Anticipating a spirited future for 2011
By John Henry

Photo by Ben Stechschulte

The revolution of brand building is upon us. From the street on up. 2011 is the year in which the artisanal brands will fully break through to mainstream; especially those with high value to cost ratio. Overall, a new rise in hospitality will come to the bar trade this year and its warm tides will raise the bar nationwide both on-and off-premise.

On the street, day and night, seven days a week (the PipeLine Team logged over 13,750 man hours on the streets in 2010), we presented our brands to buyers in the most enlightened way possible–making placements, developing cocktail lists, setting up window displays, conducting in-store tastings, meeting with influential buyers, listening to and engaging consumers, schmoozing at Tales of the Cocktail, leading staff seminars, making and pouring cocktails at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, mustering up bartender support, blitzing the market with distributor sales representatives, leading their sales meetings for our contracted brands and sampling the wares. We focused on “marketing through sales” and we led the charge for the emerging artisanal brands in the marketplace, on the front lines.

There are exciting trends emerging from the grass roots brand movement we see daily on the spirited front lines, in our home tri-state market and beyond. The PipeLine mission has always been about connecting consumers to great craft brands and we are proud to have been a part of the movement and to have made the connections. Now we are invigorated to move ahead into the mainstream with your eager support–trade and consumers alike.

We want to keep bringing you the next wave of “good stuff” –to promote great emerging brands through “sales deliverables on the street” — at the forward edge of the market. Our detailed and customized ANNUAL MARKET REVIEW, broken categorically down by region, level, type and class, is available for your study should you wish to commission work or consultation with us.

The following is a primer on market trends which we feel will shape the year ahead. May our insights enlighten both our fellow consumers and industry professionals. We hope you share in their street credibility, and find them inspiring and valuable.

Business is back to relationships, not about leverage.

Hospitality is back. Attitude and arrogance is out.

Artisanal products are now becoming mainstream.

Enlightened consumers demand better products on- and off-premise. And they are finding out about them on the web and on their own initiative, often knowing more about them than the retail trade.

Health and moderation are key concerns. All natural mixers, lower calorie cocktails, agave sweeteners and protein infusions show folks still “want to be good if they are being bad.”

Healthful properties of wine and its moderate consumption are now generally accepted.

Consumer wine and spirits “tasting circles” and clubs are coming into play.

Nostalgia in certain spirit categories and cocktails is upon us, partly due to media pushes from shows like MAD MEN and BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

Top chefs continue to buck the trend of the recession and open new locally clustered places that focus on food and drink and/or an overall experience to the patron.

Cocktail bars go mainstream across the land.

Intricate flavors from simple ingredients.

Cocktails crafted from three or four melded simple ingredients are in.

2011 will be the year of the communal drinking punch revival.

Tequila bars become common place.

More mixologists are becoming well rounded bartenders and businesspeople.

The customer is again taking reign as king or queen at the bar.

Home entertaining is at an all time high. Folks want four-star bar quality craft cocktails, at home.

Consumers trading up for artisanal bar mixers, tools and products they feel they need for home entertaining.

Vodka is still king. Add a flavor like Whipped Cream or Cotton Candy and it just may stick.

Online marketing such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and LinkedIn have become common tools to reach end users and to find work. Still there is no substitute for a hand delivered printed invite. Or a referral in person.

On-premise continues to grow with more emphasis on lifestyle hotels and the restaurants and bar scenes within them. (Yes, Ian Schrager, you are a visionary)

Enlightened retail store owners are becoming powerful brand builders.

Large, discount and chain stores/restaurants are looking to do more business with the smaller brands and distributors.

Value in products/moderate inventory versus “leveraged bulk drops” is in.

Retailers are more concerned with their own bottom line, not that of the distributors.

Tastings by enlightened tasters are the new key; surrogate store employee types who are like the customer– not hired gun brand-o-rama, flavor of the day spokes models.

Bottle signings are big with celebrity endorsed products and successful. The days of the cookie cutter promos and spends are coming to an end.

Artisanal continues breakthrough to mainstream this year…Big Box value retailers already carry artisanal and locally produced whiskies, white dogs, ryes, gins and more niche products.

Value remains the key to ALL sales–even amongst the artisanals.

Hand-selling at retail builds much more consumer loyalty and profit than disenchanted register jockeys shilling lottery tickets.

The revolution of value and craft is upon in the beverage world! Attitude and superiority are out. Customers can drink at home and often better. Store owners take note and stock/support these emerging artisanal brands. Nurture them and bond with your customers. The service and special experience will still make the astute on-premise proprietor shine…and if done well, will create the loyal business customers we all crave and need in these challenging times.

Best of luck in 2011 and may our paths cross soon you fellow industry and enlightened consumers who crave and respect craft in their drink. We appreciate your support. See you out on the street.
John Badalati
John Henry
Jim Pickett
Tim Elliott
Mark Levy
Samantha Maisano
Rich Odell
Erin Lee