Balance key to drinks range

Operators should stock mix of established and new brands, distributors say


SELECTING the right brands for the back bar can be a real challenge for operators.

With so many different products on the market, assembling the best range of drinks for a bar’s target market could be considered an art in itself.
But what makes for a strong portfolio? And what are drinks companies doing to help operators improve their back bars?
According to Maxxium UK, whose portfolio includes The Famous Grouse, The Macallan, Jim Beam, Courvoisier and Brugal rum, the secret to a good drinks portfolio is offering customers a choice of products in each category.
“The market data tells us that bars should stock a wide range of spirits by category, to offer consumers choice,” said Jim Grierson, on-trade sales director of Maxxium UK.
“In our case it allows us to educate the trade across all categories, advise on full drinks lists and to always be able to offer a premium brand in any category.”
Offering brands with a strong pedigree and interesting history is also an important consideration.
Emily Williamson, PR and communications manager for Love Drinks, which distributes rum brands El Dorado and Gosling’s and Hayman’s gin, said the firm has deliberately set out to work with the companies behind such brands in order to offer bartenders a real point of difference.
“Choosing our brands very carefully, we have had the chance to work with family-run companies and craft producers, all of whom create excellent spirits or beers, and are leaders in their categories,” she said.
“Being great to taste, compatible with cocktail culture and having an integrity in history and production is something all our brands share.”
Stocking a range of new or unusual products can also help operators differentiate their outlet from the competition – and drinks companies say they are constantly striving to introduce new brands and variants that offer something different.
Maxxium UK recently launched the Devil’s Cut, a new premium bourbon from Jim Beam, and 4% ABV alcoholic ginger beer Ginger Grouse.
Grierson described new product development as “integral” to Maxxium’s portfolio and the licensed trade as a whole.
“Consumers are more and more looking to try new things and are prepared to pay for quality when they treat themselves,” he said.
Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands echoed the importance of stocking new products and variants, highlighting recently-introduced Bacardi Oakheart and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey.
“We have an amazing range of well-established brands but you’ve got to keep evolving them,” said BBFB’s head of product training and mixology Ian McLaren.
“In the current economic climate people realise that the quality of their offering is key to their success.”
Love Drinks, meanwhile, has added new products from Hayman’s, The Bitter Truth and Gosling’s to its portfolio, while brand distributor Cellar Trends has introduced American cocktail mixer range Finest Call.
Cellar Trends’ director of marketing, Terry Barker, said it is important to offer a range of products that covers different drinks categories and also caters for different types of outlet and consumer profiles.
Meanwhile, fellow drinks distributor Marblehead is introducing a range of premium Polish vodkas, called Davna, while Emporia Brands is appealing to bartenders through a partnership with legendary mixologist family the Calabreses.
Award-winning mixologist and author Salvatore Calabrese has developed a lemon liqueur, Liquore di Limone, while his son, bartender Gerry Calabrese, has launched his own brand of gin, Hoxton, from his London bar Hoxton Pony. Emporia is distributing both products.
James Rackham, chairman of Emporia Brands, described the company’s product range as “a unique portfolio of spirit agencies from around the world of distillers who respect artisan traditions of quality in both ingredients and process”.
When it comes to capturing the attention, and business, of bartenders a quality product range is only part of the story, however.
Distributors are also increasingly offering a wide selection of support services to the trade, which range from staff training and masterclasses to point of sale materials and bespoke cocktail lists.
“We have always provided education on our brands,” said Scott McKenzie at Marblehead. “This ensures the bar staff are knowledgeable and have confidence in the brand at the point of sale.”
It’s not just product knowledge that is crucial for distributors, however. It is also vital that they understand their customers’ businesses.
Williams at Love Drinks explained: “The key thing for us is that all our staff are personally experienced in the on-trade in some way.
“This is so important as they have to be comfortable in adding real value to the venues we work with; sharing their passion and knowledge through tastings, trainings or suggesting cocktails when it’s pertinent.
“It’s also really important that they can empathise with the daily rigours of running a bar so that we can tailor our services to individual venues.”

Image – Stocking a wide selection of brands, covering all drinks categories, is key according to suppliers.