Evolving Drinks Brands

Evolving Drinks Brands

Evolving Drinks Brands banner

I recently read and shared an article in Forbes by Patrick Hanlon called, “Why Brands Must Evolve” that is so spot on that it has led to a number of interesting conversations in the past week with some of my clients and partners who own brands in beer, wine and spirits. As one who spends a lot of time thinking about new brands, as well as igniting established brands in new ways, Patrick’s thoughts really resonated with me. I don’t think there is a better industry than beverage to illustrate his points about what is going on with brands. Brand proliferation is happening across the board making “breaking through the clutter” ever more difficult. At the same time, the reason this is happening if fundamentally that there is demand for new brands. As I wrote in “RE: Is Craft Beer In A Bubble”, there is a big and growing market for new brands in beer, but also in wine and spirits. Not everyone will succeed and in fact many new brands will fail. To the big brand manager, the fundamental challenge has also never been so big – how do you keep a loyal following when your following gets gigantic. I think about an Iconic brand like Patron Tequila. I was a distributor for Patron as it passed between different sales companies and was a very difficult sell. Five years from the time it launched, Patron was doing about 55,000 cases. Now that is a nice little brand, but nothing would have screamed, “This brand is on fire!” Then, it did catch on fire and became the very symbol of luxury. Check out Patron case sales for the first 10 years:

Patron sales first 10 years

Patron is an amazing brand and continues to outsell all of the other super premium tequilas (and frankly all other spirits brands at $40/750ml bottle and higher). They have a huge and loyal following. However, as brand manager for Patron today, the things one has to do to market the brand are quite different than in the early years. How does one keep the “cool” factor going when you are the largest brand in your category. There are dozens of new entrants who are going after their market and have the advantage of being smaller (think Avion, Casamigos, Don Julio) and bringing a new “cool” factor to the market. Clearly there are many that succeed at this but being true to your brand and your audience while changing things up can be quite difficult. Absolut Vodka was THE luxury brand of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was the “it” brand among the “it” crowd.

Andy Warhol Absolut IMG_6541

Pernod Ricard paid over $8 billion to acquire the brand a few years back. How does Pernod now manage a giant brand that was formerly the top luxury vodka in a market with such massive proliferation of brands that the high-end vodka category has experienced. I’m told there are 800 vodkas in the Beverage Media New York book. Pernod recently announced a new bottle. Absolut is one of those brands that defined itself by its bottle.   Changing the bottle is a big move even in subtle ways. Adding the big A is a pretty big move. Large companies don’t usually make big moves, but staying relevant in a crowded market sometimes requires big moves.    Pepsico made an even bigger move a few years back with their Gatorade brand. I thought at the time, it was fairly risky, but it appears to have paid off (does anyone know details?).

gatorade new gatorade old label

Patrick’s article certainly cites a number of great examples of big brands that have managed to evolve over time and keep or even build on their past successes. “…the challenge for brands has evolved from creating awareness to creating meaning.” How do you keep creating meaning at scale like Nike, Apple and Disney have successfully done.  They each connect to their consumers and continually create meaning.

The wine market has evolved so dramatically, that I have to look up many of the brands on the grocery shelf today and I have been involved in selling $100s of millions of wine over the years. Why? New brand proliferation to attract the millennial consumers.

barefoot wine logo Meiomi wine

Take a look at the top 10 domestic “Hot Brands” put out by Marvin Shanken’s Impact Databank:

  1. Barefoot
  2. Black Box
  3. Bota Box
  4. Liberty Creek
  5. Boggle
  6. Apothic
  7. 14 hands
  8. Barefoot Refresh
  9. Gnarly Head
  10. Meiomi

Four of these are Gallo Brands, but none say Gallo. All have interesting, contemporary labels. To succeed in this hyper-competitive market, every brand must have a number of things. Great branding is vital, without it your brand is lost and has no chance. Great liquid that fits the taste of your target market is key, without it they won’t buy a second time. Distribution is essential, a brand cannot become relevant if consumers can’t find it. But how does a brand build a real following of consumers who care? That is, how do we create meaning? That is the question every new brand team needs to answer.


