Selling at a premium

Mixers are as important as the spirit when it comes to making a drink, and there are plenty of reasons to get consumers to trade up, says Tracy West


YOU’RE PROBABLY selling premium spirits, but what about premium mixers? Steve Carter, sales and marketing director at Frobishers Juices, believes that, all too often, operators concentrate on providing a spirit, beer or wine list with a premium edge then let quality and taste slide when it comes to mixers and soft drinks.

“At Frobishers we advocate that the same care and attention should be placed in your choice of mixer as your choice of spirit, as there’s little point in ordering a premium spirit then teaming it with a lower-quality mixer.”

Carter reckons it’s a false economy too. “A lower-quality mixer takes the edge off a premium spirit, both in terms of taste and flavour profile and profit margin potential. We see demand for premium 100% natural, no-nonsense fruit juices and juice drinks continuing to grow. Savvy operators are realising the benefits of a switch to premium through increased sales and profit margins.”

His view is shared by Paul Benjamin, managing director of Benjamin & Blum, who likes to mix drinks that are equals – ie a spirit with a drink that can stand up by itself. In Benjamin’s case he’s talking rare, small-batch teas, which have been specially selected, brewed and bottled to enjoy with exceptional whiskies, cognacs and cigars.

“The idea of how tea could be used as a bar drink came to me while I was in Japan,” he says. “There’s a lot of interest there in pairing food and drink but also tea with whisky. Bars there do a great job of bringing the two drinks together.”

With this in mind, Benjamin set out to create a range of teas that could be enjoyed as a sophisticated drink but also could be drunk with spirits so they’d have a dual function.


The Benjamin & Blum brand launched in Asia first because of the huge interest there in mixing tea with whisky. “It’s very popular across China, Japan and south east Asia,” says Benjamin, who maintains that it’s not a fad but a continuing trend.

Indeed, Benjamin & Blum is already stocked by premium hotels such as the Shangri-La in Hong Kong and Four Seasons in Macau.

The brand launched in the UK in October, first into Selfridges then into hotels and bars.

Rather than focus on tea’s health-giving properties Benjamin says his brand is more about the taste and provenance of the tea, on how it can enhance or change the way the consumer appreciates a spirit. “Mixing draws out the character of both drinks,” he says.

Each tea is selected for its rarity and taste. It is then brewed in Britain, using Scottish spring water. The company’s White Peony (Bai Mu Dan) tea, for example, is grown at high altitude in Darjeeling, and is handpicked once a year in perfect conditions to create a delicate and fragrant drink. It complements cognacs and armagnacs, as well as rich sherried or fruity whiskies. When mixing the tea with a whisky or cognac, it is advised to try it in a one-to-one ratio, adding more tea according to taste.

There is new packaging for the UK launch, in what Benjamin describes as the type of bottle that will look good on the back bar.

Looks are important and Juan Carlos Maroto, marketing director at Vantguard, says 1724’s packaging is perfectly aligned with the brand’s proposition: “We use a premium bottle that meets the premium price positioning and we use orange colours because the flowers of the quinine tree are this colour. It’s not a marketing gimmick.”

The firm is currently upgrading the G&T serve with tools that Maroto says other tonic waters don’t usually have, such as balloon glasses and a glass chiller to cool them down before the service.

John Moreira, international director at Fever-Tree, says good tonic is absolutely essential to G&T. “If a customer is already willing to spend money on a quality gin, why then pair it with a poor-quality, artificially sweetened tonic when, for just a little bit more, you can offer a much better drinking experience?

“From the outset our tagline and the brand’s insight has been: ‘If three-quarters of your drink is the mixer, make sure you mix with the best’. In short, we think a great simple mixed drink deserves a great mixer.”

He adds that there’s no doubt the trends toward natural ingredients, provenance and authenticity have benefited the Fever-Tree brand and allowed it to command a premium.

The latest addition to the range in the UK is an Aromatic Tonic. “This rose pink tonic follows our principles to use only the highest quality natural ingredients,” says Moreira. “In this case Angostura bark from South America, which provides a sophisticated extension to our tonic portfolio. It’s a product with a wonderful history – having been prescribed by British Navy surgeons as a fever remedy or ‘tonic’ in the early 19th century – it seemed too good an ingredient for us to ignore.” He says distribution will be extended internationally next year.

