There’s a lot of innovation happening in the ready to drink category as well as mobility as brands making their way to other provinces.

FOUNDERS ORIGINAL

Three SKUs, new categories, our spirit forward ready to drink (RTD) cocktails from Founders Original are made of the finest quality ingredients and craftsmanship. The idea has been distilling for some years. We used to bottle these small Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, Negronis and sell them to guests in singles. People loved them. We decided that the bottling of premium spirit forward cocktails needed to happen. I’d say the trend gained steam last year when spirit forward cocktails hit the American marketplace with some success. The emergence of brands like Studebaker (a Diageo-owned product) have upped the cocktail game—their offerings include an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan. Smaller distillers like Jefferson’s began marketing a black-bottle barrel-finished Manhattan. Consumers are better educated with more refined palates, and they’re looking for cocktails that up the ante. The only way for a brand to get traction is to go classic otherwise consumers just won’t have confidence in the quality.

CONSUMERS NEED TO TRUST YOUR BRAND

With Founders Original, we pitched the Old Fashioned, Negroni and the Manhattan. We chose to add another layer of complexity and flavour by ageing in ex-bourbon barrels. So, the very bourbon and rye we’re using, we return the blended ingredients to the barrels and age the mix for another month.

The Old Fashioned—that’s the benchmark. This is our first spirit forward RTD cocktail from Founders: Barrel-aged, Smoked Vanilla and Chocolate Bitter. A mix of bourbon and rye, full sweetness and character/spice. Then we’ll take that base and change it to bitter, instead of traditional flavours over the next year. We’ll be offering experiential premium spirit forward cocktails like a smoked maple and pecan bitter, or a cigar and coffee. We know that consumers will veer from the classic to try something new if certain recognizable elements are present and their confidence is high in their brands. Some consumers will stay with the classics, but many will cross over back and forth.

WHY PACKAGING MATTERS

Beer did it before us and wine too. We’re starting to see so much creativity in beer packaging. It’s pretty simple; packaging makes people pick your product up off the shelf. Our FOUNDER’S ORIGINAL sleeved bottle looks painted. It’s metallic and hits the senses—the way it looks, the way it feels. We wanted something that is ultra-modern with vintage flair.

We’ll be presenting the Negroni and the Manhattan with variations in hopes these will build consumer confidence. Then maybe we’ll offer other classics but not as well-known whisky cocktails. It’s all about opening minds and providing consumers with real quality in the bottle. All of our packaging tells the story of how it is made. Our social media, our website, it all comes back to telling that story.

People drink an Old Fashioned to taste the whisky. Back in the old days when they just drank whisky, they added water to open it up. Then they started adding sugar to sweeten it up. Then they added botanicals and bitters, and that is when the Old Fashioned became a cocktail. Having said all that, at the end of the day you want your whisky to be the star of the show.
– Len Fragomeni

DON’T GET LOST ON THE SHELF OR THE MENU

Flavour profiles aren’t the only differentiator. Attract consumers and guests with good packaging or beautiful and informative menus. The wine companies are doing it with wines in beautiful individual bottles and cans. One company called Joiy has Hendrix-style packaging that allows it to pop off the shelf. Another company called Crafter’s Union wine uses some cool bottle wrapped in paper.

Consumers are ready for better cocktails in a can. When consumers start to talk about cocktails, they start asking for better cocktails; they’ll start gravitating towards those brands. Consumers today know what “truly good” means.

The 2018 SUMMER COCKTAILS

Summer 2018 we’ll be getting back to citrus with a big trend in lower calorie. There are companies in the Canadian market already waging the vodka soda wars! Look to offer our guests these new vodka sodas because consumers want them. The beverages have little to no sugar, with flavour additives. An ounce of alcohol is about 70 calories, an ounce of fresh lime is about 10 calories. 80 calories total, bring in the soda. These are organic cocktails using stevia or other organic ingredients. The focus is on making beverages better and not just calorie counting. Today’s consumer picks up packages and reads labels. They want authentic products, and they want to patronize value-driven companies.

Author

Len Fragomeni is a hospitality consultant who works with clients and brands across Canada, in all facets of their businesses. He owns and operates one of Toronto’s top whisky and cocktail hot spots, SpiritHouse, as well as the Toronto Institute of Bartending, which has trained over 65,000 industry individuals since 2002. He’s most recently started a new premium cocktail company called “founder’s original,” which will see its products sold in the LCBO in 2018.