How 1642 carves out a niche in the premium mixer space

The Quebec brand is changing how it works with grocers and the competition to take on global giants.

1642-mixer

Premium mixer 1642 is battling for shelf space in a relatively new category, a beneficiary of the explosion in craft distilleries in Quebec.

Last year, 1642, the premium mixer brand named after the year the city of Montreal was founded, worked with agency Bob and IGA stores in Quebec on a shopper marketing and online campaign to promote two flavour formats with neck tag recipes.

Now, the beverage company works with broker Van de Water-Raymond to get its products in front of shoppers, dealing with IGA owners one-by-one.

The company has 100 floor displays pairing it with pineapples and other fresh fruit, along with half pallets and full displays in entrances of some IGAs in Quebec.

“We’re mainly pushing the tonic water, as that’s what the consumer wants,” says Bastien Poulain, 1642′s CEO, telling strategy that is the SKU that represents about half of its sales. “It’s day to day work dealing with owners, and convincing them summer’s a good to push local brands in high demand.”

For a local niche brand launched in 2015 that doesn’t have Coke or Pepsi resources, it has to fight for display access and sometimes, as Poulain points out, that battle even involves aligning with competitors.

“To grow our own market, we like to deal with other brands,” Poulain says.

Poulain believes it’s always good to display with other brands in your market, warning that if you’re alone, it means there’s maybe not a viable market. Sometimes it calls its more local competition and co-displays premium mixers to grab more shelf space from global brands.

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Lockdowns were initially difficult for the brand, as premium tonic water was hardly top of mind with staples flying off shelves. In March 2020, when restaurants, hotels and bars were closed in the province, it took out 25% of 1642′s sales.

But as lockdowns dragged on, 1642 witnessed a spike in local demand, coinciding with the explosion of the distillation market and a demand for artisinal products. Grocers took note, making overtures to local brands like 1642.

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“We never saw that kind of help in the seven years I’ve been in business,” Poulain says. It had promotions supported by the vendors, and the owners made more space to the product. And the demand was there, and has remained.

“If you see Nielsen data, 1642 is the number one Canadian tonic water sold in the country, with distribution mostly in Quebec,” he says. He’s trying to expand distribution in rest of Canada, a difficult proposition, he admits.

In 2015, as a struggling company, he says he “begged for eight inches of space” on the planogram for his offerings.

Now, the premium mixer market is maturing, which is a mixed blessing with brands like the UK’s Fever Tree representing category growth, but also an educational problem of justifying premium prices.

Still, 1642 has survived and thrived, with its line of ginger beer popular outside of Quebec. The company also launched cucumber tonic water, launched to pair with Nordic gin.