To quote Patrick again: “We want the added value of believing in something. The added value of belonging to something: being a part of something that hard-wires us to a larger community of “people like me””


Seth Godin in his fantastic book “Tribes” articulates this concept well.

“Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change. He urges us to do so.” Brands have to figure out how to reach their tribes and how to engage with them. Notice, I did not say create their tribes. This is an important distinction. I believe tribes are discovered not created. Brands who overtly try to create one typically struggle. If a following is not organic, today’s savvy consumers sense it.   I think brands can make themselves relevant and worthy of a following and then as that following begins to show signs of life can play a role in fostering and accelerating it.


I’d love to hear your stories of brands you think are doing this right.






Calatrasi And The Mineo Family Vineyards, Leading Italian Wine Producers, Announce A Long Term Strategic Partnership For The US Market with Pelican Brands

Pelican Brands Will Import La Piazza And Allora Brands, Crafted By The Mineo Family In Collaboration With Calatrasi

Carmel, IN, USA – November 10th, 2010 – Pelican Brands, Calatrasi, and the Mineo Family announced today the formation of a long-term strategic partnership for the U.S. market.

The Mineo Family represents the alliance between Calatrasi, a leading Italian wine producer, and 500 individual Sicilian growers.  Italian wine is the number one imported wine category in the US.

Calatrasi produces nearly one million cases of wine annually and controls more than 1,100 hectares (2,700) acres in Sicily, Puglia and Tunisia.  Over the last 10 years, Calatrasi has reinvested over $14 million on improvements to the quality and value of their wines.  In 1998 Calatrasi created the D’istinto brand in co – ownership with BRL Hardy; the project achieved 300,000 cases in UK, becoming the number one Italian brand in UK.

Pelican Brands, Calatrasi and the Mineo Family announce their long-term strategic partnership with two co-owned brands, La Piazza and Allora. These wines are crafted from grapes grown in the Sicilian hills by the individual growers, who bring the harvest to Calatrasi winery to make the best wines from that region.  The La Piazza brand will also be launching a Pinot Grigio from the Veneto in early 2011.

Maurizio Miccichè , Owner of Calatrasi and founder of Mineo family Vineyards said, “We have been looking for some time  at the various options for entering the U.S. market. Our patience has paid off, as we have found our long-term partner in Pelican Brands.  We share Pelican Brands passion, energy, innovation spirit and long-term commitment to quality.”

J. Smoke Wallin, Chairman & CEO of Pelican Brands said, “Maurizio and I instantly connected with our shared passion for the wine business and vision for the future.  Calatrasi and Mineo are the perfect partners as we build out our wine platform in the U.S. market.”

La Piazza wines are fresh and rich wines that go well with any dish. The range includes 2 white wines, a blend of Catarratto (an indigenous grape varietal of Sicily) and Chardonnay, a Pinot Grigio and a red wine, which is a blend of Merlot and Nero d’Avola (an indigenous grape varietal of Sicily).

The Allora wines feature full-body, solid structure, fully represent the terroir of the Mediterranean area. The Allora range includes Viognier, Grillo (indigenous grape varietal) and Nero d’Avola from Sicily and Primitivo (Zinfandel) wine from Salento.

Franco Bernabei, Chief Winemaker of Calatrasi and Mineo Family Vineyards

Franco Bernabei has 30 years of winemaking experience in Italy, as winemaker for some of Italy’s most prestigious estates in Tuscany and Veneto. Over the years he has earned major awards and high praise from Robert Parker to the Wine Spectator.  He said about the new partnership “I believe that our wines will be a success in the U.S. market because they are crafted with the U.S. wine consumer’s palate in mind.”

