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2011 beverage preview

A look at drinks—both spirited and not—to bring your list up to speed. Octavin

Drinking up value

No one needs to tell operators the importance of offering customers value. But after two years of recessionary times, it gets harder to deliver. Hitting by-the-glass price points for wine, for example. That's where bag-in-box wine can help. Consumers have been experimenting with the packaging for home consumption and liked what they tasted. Sales of premium box wine shot up 24 percent in 2009, states the Nielsen Company. Even some of the pricier options can be bargains when you consider that 3-liter boxes hold the equivalent of four bottles (and a 10-liter box holds about 13 bottles worth.)

For operators wary of the packaging, remember it wasn't long ago that folks looked askance at screwtops; now they are readily accepted, even for high-end wines. But bag-in-box has a lot more going for it than price. The packaging is easy to stack, takes up less storage space and won't break. Likewise, recycling is much easier than glass, and it's a greener packaging all around—a good selling point.

The format is ideal for by-the-glass serving because it doesn't allow air to contact the wine, keeping it fresher for longer. One innovative contender is Octavin (named for its eight-sided, three-liter box at left) from Underdog Wine Merchants. Underdog sources artisanal wines from around the globe and currently boxes 10 wines from diverse regions.

On the non-alcohol side, Kraft Foodservice has just introduced its sugar-free, non-carbonated Crystal Light as a bag-in-box concentrate. The new format requires minimal set-up, maintenance and cleanup. Flavors include Raspberry Ice, Cherry Antioxidant, Wild Strawberry Energy, Lemonade and Iced Tea.

Green and healthy

Marketing anything as green or healthy is a sure lure these days, whether it's a LEED-certified restaurant, sustainably grown produce or organic vodka. Virtually every new beverage introduction tries for one or both of these hooks. Coconut water is a prime example.

Coconut water is so hot because it's cool. Who wouldn't love an-all natural sports drink, with as much vital potassium per serving as a whole banana? The liquid from a young coconut is very popular in Latin America. Coconut water also appeals to the rapidly growing Hispanic population here, and a number of companies are betting that it's low-fat and high electrolyte profile will have wider appeal. That has driven beverage giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola to invest in two leading brands as well as in Brazilian producers.

Coke's coconut water entry is Zico. It comes in Natural, Lima Citron, Pina Tropicale and Pomberry flavors, available in 14-ounce bottles. There's no added sugar and no fat or cholesterol. In addition, Zico Natural Coconut Water and Mango and Passionfruit flavors are available in eco-friendly 11.2-oz. and one-liter Tetra Paks.

O.N.E. Coconut Water is Pepsi's brand. It comes in the same size Tetra Paks in five flavors, including plain, Pink Guava, Mango, Pineapple and Passionfruit. The brand's Web site offers dozens of recipes using coconut water in smoothies and cocktails.

Hand selling hand-crafted

Super-premium is where all the growth in the spirits market is these days, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. And nothing is more super than artisanal hand-crafted spirits—vodka, gin and whisky—turned out by micro-distilleries that are springing up across the country from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon. Indeed, craft distilleries are where craft brewing was a decade or so ago.

The American Distilling Institute, a trade group for independent producers, now counts some 95 distilleries in the United States and Canada, up from five in 1990. The trend also fits neatly into the local sourcing movement.

One innovator is Brad Estabrooke, who moved from a Wall Street career to hand-crafting artisan gin in Brooklyn's first distillery since Prohibition. Estabrooke uses only New York State-grown wheat for his spirit's base. Per batch, he grinds 250 pounds of grain in his Brooklyn facility and mashes it himself. “It's like making a huge pot of oatmeal,” says the entrepreneur. The mash is fermented on site and distilled in a custom-designed German still. The base spirit is then redistilled with botanicals—juniper berries, ginger, rosemary and orange and grapefruit peel—to impart a unique character to Breuckelen Gin. A number of trendy bars and restaurants as well as retail shops stock the gin, which has an SRP of $35 per 750ml bottle. Estabrooke is experimenting with a batch or two of rye whisky aged in barrels but currently has no plans to bottle and sell it. “We'll see how that goes,” he says.

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