Flavors Stirring Up Sales of Alcoholic Beverages

NEW YORK — A recent Nielsen study found that consumers' overall "fever for flavor" is having an impact on the alcoholic beverages category.

The increasing popularity of flavors is stirring up sales and attracting demographic groups to alcoholic beverages they might not typically purchase otherwise.

The study, fielded among 2,010 adults aged 21 and older, measured consumers’ taste preferences across a number of dimensions, including gender, age and location. Here's what was found: 

Fruits, Sweets, Spices & More

What started in the more mainstream fruit and extracts category has steadily drifted into new frontiers, as brands and suppliers produce a bevy of new flavors and products. For example, Nielsen tracked only two pumpkin-flavored beers on the U.S. market in 1995 and today there are 80.

Meanwhile, flavors like cinnamon, peach and honey have exploded into the spirits category, with cinnamon generating more than $200 million annually in Nielsen-measured off-premise (store-bought) channels, while peach and honey generate more than $100 million in sales. Additionally, apple-flavored beers, flavored malt beverages and spirits account for a staggering $350 million of annual sales.

Apple has even expanded beyond beer. These days, hard cider is the big craze, with total cider sales jumping from $78 million in 2011 to $470 million for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 3, 2015. Although cider is a relatively small category compared to beer, it continues to grow fast and sees new products from both large and small beverage companies. Cider also acts as a “gateway” beverage: three-fourths of consumers who buy cider also buy beer and three-fourths also buy wine, according to Nielsen's findings.

Flavor Span: From the Docile to the Obscure

Shoppers walking down the spirits aisle can see suppliers have pushed the limits from more traditional flavors like vanilla, lemon, sweet tea and cinnamon. They have created avant-garde options such as peanut butter and jelly, salmon, pickle, acai, cucumber, horseradish, caramel, marshmallow, cake and apple pie.

Nielsen-measured off-premise channels show more than 20 percent of U.S. vodka sales come from flavors, as does 12 percent of whiskey sales.

Flavor Lifespan

Trends over the past few years show that flavors can have a very short lifecycle if consumers don’t drink up. The risk associated with an ill-flavored or ill-timed offering has suppliers’ creative gears grinding, which is why the number of spirits flavors growing today is much lower than it was a couple of years ago — especially with vodka. Although vodka flavors like mango, peach, pineapple, cranberry, melon and kiwi continue to grow, and varieties like honey and cinnamon have worked well for whiskey, many others are heading downward.

In fact, sales of several other flavors are now declining at double-digit rates, including sweet tea, coffee, lemonade, blueberry, chocolate, passion fruit, cherry, grape, pomegranate, ginger, mint, maple, and various confection and dessert-type flavors, according to the Nielsen report.

Gender & Age Play a Role

Women enjoy flavored alcoholic beverages much more than men. In the Nielsen study, 42 percent of men indicated not liking flavored alcohol beverages, compared with only 27 percent of women.

In regards to age, the survey found that consumer preferences for flavors peaks with younger generations and decreases with age, solidifying the belief that younger consumers have had more exposure to a wider spectrum of flavors in their lifetime, as well as being more culturally diverse and more open to them.

The young female consumer marks the sweetest spot for flavored beverage sales. Only 8 percent of women aged 21-34 indicated a dislike for flavored alcohol beverages. On the other end of the spectrum, 72 percent of men aged 65 and older said they don’t like flavored alcoholic beverages.

When looking at gender, Nielsen also found varying flavor preferences. For example, men who like flavors rate apple as their No. 1 choice (30 percent). Females who like flavors, however, prefer strawberry (40 percent).

In fact, the study found that men and women have such different preferences for flavor that two of each group’s top five flavors aren’t on the other group’s list.

Location, Location, Location

Flavor preferences differ by region, too. For example, while strawberry is No. 1 in the Northeast, South and West, it is No. 2 is the Midwest behind apple in the No. 1 spot.

Within the four regions, cranberry is a top five choice only in the South, and lemon is a top five pick only in the West.

Coffee and pumpkin rank high in the Northeast; cinnamon and tea rank high in the South; and blueberry and grapefruit are popular out west.

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