“We have already tasted over 50 national chain buyers, prior to launch, on La Piazza and Allora to great acclaim.  Their response has been tremendous, giving us a strong sense of urgency to get these wines into the U.S.”  Arthur Massolo, EVP of Business Development for Pelican Brands

In the near future, Pelican Brands, Calatrasi and Mineo Family will launch a Super Premium brand for the On and Off- trade.

Maurizio Ghiori, CEO and Managing Director of Calatrasi and creator of Mineo Family Vineyards, said, “I strongly believe in the project and I think that Pelican Brands is the ideal partner for us. I believe that Calatrasi, Mineo Family and Pelican Brands will have great success in the U.S. market with La Piazza and the Allora brands.”

NOTE:  Posted last month, we are very excited with our partnership with Maurizio and the whole Calatrasi team.  These wines are an amazing value and in this market will out perform many long established brands.

Pelican Brands & SOI Wines Announce a Long Term Strategic Sales & Marketing  Agreement for the US Market

Pelican Brands & SOI Wines Announce a Long Term Strategic Sales & Marketing Agreement for the US Market

Pelican Brands will Import and Drive the National Rollout of Barking Sheep Wines from Argentina, the first Brand to be Launched Under this Agreement

Carmel, IN, USA – December 20, 2010 – Pelican Brands and Schwartz Olcott Imports, LLC (SOI Wines) jointly announced today the formation of a long term strategic agreement to launch Barking Sheep wines from Argentina following a successful limited test market in 19 states.

Barking Sheep wines are produced in Mendoza, Argentina, and are styled for the U.S. market. The launch will include a beautiful classic Malbec and a fresh clean fruity Chardonnay.

Barking Sheep wines are produced at Las Perdices by chief winemaker Carlos Muñoz, from high altitude vineyards 1,000 meters above sea level towards the Andes Mountains producing full bodied classical fruit.

During a one year limited test market at a major national chain Barking Sheep was the #1 red wine of all new featured red wines.

Norman Schwartz, Co-Founder & Chairman of SOI Wines said, “There are many fine importers who do a great job with established brands; however, without brand builders like Smoke Wallin and the Pelican team it’s impossible to build a national brand franchise.  With Pelican sharing our enthusiasm for Barking Sheep we are well positioned to rollout nationally and to launch other brands together”

J. Smoke Wallin, Chairman & CEO of Pelican Brands said “The Barking Sheep brand further expands the Pelican Brands wine platform to Argentina.  These wines offer the consumer great value with a fun attitude.  We have high expectations for their national rollout.”  Wallin continued, “Norman has created some incredible brands over the years.  We are very excited to begin our long term strategic partnership with The Barking Sheep brand.”

NOTE: I’m very excited to be working with Norman and the team.  Look for more exciting developments as we pool our resources!… Smoke

The Fall Season Shapes Up! Thoughts on online and offline Wine market…

The Fall Season Shapes Up! Thoughts on online and offline Wine market…

My friend Liza has a nice piece in Winebusiness.com today on the Fall selling season.  Reports from Nielsen, Bill Cascio at Glazer’s, Wilford Wong at Beverages and more! all point toward improvement over last year, though value driving business.

Yesterday, another Wine 2.0 friend, John Corcoran’s blog “Think Wine Marketing” had a well done piece on the state of marketing wine online with his interview of Paul Mabray. “A conversation about marketing wine online with Paul Mabray of VinTank” This interview captures nicely a bit of the history of the past decade of attempts at doing business online in the wine industry. It made me go back an search an old Information Week story (2000) on my then start-up eSkye.com.  (ok, picture is almost 10 years old I know)

info week

Smoke Wallin in Information Week, April 2000

Smoke Wallin in Information Week, April 2000

Alcohol Goes Online Overcoming Regulatory Maze
Web site simplifies ordering for industry that hasn’t changed much since Prohibition”

