“I’ve been in the spirits business since 2000, and between 2000 and 2020, spirits took 10% market share from beer,” said Britt West, VP and general manager, spirits, for E&J Gallo. “But there was always one inhibiting factor as to how far it could go, because we couldn’t show up in the same kinds of places, with the same kind of offerings. … From that standpoint, we looked closely at how our beer competitors show up and how they execute, because they execute the best ground games.”
One key insight behind High Noon’s development came when Gallo researchers asked young consumers about what they thought gave those fruity malt-based seltzers their buzzy punch.
“They looked at us puzzled, and said, ‘Vodka?’ And we said, if that’s what they think, we should give it to them,” said West.
High Noon has been careful to also highlight a premium positioning. It is a trendy but necessary element of successful spirit brands, which have turned the drawback of higher excise taxes influencing higher pricing on spirits into a virtue over the last two decades. (A four-pack of High Noon essentially sells for what a 6-pack of beer does.) “And that means in marketing, we also have to show up in premium,” West said. The brand prefers to advertise with programming that’s “must-see-live” TV (“The Bachelor” season finale, or the Wimbledon tennis tournament final, for example).
Marketing High Noon also requires the sophistication to understand how spirits’ limited retail availability vs. beer, due to varying state laws about where they are permitted to sell, impacts how the brand balances its local and national marketing. In Texas, for example, it would appear that based on beer-seltzer sales there, High Noon had a clear path to success, West said. The reality however is that Texas has very few liquor stores (which can sell its brand) in relation to its number of grocery or convenience stores (that can sell beer seltzers but not spirits-based interpretations), and so succeeding there meant a heavier emphasis on local marketing.
The brand has also benefitted in some states like Michigan, and more recently Vermont, which changed state laws and now base availability decisions on not the source of the alcohol, but the ABV of its packages. That’s allowed High Noon to sell side-by-side with competitors, and in many more outlets, and that has been an element of its growth there.