Labatt gets into the wine business

From Shopper Marketing Report: The brewer grows its "beyond beer" portfolio with Babe, while also extending its established RTD brands.


You are reading a story from Strategy’s Shopper Marketing Report, which covers the retail partnerships, in-store programs and consumer insights brands are utilizing to influence consumers at the shelf. To have the stories delivered to your inbox every other Wednesday, subscribe to the newsletter.

Last year, the world’s biggest brewer Anheuser-Busch made a splash with its purchase of social media-friendly canned wine brand Babe.

Now, its Canadian subsidiary Labatt is bringing it here to continue the expansion of its non-beer offerings, something that was kick-started five years ago when it acquired the Palm Bay and Mike’s brands – which are released their own on-trend products. 

Labatt is launching Palm Bay Zero-G Sugar and Mike’s Harder Sparkling Water, two vodka-based zero sugar/carb/artificial sweeter offerings. The brand extensions are coming to market at the same time as the Canadian launch of Babe, a canned wine billed as a “social-first approach” to the traditional wine industry by responding to trends and social buying power. The Babe brand was co-launched by Josh Ostrovsky, also known as “The Fat Jewish,” an ex-Malibu rum pitchman and influencer with nearly 11 million Instagram followers.

“The brand’s tone is fresh, witty and often sarcastic – something that will resonate with our target consumers and catch the eye of those that may be new to the category,” says Todd Allen, Labatt’s VP of marketing, adding that the canned wine proposition more broadly speaks to accessibility, simplicity and convenience. “We think Babe Wine is particularly exciting because it’s simplifying a super crowded, confusing category that has little brand love.”

Allen says that consumers are hard-pressed to recall wine brands they purchase and often gravitate towards ones on sale. Babe, however, is focused on building brand equity with its irreverent personality. And while the approach is largely digital, Allen says Labatt is investing in tools to bring that to the store and build the canned wine category as a whole, such as glorifiers in fridge doors and dispensers at cash. Salt XM is handling creative for Babe, as well as sampling programs.

From day one, Babe engaged influencers of all sizes and built a strong foundation of advocates in the United States. This, Allen says, contributed to an immeasurable volume of unique and dynamic user-generated content, making it one of the most photographed alcohol brands on Instagram. Allen says Labatt is working closely with Babe’s founders to bring their best practices, brand voice and vision to life, with extended support from some of Labatt’s agency partners.

Allen says canned wine is a small but growing category in Canada (experiencing approximately 30-40% growth) that the brewer wants to continue to tap (as reported in strategy, other brands are also looking to expand the category with non-bottle format formats like wine in a box).

He says Labatt is always on the lookout to innovate in other categories and keep pace with its consumers’ evolving interests.

This includes RTD, where Allen says he doesn’t expect double-digit growth to change anytime soon.

In 2015, Labatt began expanding its non-beer portfolio when it acquired the Mike’s and Palm Bay brands from the Mark Anthony Group of Companies. Labatt’s portfolio also includes Nutrl Vodka soda, which it recently acquired and has been running successful mass campaigns.

Labatt is launching two vodka-based RTDs: a zero-sugar version of Palm Bay, and an extension outside of lemonades and iced teas for Mike’s Hard, Mike’s Harder, an on-trend sparkling water.

In a space where many established companies and upstarts alike are launching new brands, Palm Bay and Mike’s are unique because they are well-established and many consumers remember it from the summers of their early 20s, Allen says. And now, as consumers’ tastes evolve, it has been able to bring them versions that are on-trend in terms of product innovation and nutrition.

The Palm Bay brand is currently brought to life on social, with the tagline “Don’t Sugarcoat It,” incorporating short cheeky advice-driven messaging, revolving around how to tell friends their wardrobes don’t make the cut, that they are not real influencers, or that their professions aren’t above-board. Cossette tells strategy “Don’t Sugarcoat it” celebrates the honesty and frankness found in great friendships, which the brand has frequently celebrated.

Mike’s Harder social messaging, by contrast, has been more male-focused, featuring stunts like balancing acts, flips, trick billiard shots, and shopping cart racing.

Veritas Communications handled PR and influencer marketing across all three brands, while Cossette handled Palm Bay creative, and was the lead agency for the integrated campaign which consisted of OLV & social, PR and influencer outreach. FCB handled Mike’s Hard.