There has been nearly half a billion dollars ($500 million) in venture funding that has gone into various efforts in the the online wine space. In rereading this piece, it is amazing how much and how little has actually changed. Technology has leaped forward, enabling much greater communication and commerce capabilities for all. The regulatory and industry structure has bent, but not fundamentally changed. It will be very interesting to watch the impact of Web 2.0 technologies and social media on the way in which the industry operates going forward. Clearly, there is a constant march of producers and consumers to get closer together. Sometimes this is about discovery and information. Sometimes this is about commerce. Consumers feeling more connected to brand and having conversations with wineries and more importantly with their people (who make the brands what they are) is only accelerating. This has real world implications. Wine 2.0 is in the online connectivity business, but that drives our live events.   To wit, we are seeing a surge in interest in our Wine 2.0 New York event from both wineries and other companies involved in marketing to consumers.  It will be interesting to see the consumer and trade turnout.

I’m looking forward to attending Web 2.0 Expo as well.  It is great to get out of the wine business and look at what is cutting edge in terms of technology and latest developments.web2expo

Separately, Mashable’s blog just posted details on Web 2.0 Expo and our event Wine 2.0 Expo New York.

Mashable’s Weekly Conference and Event Guide

Mashable (blog) – Tamar Weinberg – ‎18 hours ago‎
November 18, 2009, New York City: Wine 2.0 Expo New York is the place for all Web 2.0 Expo attendees to connect with hundreds of wine and technology lovers …

Here is an excerpt from Liza’s story…

November 10, 2009
The Fall Season Shapes Up
Outlook Seems Upbeat as the Market Heads into the Final Stretch
by Liza B. Zimmerman



Feedback from retailers, restaurateurs and wholesalers has grown increasingly positive as we move into the last part of the fourth quarter. Many seem to believe that this year is finally turning out to be more dynamic than last. According to data from a Nielsen presentation earlier this month wine was the No. 5-ranked category of the top 15 of the major 125 segments that Nielsen tracks with a 5.1 percent volume growth in the period ending September 5, 2009 over the previous year.

“Our volumes are up in total wines, about three to four percent in all states,” said Bill Cascio, the San Francisco Bay Area-based vice president and director of winery relations for the Dallas-based Glazer’s Family of Companies, which is active in 12 states. “It is shaping up to be a little bit better than last year,” he concluded.
Wilfred Wong, cellar master for the 100-store, Concord-California based Beverages and more!, said that this year is drastically different from the previous. “Last year this time business really dropped off,” concurred Brahm Callahan, wine director at Post 390, a gastropub that is part of the three-restaurant Himmel Hospitality Group which opened in Boston early this month [ed: Oct]. Callahan has a long track record in the Boston restaurant business. “We are starting to see people want to spend more money but they want to see perceived value.” Post 390’s 5,000-bottle list, priced $25 to $600, features two thirds of its selections in the $20 to $80 price range…

How are you going to sell that extra wine???? Spend the Week in NY, get involved in Wine 2.0 New York!

If you are on the fence or thinking about leaving your backyard to go sell some wine, Wine 2.0 NY is the perfect event to plan it around. You can’t sell all that extra juice sitting in wine country. Get out with consumers and have some fun and SELL SOME WINE! Here is my suggestion if you hired me (they pay me a lot of money for this kind of advise by the way):

  • Fly to NY Monday am, get checked in have wine dinner Monday night at key location with 50 members of your mailing list.
  • Tuesday: Work the trade. Don’t go to NY unless you plan to hustle. Go visit the top 10 retailers in the city. Bring some new releases and labels to show. Work it!
  • Tuesday Evening: Wine dinner with key restaurant buyers. Have your distributor set it up. IF you don’t have one, get on the phone and call top restaurants who know your wines and invite them.
  • Wednesday: work the trade. Go visit 10 more accounts including some top restuarants for new distribution.
  • Wednesday Evening: trade tasting at Wine 2.0 – visit with 100s of buyers and key trade folks to try your wines and learn about your brands
  • Wednesday Evening More: consumer event at Wine 2.0 – visit with 1,000 consumers who love wine, are into tech and have money to spend. BUILD your list and capture emails for your clubs and follow on activity. Work it!
  • Thursday: follow up meetings and a few more calls. Another dinner if you can hack it or must take a break and go eat Thai food and chill out with some Singha :).
  • Friday: fly back home.

