By George Farris
CEO, Farris Marketing
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – How do you increase sales when the market is nearly saturated with products similar to yours? One way is to produce another version of your product that appeals to a new or wider market.
That’s what Miller Beer did in the ’70s, when it took advantage of the new fitness and health trend in the United States and launched “Miller Lite,” the first mainstream low calorie beer. The new product line kicked off the first big change in product offerings in the traditional beer industry.
Miller Lite was introduced nationally in 1975 and heavily marketed using pro sports players and other macho figures in an effort to sell to the key beer-drinking male demographic.
The commercials for Miller Lite repeated the same silly premise and dialogue (two people or groups of people arguing over the best reason to drink Miller Lite: “Great Taste,” “Less Filling” – using different celebrities and actors over 15 years or so. Beer drinkers apparently understood and connected to the simple message.
The sales increase from Lite helped Miller rise to second place in the American brewing marketplace. Other brewers responded, in particular Anheuser-Busch with its Bud Light in 1982, which eventually overtook Lite in sales by 1994.
Thirty years later, the beer space was again disrupted with a new category called “ready-to-drink” (RTD) with malt-based seltzers in slim cans proliferating in the market. But malt-based beverages were just the start.
Now there are at least three separate RTD categories:
1. Malt-based like White Claw, hard seltzers and other drinks, including hard tea and hard kombucha.
2. Spirits-based products: ready-to-drink cocktails, seltzers with a spirits spike, or shooters. High Noon is a popular vodka-based RTD.
3. Wine-based: wines in cans and wine cocktails such as Buzzballz Cocktails and Barefoot.
The category has grown to a $5 billion market, completely capturing a large segment of drinkers composed mostly of Millennials and Gen Zers.
“Consumers enjoy the product’s simplicity and spirits. RTDs take the intimidation out of mixing a drink for themselves or guests,” says Jon Berg, vice president of Beverage Alcohol Thought Leadership, NielsenIQ.
Research reported in Forbes shows that there is a clear preference among consumers for spirits-based RTDs in most markets and they tend to be considered of higher quality.
But the “Miller Lite Tastes Great/Less Filling” argument might again be resurrected for RTD drinkers because in the opinion of many industry professionals, these new product brands are often chosen for less serious reasons than you might imagine.
While some people imagine today’s alcohol consumers are more sophisticated in their tastes, in reality, the “new” concept is an important feature on its own. According to Forbes: 56% of RTD drinkers say that the regular release of new RTD flavors is the most important factor in establishing a premium image, followed by a connection to a new brand and the use of innovative packaging.
Whereas brewing beer had been a tradition-bound industry in which recipes and formulas were rarely changed, the new RTD category welcomes changes such as new flavors and core ingredients.
The marketing lesson is clear. When you need to increase sales in a busy category, don’t try to convince people that your product is better. Create a new category with a product that satisfies other needs and interests. Remember, “different” usually sells better than “better.”