A baby-food trend has made its way to booze.
Squeezable pouches -- which have been the packaging of infant brands for a while -- are emerging as a big hit for alcohol marketers. They are now putting wine, premixed cocktails and flavored malt beverages in the plastic packaging as a way to lure consumers seeking a quick and convenient buzz -- er, drink.
The trend took off this summer, spurred by newly introduced pouch versions of big brands such as Smirnoff and Arbor Mist. Sales of alcohol pouches jumped 153% to $154 million in the year ending June 23, according to Nielsen. And pouch drinks are making rapid distribution gains in grocery stores, according to SymphonyIRI Group. While distribution is lower at drug and convenience stores, chains such as Walgreens have begun stocking pouch brands in coolers at some stores.
"All the companies are jumping on board," said Megan Metcalf, editor of Wine & Spirits Daily.
One of the biggest entrants to the category is liquor giant Diageo, which this summer began national distribution of Parrot Bay- and Smirnoff-branded pouches containing fruity malt-beverage drinks meant to be frozen and squeezed into a glass or cup. The single-serve 10-ounce pouches retail for $1.99 and are positioned as a no-mess way to enjoy fancy bar drinks at home.
They also save time. "If you think about making mixed drinks, in a lot of markets you need to go to the liquor store for one ingredient, you need to go to the grocery store for another, you need to pull out the blender," said Patrick Hughes, Diageo's brand director overseeing frozen-pouch marketing.
Most brands don't have traditional media dedicated for the pouches, but have added some in-store and below-the-line marketing for the new packaging. An example is Arbor Mist, which features a video contrasting the laborious blender-mixing method against the freeze-squeeze-and-pour ease of a pouch.
The pouch craze has been under way for some time across consumer packaged goods, including for baby food brands such as Gerber, which is marketing them as a way for toddlers to "self-feed." Campbell Soup Co., meanwhile, is seeking to win over millennials with new soup pouches called "Campbell's Go." Part of the pouch appeal is that it "reduces the amount of materials that are required for the packaging," said John Kalkowski, editorial director of Packaging Digest. And "it also gives you a pretty good surface for advertising, for marketing the product."
Still, some booze marketers think pouches are more fad than fixture. "We tried this packaging once with Tropical Freezes in 1995 and the product was not a success," said a spokesman for Jack Daniel's maker Brown-Forman, which has no plans to take the pouch plunge "any time in the near future."
But other marketers keep plowing money into the packaging. Phusion Projects, maker of Four Loko, in April launched in pouches a new malt beverage brand called Island Squeeze. Arbor Mist, the large wine-with-fruit brand owned by Constellation Brands in May rolled out frozen wine cocktails in pouches at retailers such as Walmart, and will add a fast-growing Moscato varietal to the mix next month. The pouches helped the brand to win over younger consumers, said Marketing Director Amy Martin.
Pernod Ricard's Malibu rum brand entered the pouch market in 2010, with prepared cocktails meant to be served cold, not frozen. Made with spirits rather than malt liquor and, at 1.75 liters, they're enough for 10 cocktails and they're not marketed as single-serve. "The format with the pouch and the little nozzle really made it a very sharable opportunity for us," said Brand Director Lisa McCann.