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Roll call: do brand names matter in cocktails?

New research from CGA has shown that consumers are more likely to order cocktails that list the brand used to make them. But what is driving drinkers to name-check their spirits?

Millennials have less brand loyalty than Baby Boomers, according to research

The Canadian consumer impact report published yesterday (11 August) showed 44% of cocktail drinkers who have viewed a menu that listed branded spirits went on to order a brand-specific serve.

The research also found that 43% of consumers order by specific brand, while a third (33%) order the category generally, and 24% do so depending on the situation.

Matthew Crompton, regional director CGA North America, said: “Working effectively with target outlets to get branding and branded descriptions on menus can help boost visibility further to influence cocktail choice.

“It’s important for suppliers to consider the effectiveness of branded and non-branded options when building On Premise strategies with operators and independents.”

Brand loyalty

According to 2021’s CGA’s Reach survey of consumers in Ireland, trust and familiarity have played a key role for many consumers when ordering brand-forward drinks since the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Just over a quarter (27%) of people said trustworthy and familiar brands were more important to them since the on-trade reopened last summer.

With a cost-of-living crisis and an impending recession on the horizon, consumers are choosing to stick to what they know in order to avoid wasting money on products that they have not tried and tested.

In a survey published earlier this month by New York-based brand loyalty and emotional engagement research consultancy Brand Keys, it was reported that a recession ‘doesn’t affect [consumers’] loyalty to a brand’.

“There’s an enormous difference between availability, affordability, and loyalty,” noted Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president. “Supply chain disruptions, low inventories, and inflation all logically affect sales. Loyalty is a totally different paradigm and operates differently.

“Brand loyalty is never about price. It’s the emotional engagement that ensures future purchase. It’s the degree to which a brand meets expectations consumers hold for their ‘category ideal’.”

That being said, a Nielson report found 24% of Millennials know what spirit brand they want to purchase in advance when shopping for alcohol, compared with 52% of consumers from the Baby Boomer generation. This has been attributed to increased innovation within the spirits category, which has offered Millennial consumers opportunities for continued experimentation and discovery when ordering cocktails and purchasing spirits.

Flavour first

For some consumers, the quality of the bar removes the need for the specification of brand name on menus. Drinks writer Millie Milliken said: “It really depends where I am. If it is the Artesian, I know I’ll be drinking something good, even if it just says ‘rum’ in the ingredients.”

Nate Brown, owner of Soda & Friends in Canning Town and Nebula in Hackney, has made a conscious effort to take the focus away from brand names on his bars’ menus.

Speaking to The Spirits Business, Brown explained: “We don’t list our menus with the spirit first. You can’t assume the guest knows the difference between Bacardí and Havana Club, so instead we go flavour first. We still list a couple of brand names – we’re not trying to change the world here – but we are trying to make things easier for guests to understand.

Nate Brown
Brown owns Soda & Friends and Nebula in East London

“For that to work I need my team to know something at least about every bottle on the back bar. If a new bottle comes in for us to stock, it sits out back on our shelf until everyone on the team has tasted it, we’ve talked about it as a team, and we all know something about it – then it goes on the till and the back bar. Then it’s down to us to find the right drink for the right guest.

“Our new Soda & Friends menu [launched in July] is flavour-forward. We don’t really have any brand affiliations so we can use whatever we want.”

Brown also noted that his customers “never name-call” Tequila when ordering cocktails.

“When we had the gin boom, people were all very brand-led. But Tequila people don’t care,” he said.

“I ordered two-weeks worth of Tequila and it was all gone over the space of a weekend – we’re going through buckets of it, but to be honest it doesn’t seem like people care what Tequila they’re getting. No-one asks for a particular brand, no-one asks what Tequila they’re getting – I think as far as they’re concerned, as long as it’s not shite, Tequila is Tequila.”

Meanwhile at The Hide in Bermondsey, London, owner Paul Mathew has opted to exclusively stock London ingredients and brands. “This does mean we get a lot of brand requests we can’t fulfil, but it gives us the opportunity to introduce some of the great local gins that may fit a similar flavour profile,” he says.

“Our most requested gins are always Hendrick’s, Tanqueray (with Tanqueray No. Ten most requested for Martinis) and Bombay Sapphire, with Monkey 47 and Aviation putting in a strong showing too.

“Aviation also features in requests for its eponymous cocktail, while from our menu, the drinks with Jensen’s Bermondsey Gin tend to be popular as it’s our very local brand, which is always a good draw.”

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