Almost Famous: How a Brand Becomes an Industry Favorite


How does an unassuming bottle on the back bar, or tucked away on a low, dusty shelf in the store, suddenly become an industry darling with a cult following? It doesn’t actually happen suddenly. Instead, it takes a perfect, almost improbable storm of supply, demand, quality and a certain unquantifiable level of coolness for a brand to become an industry favorite.

For some brands, it is all about the flavor – whether good or bad – that drives the industry’s interest. For others, it is their unique ability to connect with the industry’s tastemakers and influencers, who want to make themselves a part of that brand’s story. Whether it is through grassroots marketing or expensive experiential campaigns, the brand’s ability to find a connection within the industry is absolutely key.

So how does a brand build a relationship with the beverage industry’s decision makers? We asked five of them for their take.

Natalia Cardenas, Breakthru Beverage Illinois Beverage Development Manager

Seems every country has its own drinking ritual. It could be eye-to-eye contact, a toast of “skal” “cin cin” “salud” or “dixeebe.” Whatever ritual it is, they all send the same message to the person on the receiving end: I see you, I toast to you and I am in this moment with you. It is a way of stopping everything to honor that moment with that company.

Within the bar industry, these rituals tend to get embodied in certain spirits and so those spirits have become “industry darlings” or cult favorites. When a bartender takes out the Fernet Branca, Malort or Sherry and pours, the person on the receiving end instantly knows, without a word spoken, that the message being sent is, “I see you, I toast to you, and I am in this moment with you.”

Andy Izeluk, Breakthru Beverage Regional Director Craft and Emerging Spirts

Becoming an industry darling is something that each brand seems to strive for, yet very few succeed in becoming. To me, these brands need to have a genuine and unique story that bartenders and consumers identify with and buy into. The brand is not mass marketed, but it quietly touches a consumer base to where that consumer feels like they have an ownership in every sip taken.

Sam Heider, Breakthru Beverage Colorado Fine Wine Development Manager

I think that when it comes to cult status for us in the wine industry, it generally comes from the winemaker, not necessarily the winery or producer. David Abreu, Thomas River Brown, Heidi Barrett, these are the rock stars of the wine industry.

In the on-premise market, the cult wines right now are the ones that really hone in on being sustainable, organic and produced using biodynamic farming. Certain vintages can also gain a sort of cult status as well, especially in the sommelier community.  

On the retail side of things when it comes to cult status, it is all about wine score. Consumers read a lot of wine publications to get the scores and that's how they're going to base their purchasing decisions. Add in supply and demand as well, because as soon as the scores come out, and a specific wine has a limited quantity but high consumer demand, then that wine almost immediately earns that cult status.

Dan Dufek, Breakthru Beverage Wisconsin Beverage Development Specialist

It has to be word of mouth or organic in some way. Bartenders or servers talking about it or ordering it, and others catching on and following suit. I think it helps if it’s a product that has an authentic history or backstory, like Fernet Branca or Malort. It also has to fly under the radar of the general public for a while too. Like how if the band gets too popular, it’s not cool anymore.

Eric Hay, Breakthru Beverage Illinois Craft Spirits Manager

For me an industry favorite has to be all encompassing. At the root it has to be delicious and be really high quality. It also needs to serve a purpose and be a great cocktail ingredient. It does help to have a certain air of exclusivity or rarity that can be kind of fun too. As a bartender you want to be the one who discovers that ingredient that is fairly unknown or has very little marketing behind it, and then introduce your friends to it, who in turn introduce it to their industry friends. Eventually those will be the people who will be flying the flag and building that brand from inside the bartending industry. The bartending community loves finding those hidden gem brands and making them their own.

On the other hand, you also see some cult brands that are putting the time, money and resources behind the brand. They know how they need to position themselves within the industry, and so they really go after it and try to attach themselves to the bartenders because they know that’s who they want to be targeting to promote their product. 

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