Moreira says the gin renaissance has created great interest across numerous international markets, especially throughout Europe, but he believes the more interesting story of late is the success of the brand’s ginger beer and ginger ale and the addition of Fever-Tree Madagascan cola, which gives a full portfolio of mixers to serve with dark spirits. “This, we are sure, is due in part to the resurgence of the Moscow Mule and Whisky Ginger. Increasingly evident are the number of spirits brands, white and dark, which are keen to promote with us and capture these consumer preferences.”


At Vantguard, Maroto says it has been working hard on giving 1724 “greater mixability” when compared with other tonic waters. “1724 goes especially well with new age white spirits such as cachaça, pisco, platinum rum, tequila and mezcal. For instance, in Mexico we’ve a strong partnership with Meteoro mezcal where the star perfect serve is Meteotonic with 1724 tonic water.”

Sylwia Haczkiewicz, export manager at Fentimans, says each market is very different which means you can always find “surprising ways” to consume their drinks.

New drinks creations include Fentimans Sorbet, a concept developed by customers in Austria – it’s simply rose lemonade, gin and sorbet served in a large gin glass. Then Rosecco (rose lemonade and prosecco) is doing well in Romania and Italy, while Espresso Rose – freshly roasted speciality espresso served with slightly sparking rose lemonade – is going down a storm at the Strange Love café bistro in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Meanwhile, Frobishers is doing well on the distribution front. “We’ve made fantastic inroads across Asia and the Middle East,” says Carter. “Alongside our established premium flavours we have also developed new products to better meet the palates of some of the new territories that we have expanded into.

“In Dubai, for example, where our juices are seldom mixed with alcohol but instead enjoyed on their own, we’ve developed and launched a Lemon & Mint juice drink to meet the expectations of that specific customer base.”

German-based Thomas Henry says close contact and interaction with bars and their staff means it is quick to detect new trends. The brand already exports to 48 countries worldwide and says that, while its tonic water is its most popular product, there is a trend towards premium bitter lemonades.

In the German-speaking market Thomas Henry recently conducted a series of ice-carving workshops because the company firmly believes that the quality of the ice is as important as the quality of other ingredients, such as premium mixers.


But more mainstream soft drinks brands can be viewed as premium mixers too – because they are big brand names that, by their very nature, command a premium over cheaper alternatives. Appletiser, which reached its 50th anniversary this summer, marked the occasion by teaming up with award-winning ‘cocktail guy’ Richard Woods to develop a range of cocktails. For Christmas, his recommendations include the Pine Needle Highball (5cl dry vermouth, two dashes lemon bitters, 1cl sugar syrup plus 2.5cl Appletiser).

And Orangina launched its 25cl ‘bulby’ bottle to the on-trade earlier this year and already it is listed by hundreds of bars across the UK, including the G1 chain in Scotland.

“With its combination of carbonation and fruit flavours – orange, lemon, mandarin and grapefruit – Orangina is a versatile adult soft drink and mixer that suits bars perfectly,” says Orangina senior brand manager Roxana Parvizi. “The premium adult soft drink can be paired with gin (botanicals in the spirits mingling with lemon and mandarin), bourbon and scotch (long-lasting love between whiskies, orange and lemon), rum (Orangina is the perfect base for punch-style drinks with its mix of citrus fruit) and tequila (with grapefruit and orange being world-famous mixers for this spirit).”

Consumers are not only looking for good tasting drinks, they are looking for interesting experiences too and will pay more for them. That’s the view of Russell Kirkham, senior shopper marketing manager for out of home at Britvic.

He believes operators need to put more thought into what they’re mixing with their spirits to enhance the experience. “A lot of outlets use whatever kit they’ve inherited – there’s not a lot of brand loyalty,” he says. “They’re more interested in the wine or the gin they are selling but we believe they need to put more thought into the mixers.” He says Britvic has had a lot of success with bars switching to Pepsi Max as their lead cola mixer.

“People typically ask for a JD & Coke but we’ve encouraged bars to say actually we serve Pepsi Max because we think it goes better with the whisky. No one ever says no to the drink on that basis and you are premiumising the experience for them.”