excessive calories.

Connecticut-based Boathouse Beverage is credited as being one of the pioneers in this field, launching its SpikedSeltzer product in 2013. The 6% alcohol by volume (ABV) drink in flavours such as West Indies lime and Cape Cod cranberry is made with purified water and ‘natural’ ingredients.

The fruit flavours infused in the drink are derived from cold-pressed citrus essence from a variety of fruits, producing a drink with a clean and clear taste without the heaviness of beer or the sweetness of wine.

This intermediate positioning is working for SpikedSeltzer. Although it is offered for sale in roughly a quarter of US states, SpikedSeltzer has seen sales rise from almost nothing in 2013 to an expected 40,000 cases in 2016.

In September, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced the purchase of Boathouse Beverage and its SpikedSeltzer brand. The plan is to insert the brand quickly into Anheuser-Busch’s existing network of more than 500 US distributors to beat an expected wave of hard seltzers to market. Launch activity heated up in the spring, and has intensified into the autumn despite falling temperatures, which can dull the appeal of refreshment beverages.

Drink to your health

Even beer companies are getting in on the action with the Boston Beer Company launching Truly Spiked & Sparkling, flavoured with lime, pomegranate or grapefruit. The gluten-free product has 5% ABV, just 100 calories and 2g of carbohydrate grams a bottle – numbers said to enable Truly to claim it is the “lowest-calorie and lowest-carb spiked sparkling water available”.

Sharing New England roots with Truly and SpikedSeltzer is Wachusett Brewing Company’s Nauti Seltzer. This new, ‘naturally flavoured’ drink from the Massachusetts-based craft brewer is sold in 12oz cans in raspberry and grapefruit flavours, each with 110 calories, just 5g of carbohydrate, and 5% ABV.

Nauti Seltzer starts with a neutral malt base to reduce the calorie count. Ned LaFortune, president and co-founder of Wachusett Brewing Company, says: “This is a very logical next direction for the company to take.”

White Claw from Mike’s Hard Lemonade Co is another one to watch. This ‘all-natural’ drink is sweetened with a touch of pure cane sugar and contains no artificial ingredients, high-fructose corn syrup or crystalline fructose. Each 12oz can of lime, cherry or grapefruit-flavoured seltzer has 110 calories, no gluten and few carbohydrates. The alcohol is from fermented sugars for a malt-free base.

Sanjiv Gajiwala, vice-president of marketing for White Claw, says the brand represents a “shift into a lighter, all natural, better-for-you alcoholic beverage – defining a whole new category for those who want to enjoy life and have fun while maintaining a healthy lifestyle”.

Smaller brands may be squeezed as big alcohol beverage brands push into hard seltzers and spiked waters. Diageo disclosed in August that it will be launching a new Smirnoff Spiked sparkling seltzer line in the US featuring a ‘natural’ flavour with no added sugar.

MillerCoors announced it will broaden the ‘healthy’ flavoured alcoholic drink concept with inspiration from Mexican aguas frescas and iced tea. The former comes from a new drink called Zumbida, which is said to have a subtle sweetness and fruit flavour with a hint of carbonation and a touch of alcohol (4.2% ABV). The latter comes from Easy Tea Co hard iced tea, which is a lightly carbonated iced tea with a crisp citrus flavour and 5.0% ABV.

Hold the sugar

Adding alcohol to non-alcoholic beverages swept through the market in 2015, and has continued in 2016, although perpetual worries about the sugar content of hard sodas remain. The spiked concept is being extended to other types of soft drink, especially those perceived by consumers to be healthy and naturally low in sugar.

Considering this theme, we may see other ‘healthy’ spiked beverage categories like coffee, coconut water, kombucha or even vegetable juices at some point. One caveat of this rush to hard seltzer, spiked water, and other alcoholic beverages is the possibility of manufacturers overestimating the importance of health and wellness to drinkers.

A 2016 Canadean survey of global consumers ranked the health and wellness impact of an alcoholic beverage to be far below other considerations like price and promotions, quality, brand and sensory benefits. Only about 4% of consumers in the US and globally said that health and wellness had the most influence on their alcoholic beverage choices.

Alcohol brands are finding new ways to attract and engage the millennial market. From sweet wine to hard seltzers, they are tapping into the taste of the new buying masses. Packaging continues to play a big part of this engagement, with connected bottles and invites to online communities. The digital experience is fundamental to give value to consumers and extract insight for brands as they attempt to engage a fast-moving and often fickle market. 

Among those vying for a slice of the millennial pie in 2016 was Swedish vodka giant Absolut, which launched a limited edition of its Facet bottle, created by Ardagh Glass. The cobalt-blue, thick glass unit with irregularly shaped walls and shoulders shows off round edges cut like a gem. A film shrinkcollar with a vertically perforated tear-strip at one side guards against tampering.

Italy’s Sancrispino Cantine Ronco red wine, meanwhile, now uses TetraPak’s Tetra Brik aseptic square carton. The
pack has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) ensuring more sustainable production. The packaging employs an augmented reality feature; its potential appeal to under-18s raises some concerns as: it is the first time such technology has appeared on wine.

Millennial pear liqueur fans will be able to drink their favourite tipple in a single shot, thanks to Wilder Willi’s Birnen Spirituose mit Frucht. This liqueur comes with a small piece of fruit in a ‘shot glass’ that rests on a stabilising base deeper on one side, giving the appearance of leaning. There is a pull-tab to open. It comes in board shelf-ready packaging with die-cut apertures to locate the individual shot glasses.

Stick a cork in it

SX Cafedoble’s Licor de Tequila comes in a blow-moulded white-flint glass to give the Reposado-flavoured tequila bottle a non-frosted, fully contoured look with screen-printed decoration. Sealed with friction-fit plastics and an artificial cork for resealing, this coffee, honey and clove-flavoured Mexican spirit also features printed labels on the back of the bottle for the barcode and on the side for the duty label with holographic detail.

Mastri Vinai’s Rosato rosé wine from Salento, Italy, is delivered in an injection-moulded, opaque two-part-closure container with screw cap and evenly spaced grip ridges. The sealing ring is pulled to open, following the direction of the small embossed arrow. Its lipped spout and anti-glug flow regulator make for easy pouring, while the semi-flexible handle provides a comfortable grip for carrying.

Finally, German digestif and last-orders stalwart Jägermeister has released Party-Automat. This is dispenser pack with 18 single shot bottles. On the inside, blow-moulded green mini-bottles with the raised Jäegermeister logo are arranged in three stacks of six for drop-down dispensing. Three windows in the front of the multipack reveal how many bottles are left in the pack.

Truly: like water, but with added alcohol.
Spiked Seltzers represent a new breed of ‘healthy’ alcoholic drinks.


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