The winter holidays often bring out the best in people. The mood is festive, the purse strings are a bit looser, and folks are inclined to indulge. For drinks brands, the right seasonal offering can translate into brisk sales. For retailers, the unique labels and value-adds, along with the promotional materials provided to support them, can create excitement and keep their stores filled with customers.
“We always look forward to the holidays as a time of year when people who don’t normally shop buy gifts or liquor for parties,” says Ron Vaughn, owner of Denver-based Argonaut Wine & Liquor. “Generally, people are in a good mood and we try and make shopping fun. It’s our busiest season—hard, but rewarding.”
Jack Farrell, chairman and CEO of Haskell’s Wines and Spirits in Minneapolis, is “very enthused” about the holiday offerings beginning to populate his store shelves and end caps this season. “Holiday items always add to the bottom line and are fun to sell,” he says. “We promote them starting with our Black Friday specials via direct mail and online.”
Along with the sales boost that typically goes hand-in-hand with a holiday product or package release, producers see these special offerings as ways to connect or reconnect with consumers. “Holiday products and packaging provide brands with an opportunity to introduce new offerings and reinvent the things that consumers know and love,” says Sinead Gilbert, senior brand manager for high-end Irish whiskey at Pernod Ricard USA. “We’re always looking for new ways to support our portfolio during the festive timeframe, while also continuing to transform and adapt to what consumers want.”
A broad array of limited-edition products and packaging hits the shelves beginning in October and sticks around until early January. With November and December typically accounting for well over a quarter of a retailer’s annual sales, the spotlight is particularly bright. But the type of product also matters. Not every brand deserves value-added packaging (VAP), and not all of them are compatible with winter consumption and holiday gift-giving. “Holiday gift packages are more important in some segments than others,” notes Marcy Whitman, senior vice president of marketing for Palm Bay International. “For example, consumers often gift sparkling wines, and an attractive box is important.”
More indulgent items such as cream liqueurs are also big holiday sellers. “As a brand, Baileys is nearly synonymous with the holidays, when treats and desserts are particularly important,” says Dorothy deVenecia, brand director for Baileys and liqueurs at Diageo. “In and of itself, an item like Baileys Original Irish cream fits so well into the holidays, but we’ve also developed limited-edition, festive bottles to succeed in what can be a crowded market.”
At Heaven Hill Brands, group product manager Reid Hafer is selective about which brands to support with line extensions or VAPs. “It’s a very saturated time, so we’ve been engaging with our bigger brands, where we can get a lot of impact on the floor,” she says.
Dustin Mitzel, CEO of Happy Harry’s Bottle Shops in Grand Forks, North Dakota, argues that there are too many products competing for attention, which tends to diminish some of the excitement. He says holiday nogs are among the better performers in his store. “That genre, especially the Bourbon versions, excites people,” he says. “It gets them in the holiday mood.”
Mat Dinsmore, owner of Wilbur’s Total Beverage in Fort Collins, Colorado, says Bourbon, Cognac, and single malt Scotches in particular resonate during the winter holidays. “These products are great for gift-giving and for trial,” Dinsmore says. “This is the time of year when people are most interested in gifting and trying new things.” He anticipates that Crown Royal Salted Caramel will be the most in-demand product this holiday season, and expects to run out of stock even before the December crush.
Limited Editions and VAPs
Limited editions bring excitement to retail shelves. Austin Keith, president and owner of the Texas retail chain Pinkie’s, cites Crown Royal Salted Caramel and Jack Daniel’s Winter Jack Tennessee cider as two limited products that resonate with his customers. VAPs are also in high demand. “Customers like them a lot,” Keith says. “These limited-time offers are very well received.”
With whisk(e)y remaining at the forefront, Pernod Ricard USA released Chivas Regal Mizunara, a limited-edition expression that pays homage to Japanese whisky makers and drinkers, in October. Chivas Regal Mizunara was originally released for the Japanese market and is a blend of malt and grain whiskies, some of which were married in rare Mizunara oak.
Pernod Ricard is also relying heavily on its Redbreast Irish whiskey brand for a holiday boost. Redbreast has a longstanding partnership with Bodegas Lustau, and in recent years created the Redbreast Lustau Edition, in which the whiskey is finished for an extra year in Lustau Oloroso sherry casks. To highlight this partnership and capitalize on the age statements in the portfolio, Redbreast is offering a gift pack for the holiday that includes three 50-ml. bottles each of Redbreast 12-year-old, 15-year-old, and Lustau Edition.
