Will consumers hail this Caesar?

Matt & Steve's grows from garnishes to ready-to-drink, as it looks to take some market share away from Mott's.

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The Caesar wasn’t built in a day, but it eventually became Canada’s de facto national drink, and now a new canned version is looking to take away some of Mott’s market share.

According to data from Spirits Canada, Mott’s Clamato ready-to-drink Caesars have been on an upward trajectory for the past five years, as sales volumes for its Caesar Original have gone from 544,570 equivalent 9-litre cases in 2016 to 708,407 in March 2020, increasing year over year. The “extra spicy” variety has gone from 311,141 to 409,951 over the same period.

Matt & Steve’s just launched its first RTD Caesar in a can. This is to build on its SKUs that are already associated with the drink that are available nationally across major grocery banners: drink rimmers, jarred asparagus and its “extreme bean” spicy pickle spears.

“The Caesar is our main delivery vehicle for our products,” according to company co-founder Steve McVicker, who, along with friend and veteran bartender Matt Larochelle, founded the company in 2000. Their eponymous Caesar is launching in 200 LCBO stores across the province, in the RTD section rather than alongside vodka. On the packaging there’s a call out to the Caesar being made from “extreme bean brine,” which is a callout to the name of its pickles, meant to compliment to a traditional Caesar by replacing the standard celery. McVicker says the brine messaging is informed by feedback from nearly a decade of sampling nationally and doing half a dozen trade shows a year.

Since the brand first launched, McVicker says, the market has matured to the point where many consumers are familiar with pickled beans and other specialized drink components. Over the last few years, the ready to drink category has also exploded, but since there are a lot of steps to making a Caesar ­– rimming the glass, adding the Worcestershire and Tabasco, and so on – this easy format is one that will allow it to reach customers that might not be inclined to make a full Caesar on their own and use other Matt & Steve products.

“From a cultural perspective, the Caesar occupies a unique niche as a ‘drink anytime’ cocktail, unlike its U.S. cousin the Bloody Mary, which is consumed at breakfast or brunch,” according to Michael Mulvey, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. Sales for the classic Caesar have been rising, while the more specialized variants appear to have a more fad-like life cycle, he says.

In a COVID environment, Mulvey says people are holding Zoom cocktail parties and “quarantini” cocktail hours. In recent years, artisanal cocktails (and bars) have gained popularity, and Mulvey expects that the pendulum may swing back to RTD as beverages are increasingly consumed in the privacy of one’s home.

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The market leader is Mott’s Clamato Caesar Original, made by Canada Dry Motts, a subsidiary of beverage giant Keurig Dr. Pepper. It introduced its grab-and-go format in glass bottles back in 2003. Cameron J. Butt, director of marketing at Canada Dry Mott’s, tells strategy that Mott’s Clamato holds a 98% share in the RTD Caesar channel. And like Matt & Steve’s, he says its brand marketing efforts are focused on demystifying the complexity of making a Caesar and highlighting the usage occasions in which to consume one.

Butt attributes the popularity of the Caesar to its ubiquity, as Mott’s is one of the few brands available in all classes of trade – grocery, liquor, food service, dollar, club, on airplanes – and that it can be customized to match consumer preference. He cites, for example, Mott’s new canned Gin & Cucumber Caesar, spurred by “one of the fastest growing spirits in Canada.”

clamatoThe popularity of the Caesar is part of a broader better-for-you alcohol boom, and analysts say consumers don’t pay attention to the individual spirit nuances, but rather to the nutritional benefits. For Matt & Steve’s Caesar, that means touting 100% vine-ripened tomatoes, natural herbs and spices, vodka filtered to remove impurities and Canadian bona fides (it’s manufactured in Mississauga, where the brand just opened a new facility and uses 100% Canadian vodka).

“Our ‘Made in Canada’ angle is one that’s emphasized,” McVicker says, adding that believes it’s the only RTD that can truly hang its hat on being Canadian. It’s also something the brand emphasizes in its design: the bright yellow can says, “created by two guys from Canada,” along with two maple leaves, and “Made for Canadians by Canadians” is being utilized as a slogan.

This approach makes sense, he says, “as the drink is such an iconic piece of our culture.” The social branding revolves around Canadiana like the beaver and Muskoka chair. McVicker says it had sell-sheets for the LCBO to introduce the product and its attributes before COVID-19, but now, it has fallen back on Instagram, focusing efforts on events like National Caesar Day in May.