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Several liquor marketers, struggling with a declining market and their own tiny ad budgets, are looking at their packaging and singing the blues.

Blue bottles are multiplying on store shelves as these marketers look for an eye-grabbing tactic at point of purchase.

In recent months, the Wine Alliance's Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry, Sazerac Co.'s Taaka Platinum vodka and Guadalajara Imports' Aguila Anejo tequila have joined Carillon Importers' Royalty and Skyy Spirits' Skyy vodkas in cobalt blue packaging.

"Consumers universally said the blue bottle is a higher-quality, more eye-catching package that gives the brand a more premium image," said Rick Nelson, Harvey's marketing manager at the Wine Alliance, a Hiram Walker & Sons division.


And in the current market, such an advantage is hard to ignore. Spirits sales were down 1% to 2% last year, according to Frank C. Walters, director of research at industry newsletter Impact.

Sales in 1994 were estimated at $29 billion by the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. Guadalajara Imports is considering hiring its first agency for premium Aguila Anejo tequila, but the marketer finds its handblown blue bottles are a great ad in the meantime.

"Americans taste with their eyes," said David Kay, partner.

The brand is small, but sales are brisk, Mr. Kay said, though "It sells for twice the price of a normal bottle of tequila."

Royalty vodka, marketed by Carillon since 1993, first appeared in the U.S. in a cobalt blue bottle in 1988; for now it's unsupported by advertising.

"People are gravitating toward anything that makes a product stick firmly in the consumer's mind, either in retail or on premise," said a Carillon spokeswoman.


Skyy was another early entry, introducing its vodka in a blue bottle in October '93.

"Conventional wisdom at the time was that blue packaging doesn't work for beverages," said Kevin Swadish, chief operating officer of Skyy Spirits.

But Skyy proved naysayers wrong. The company distributed 20,000 cases during the 10 months the vodka was sold in clear bottles, in 1993; last year, dressed in blue, it sold 400,000 cases.

However, the blue bottle isn't the inspiration for new advertising from Monte Sandy & Needham, Walnut Creek, Calif. Instead, the ads in April magazines feature taglines including "Goes down beautifully."


One of the few advertised blue brands is Harvey's, but ironically, the company chose to use radio to introduce the new bottle color in October.

"People said we were absolutely crazy not to have a visual to show the package," Mr. Nelson said of the radio spots by Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York. Each 60-second commercial ends with the phrase, "Now in the distinctively Bristol blue bottle."

Another unadvertised brand appearing blue-black on the shelf is Boston Beer Co.'s Sam Adams Triple Bock beer, a limited-edition dessert drink now in its third year of production.

Sazerac in August extended its Taaka vodka brand with the premium Taaka Platinum, using bottles coated with a blue color.

"We tripled our forecast within the first four months" of its August rollout, said Rebecca Green, brand manager at Sazerac. "We forecast distribution at a couple thousand cases, but we went up to almost 6,000 cases in its first four months."


With blue blooming across liquor shelves, the novelty is bound to wear off.

"Shape may [next] become the most important component, not color," predicted the Carillon spokeswoman.

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