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    Five Cheers for Flavored Brews

    Flavored malt beverages are on the upswing, outpacing even craft beer in percent growth

    The Twisted Tea brand extended into hard lemonade earlier this year.

    They are best known for being sweet and fruity, but the ?cool? factor of flavored malt beverages (known in the industry simply as FMBs) has been elevated lately. Wine coolers, hard lemonade, hard iced tea, hard cider and other flavored malt beverages are gaining in consumer demand and as a result, getting more serious category attention from convenience store retailers.

    Technically, FMBs are beers that are mixed with another alcoholic drink such as a spirit or a mixer like lemonade, yet the ?flavored alcohol? category spans farther and includes multi-based coolers and hard cider. More than a decade ago, low-alcohol, high-sugar malt beverages were often snickered at by brew connoisseurs ? Smirnoff Ice, a citrus-flavored malt beverage was even the butt of an extended viral joke (?icing? was a game by which participants had to drink the ?embarrassing? beverage on one knee, as reported in a New York Times article).

    Now, not only has the infamous ?icing? game run its course ? 300 million bottles of Smirnoff Ice were sold in this country last year, according to market research firm Euromonitor ? but the overall FMB category is gaining traction and trending upward.

    Consider these five key insights on flavored booze:

    1. Growing Faster Than Craft Beer

    No, FMBs can?t hold a beer stein to craft beer in volume; flavored malt beverages are merely a fraction of the overall beer/malt beverage volume in the United States. But growth in the segment is reportedly foaming up stronger than for craft beer. According to Nielsen, FMBs hold 4 percent of the overall malt-based alcoholic beverage volume in the U.S., but are contributing 31 percent of the volume growth based on the total of all segments that are posting growth.

    Mike?s Hard Lemonade Co., a FMB pioneer in 1999 with the launch of Mike?s Hard Lemonade, reports that flavored malt beverages are up 17 percent in the last year, ?including all apple products, which have almost doubled,? said Kevin Brady, director of marketing. ?We, like the entire industry, see a sustained flavor growth trend ? a tremendous opportunity for us and our distributor/retailer partners to build sustained double-digit growth together.?

    2. Young Men: The Surprising Target

    Think women are the primary FMB guzzlers? Think again. Mintel recently found that young men aged 22 to 34 are nearly as likely to be consuming wine coolers, flavored malt beverages and hard ciders as they are spirits ? on a weekly basis.

    Young men?s wide repertoire of alcoholic beverage enjoyment explains their greater consumption of FMBs vs. all women and older men, the research company reported. What?s more, cobranding with beer and spirit brands familiar to young men is also helping to grow category appeal, along with more complex flavors and higher alcohol content.

    3 Higher Alcohol Content

    Industry experts say young men ? and Millennial, in general ? are seeking higher alcohol by volume (ABV) content in their alcoholic beverages, and the fact that brewers have responded to this by launching higher ABV flavored malt beverages is giving the category more of a nod by serious brew lovers. Packing a strong 8-percent ABV are brands such as Anheuser-Busch InBev?s Apple-Ahhh-Rita and MillerCoors? Redd?s Wicked Apple Ale. MillerCoors also recently launched the second installment of its Steel Reserve Alloy Series: Spiked Punch (a blend of cherry, orange and strawberry flavors), also with an 8-percent ABV.

    According to MillerCoors, FMB demand has climbed more than 21 percent since last year, with the potential for the category to grow even larger ?as more than one-third of people who are interested in higher ABV FMBs find the price tag to be too steep.? Its Steel Reserve Alloy Series was created to offer value-seeking consumers a higher ABV FMB beverage they could afford. Since its launch last year, the brand?s volume ?has been highly incremental to both MillerCoors and the overall beer category, sourcing over 45 percent of its volume from wine and spirits,? noted Malini Patel, brand marketing director of economy portfolio.

    4 Flavor Notes More Noteworthy

    The Millennial generation has been and is predicted to continue to ?demand more flavor options,? according to Brady from Mike?s Hard Lemonade, which touts that it is all about ?making things better, harder and more intensely flavorful.?

    Since 1999, the company has expanded from its heritage label into 14 different flavors and new product categories. The mike?s lineup now includes mike?s hard lemonade, mike?s hard Smashed Apple Ale, mike?s HARDER lemonade and mike?s HARDER punch.

    Recently, the company invited consumers to co-create with it on its Collectible series and ?choose HARDER.? Fans are also voting for new flavors, as well as selecting new HARDER can designs. The can-design selection program initially launched in January via a partnership with can designer Onion Labs and it has since evolved to include consumer-designed cans, the first of which supported the new Apple Firebomb seasonal flavor.

    ?The next generation of consumers is the first generation that is completely skipping their traditional beer years and going directly to flavored products like [these],? explained Brady. ?The Millennial market will continue to demand more flavor options, and through social media they will continue to influence the development and introduction of seasonal flavors at several points throughout the year.?

    The upcoming launch of Jamaican Lemonade was crowdsourced as a new flavor from Mike?s HARDER Facebook fans, who are now voting on the flavor they?d like to see debut in fall 2015.

    Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors went with apple as their focal FMB flavor lately, reportedly in step with the success and popularity of hard cider.

    ?As evidenced by the current cider trend, apple is an immensely popular flavor among consumers, especially for the fall,? said Tyler Simpson, director of marketing for Bud Light extensions at Anheuser-Busch. ?In addition to Lime, Straw, Mango and Raz [varieties of Ritas], we wanted to offer Ritas fans a special drink fitting for the season, similar to our creation of the extremely successful Cran-Brr-Rita for winter months.?

    5. Male/Millennial-Oriented Promotions in Motion

    In keeping with the male/Millennial target, flavored malt beverage suppliers are going for promotional partnerships that could just as easily work with traditional beer consumers. This year, Twisted Tea from The Boston Beer Co. joined forces with Richard Petty Motorsports on its No. 9 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford team.

    ?We are looking to expand visibility of this partnership next year,? said George Ward, director of off-premise national accounts for Twisted Tea. ?Our NASCAR program has several packaging and point-of-sale elements that can be leveraged to create excitement at the store level, including on-pack graphics and customizable signage.?

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