Serving up Seasonal Libations – Q4 Marketing Trends in the Beverage Industry

Thanksgiving has barely arrived, yet it seems everyone’s palate is already preparing for the December holiday season. In this time of harvest, you might think pumpkin spice would still reign supreme over all other flavors. But while it seems like only yesterday we were discussing the popularity of pumpkin-flavored everything, consumer demand is driving a push for holiday-flavored beverages. Also known as “winter warmers,” marketing professionals are realizing what an unstoppable force these seasonal flavors can be. With annual seasonal offerings from Summer Shandy’s to Oktoberfest craft brews, let’s take a look at why “winter warmers” are quickly becoming the most popular flavors of the seasonal beverage category.

Capture 1

Fun & Flavorful Varieties

Seasonal selections have actually been around way longer than you may think.  In a world of powerfully marketed megabreweries, you may be surprised to learn the tradition of crafting a limited-edition seasonal flavor actually dates back thousands of years. It was during a time when small brewers would craft small batches, usually spiked with familiar flavors of the holiday season, to gift to their friends and customers. Wikipedia cites the ancient Saturnalia Festival as the origin of the “Christmas Beer,” since the ancient Roman festival of Saturn was always celebrated in December and included merriment and imbibing. But whatever the origin of the tradition, it certainly lives on today.

Though Thanksgiving is barely here, already retailers are filling their shelves with winter warmers. On the heels of autumn’s “pumpkinsanity,” when the weather changes and it just starts to feel like “pumpkin season,” winter-flavored beverages are popping up and claiming seasonal market share everywhere you look.

Smirnoff, market share leader in the vodka category, announced the launch of their new Peppermint Twist Vodka. Broadly boasting a “Limited Edition” label on a bottle dressed like a candy cane, Smirnoff hopes to attract millennials who love to drink shots and play with cocktail recipes. A fitting marketing plan for a brand with a target audience of young adults aged 21-34.

Pinnacle Vodka, taking advantage of the fact that flavored vodka now represents around 24% of all vodka sold in the US, is still going strong with their Peppermint Bark limited edition seasonal vodka flavor. Reintroduced again for the third time this winter, Pinnacle maintains a Pinterest page to encourage cocktail mixing and
drive brand loyalty.


Not to be outdone by the spirits industry, craft brewers are also introducing seasonal flavors. Genesee Brewing Co. of Rochester, NY introduced Salted Caramel Chocolate Porter  – available only in the north east. With limited availability, both across the map and the calendar, this esoteric offering is generating a lot of attention. For a full lineup of other popular craft brews, Beer Advocate rounds up their Top Rated Winter Warmers here.

Hand of bartender pouring a large lager beer in tap

The power of Limited Editions

It’s no doubt seasonal offerings excite consumers. Not just because nostalgic flavors remind them of holiday memories past, but also because marketers wrap up their offerings in limited edition packaging. Limited edition items drive sales because consumers want to be one of the elite few who are able to purchase the product. Marketing professionals know it’s not just about what’s on the inside of the bottle. According to branding expert Lorraine Carter, “Limited edition packaging tends to be of a higher and more eye-catching quality than the standard packaging for the brand, which in turn makes it look even more enticing….more exclusive and…more sought after.” This tactic of “creating demand through exclusivity” works particularly well with millennials who are constantly searching for social currency to share on social media. They view limited edition packaging as an opportunity to snap a pic and share it with their followers, essentially saying “look at this cool thing I have that you don’t have.”

Limited Edition packaging also provides an opportunity for retailers to create enticing merchandising displays on their shelves. Some brands pair their holiday offerings with free gifts, also known as Value Added Packages (VAPs), which often include limited edition glassware. According to W.R. Tish of Beverage Media, “…to many holiday shoppers, these add-ons are just the bonus they need to make a gift-buying decision, whether they are wavering on which product to pick or just in a hurry.”

Another marketing tactic used by booze brands around the holidays involves limited-edition collectible bottles. There are plenty of instances of this each year, but my favorite example for Holiday 2015 is the Disaronno campaign. Partnering with fellow Italian brand & iconic fashion giant, Roberto Cavalli, the limited edition bottle still has the same amaretto inside, but the exclusive packaging drives sales and increases demand.


Timing is Everything – Fourth Quarter Sales Drive

Despite the economic issues that have slowed retail sales over the last few years, this year’s Retail Holiday Sales Forecast by Deloitte predicts a 4% increase in spending over last year. This is great news for beverage brands, which usually see their largest sales drives in the fourth quarter of the year. According to Jean Denis Voin, EVP of the American arm of Camus Cognac, “The holiday season is important to us; the fourth quarter accounts for around 45% of our yearly business.”

So as you sit down to enjoy your Thanksgiving feast, savor the sensations of the harvest season. Before you know it, retailers will be transitioning into December holidays and stocking their shelves with winter warmers.  But who can blame them? Limited edition products are enticing to consumers, promoting exclusivity and creating a deadline for purchase. Whether it is the festive flavor inside, or the limited production of a snazzy bottle design, retailers will see an uptick in sales around the holidays as consumers flock in for the newest seasonal offerings.



Photo Credits:,,

Related Posts: In Search Of a New Fall Flavor, I Failed Smothered in Pumpkin Spice Spice-O-Rama BuzzLine Contest – Week 22 – Make Mine a Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte! Football, Turkey & Craft Beer: The Ultimate Thanksgiving Pairing Guide 2016 Pumpkin Spice, Pop-ups and Meal Prep: 3 Must-Try Fall Food Trends