Seagram's new Pisa to battle Di Saronno

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Hoping to fill a gap in its portfolio and cash in on the $3 billion cordials and liqueur industry, Seagram Spirits & Wine is testing a nut-flavored Italian spirit to compete against Di Saronno amaretto.

Pisa, now marketed in San Francisco and Pennsylvania, could be rolled out nationally by the end of 2000 if it's successful. This is the only Italian import marketed by Seagram, the No. 2 spirits marketer in the U.S.

Even though the imported liqueurs and domestic cordials segment has seen little growth recently, the segment is expected to spike as young drinkers increasingly look to sophisticated beverages, said Tom Pirko, president of the beverage consultancy Bevmark. Seagram will be well-positioned to benefit if Pisa takes off, he said, noting that products are planned at least a year in advance of the trend they want to ride.


"People are looking more and more to top-end stuff to differentiate themselves. These liquors are perfect. They have a great, grand history . . . it's easy to see why [companies] are coming forward with [these] new brands," Mr. Pirko said.

Mica Wilson, portfolio development manager at Seagram, said Seagram needed to broaden its total brand portfolio, numbering 27 brands.

Italian cordials "is a category that we're not a player in. It's a gap . . . and we wanted to fill it with something that would be competitive," she said.

Ms. Wilson would not comment on ad spending, but a campaign from Grey Advertising, New York, is running in local newspapers and magazines. The theme is "Straight from Italy."

The honey-colored liqueur retails for about $20 for a 750-milliliter bottle. The bottle is slightly slanted, like the leaning tower of Pisa that adorns its black label.


Ms. Wilson said Pisa, which is made from three unidentified nuts, is not as sweet as Bacardi USA's Di Saronno amaretto, the leader in the amaretto category with annual sales of about 265,000 cases. The brand is the country's No. 6 imported liqueur, and is supported by a national ad campaign started in May from McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C.

Mr. Pirko said the timing appears right, noting a resurgence in spirits could mirror what happened with coffee-which moved from the $1 cup of joe at the newsstand to $4 lattes at Starbucks. He said that with the robust economy, Americans are drinking flashier drinks.

"Everyone is trading up," he said. "They use [expensive spirits] to define themselves; they use it as a badge."

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