Wine 2.0 Expo San Francisco at Crushpad – UPDATED!!

Join us for Wine 2.0 Expo San Francisco at Crushpad. We’ll again be hosting over 1,000 attendees, dozens of the coolest wineries and Wine 2.0 tech companies at one fantastic event.

Hosted by: Crushpad

Sponsored by: Robert Oatley Vineyards, Hahn Estates, Cameron Hughes Wine, and Web 2.0 Expo

Music Experience Sponsored by: Rhapsody and Sonos

Charity Partner: Napa Valley Symphony

What: Wine 2.0 Expo San Francisco

When: Thursday April 2nd from 7 pm to 10 pm

Where: Crushpad, 2573 3rd Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

Cost: Pre-paid – $45 per ticket or 2 tickets for $70/Day of Event tickets $60 per ticket.

More info: www.winetwo.com

Wine 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2009 attending wineries include:

122° West Winery, Acacia Vineyard, Alexander Valley Wine Growers, Aver Family Vineyards, Bedarra Vineyards, Berryessa Gap Vineyards, Big Fish Wines, Bink Wines, Bohemian Vineyard, Brooks Wines, Cameron Hughes Winery, Cannonball Wine Co., Cooper-Garrud Estate Vineyards, Courtesan Wines, Coral Mustang, Cycles Gladiator, , Cornerstone Cellars, Delgadillo Cellars, Dono dal Cielo Vineyard, Due Vigne di Famiglia, Elkhorn Peak Cellars, Eric Kent Wine Cellars, Foggy Bridge Winery, Grant Street Vineyards, Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Hahn Family Wines, Halleck Vineyard, Handley Cellars, Highflyer Wines, Inman Family Wines, Jason-Stephens Winery, Jazz Cellars, Kaz Vineyard & Winery, Lancaster Estate, Lionheart Wines, Lineage Imports, Marston Family Vineyard, Michael-David Winery, Michaud Vineyard, Midsummer Cellars, Mollydooker Wines, Muscardini Cellars, O’Brien Estate, Oriel Wines, Priest Ranch Wines, Provenance Vineyards, Robert Oatley Vineyards, Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, Round Pond Estate, Seawind Wines, Segue Cellars, Sterling Vineyards, St. Supéry Vineyards & Winery, Taste Vino, Terra Savia Organic Wines, Think Tank Wine Company, Titus Vineyards, Tolosa Winery, Twisted Oak Winery, Vermonte, Waits-Mast Family Cellars, Wilson Daniels, Winemakers of Fulton Lane, Wines of Substance, Y Rousseau Wines, and many more leading brands.

Wine 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2009 presenting companies include:

Artisan Media, AmericanWinery.com, Bottlenotes.com, Bibola.com, DrinkThisTV.com, Ning.com, Nirvino, Plumbline Studios, Quintessentially Wine, Vator.tv, Vin/65, Vinquire.com, Vinturi, Mighty Quiz, RadCru.com, Rhapsody, Sonos, Winelog.net and many more.

Wine 2.0 Bloggers Lounge and Media Partners

Sponsored by Flip Video, The Tasting Panel Magazine, Mutineer Magazine, VinVillage.com, KRON4, and TwitterTasteLive

Attending Wine Bloggers include:

Brix Chicks, Caveman Wines, Hiptastesmaven, Shana Ray, Vinterviews, Young Winos,

< ![endif]–>WineDiverGirl, Winelog.net

Wine 2.0 Industry Sponsors and Partners

Classic Malts of Scotland, Crushpad, Diageo, Hinman & Carmichael, Napa Valley Symphony, Pinot Days, RedEye Texas Style Bloody Mary, Smirnoff, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Quintessentially and Eventbrite

No refunds once tickets have been purchased.  All tickets can be claimed at event check-in.

All questions can be directed to Cornelius@winetwo.com

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