Diageo is also focusing heavily on whiskies during the holidays with such offerings as Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Port Ellen ($350 a 750-ml.), made with whiskies from the closed Port Ellen distillery on Islay and released this fall, and three new bottlings of Mortlach single malt Scotch ($50-$200). These are joined by Don Julio Double Cask Reposado Tequila ($60), among other holiday items.
As a star holiday performer for Diageo, Baileys pulls out all the stops on its holiday packaging and VAPs. The brand is offering limited-edition “festive bottles” adorned with various sayings including “Happy Holidays!,” “Season’s Treatings,” and “Feliz Navidad.” Among other cream liqueurs, Heaven Hill Brands is offering a gift set for Carolans Irish cream that includes an ice cream dish. In addition, Christian Brothers brandy and Evan Williams Bourbon get a holiday twist with seasonal offerings of Christian Brothers Holiday Nog and Evan Williams Egg Nog, which Hafer says are huge players in the holiday space.
Vodka brands also capitalize on the holidays, some with unique flavors or, more often, with special packaging or VAPs. This year, Bacardi is relaunching Grey Goose La Vanille flavored vodka ($30 a 750-ml.) for the first time in 15 years. Rival Absolut vodka has launched three limited-edition sequin bottles for the holiday season. The shiny bottles ($20) feature Absolut’s latest addition to the citrus portfolio, Grapefruit, along with Absolut Lime and Original.
In the Tequila space, a limited-edition 1-liter Patrón Silver Tequila bottle is available in a gift set for the holidays. The showpiece bottle—featuring a ribbon design—is the fourth in a series of annual collectible Patrón bottle design releases made for the holiday season. A metal alloy label and a green gift bag complete the presentation.
While spirits dominate holiday products and presentations, wine and beer are also increasingly getting in on the action. Palm Bay’s Whitman says that although gift packaging is less important for wines, some brands do respond well. “This year we created an attractive two-bottle box for our new Roscato Smooth and Dark wines,” she says, noting that gift packs seem to resonate more with independent retailers than chains. The Roscato Dark & Smooth gift box retails at $23. For Lunetta Prosecco, a gift box ($14) transforms into an ice bucket by removing the lid and pulling the sides apart to fill with ice.
Constellation Brands has two holiday launches—one wine and one beer—as well as a holiday gift pack. The 2015 Cooper & Thief Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels ($60) was released in September. Separately, the Cooper & Thief red wine blend holiday pack ($30) includes a bottle of the 2016 vintage wines, two whiskey glasses, and cocktail recipes. Among the many holiday beer offerings this year is Constellation’s Ballast Point Spruce Tip Sculpin IPA, a seasonal twist on the brewery’s flagship Sculpin IPA. The product is brewed with Oregon spruce tips, giving it piney, citrusy, and woody characteristics.
There are, of course, numerous other holiday products and packs available as shoppers celebrate the holiday season. One challenge retailers face is where to put them all. But Heaven Hill’s Hafer says many retailers welcome the influx of products and their supporting materials. “It dresses up their stores very easily without them having to do much around it,” she explains. “Given the amount of business in November and December, I think they value having these merchandising pieces that allow for bigger displays in stores.”
Vaughn of Argonaut Wine & Liquor in Denver takes advantage of what suppliers have to offer. “We have holiday point-of-sale, themed bottles, and displays from our vendors,” he says, adding that those, along with gift baskets and sets, create a holiday vibe throughout the store.
Some retailers, including Wilbur’s Total Beverage and Pinkie’s, devote some of their space exclusively to holiday products. “We actually clear out an entire section in our beer aisle where we showcase these packages during the last 60-90 days of the year,” Dinsmore says. “We also try to display these items in the wine department along with other gift items.”
Keith of Pinkie’s has a similar approach, and notes that his staff need be aware of what’s on offer, since many of these products are sold at the same price as the core brand. Along with making space for what suppliers have to offer, many retailers also create their own holiday gift packs—most often in the form of baskets. At Martin Wine Cellar in Metairie, Louisiana, such offers are a huge addition to the bottom line. “We pride ourselves on these gourmet baskets—they’re planned very carefully, starting as early as August,” says marketing manager Sara Wright.
At Argonaut, Vaughn also creates unique offers. “Everyone wants to give that special gift,” he says. “That’s why our custom programs have been so successful, as some people have an idea of what they want to give, and we can create it if it’s not readily available.”