Predicaments and Predictions in Alcohol

How Alon Brands’ Chris Kaden handles new-product overflow and what trend he says will die down

There is no shortage of innovation in the alcohol-beverage category: New products and flavor extensions “keep things interesting for myself and the shoppers,” says Chris Kaden, category manager for Odessa, Texas-based Alon Brands. But with space at a premium, it’s also a challenge.

Here’s how Kaden approaches new-product pitches and how he thinks the category will take shape.

Q: How do you approach new alcohol-beverage items?

A: A brewer or distributor representative would present the new item … and then we talk about the go-to-market strategy. When is it available? Where would I merchandise it? What will it replace, if anything? And can I get some product sampling in the stores to support the new item? I am interested in working with those that have a budget to support the new item. … Let me start off at an attractive price, do store samplings to get it in front of people and give me appealing signage.

Q: What was a new-product win for Alon Brands in 2016?

A: None of the new brands really took off like wildfire, but there was a packaging change that has brought really nice results. I am speaking of [Bud/Bud Light’s 16-ounce 15-pack]. It allows me to make a strong margin and offers the consumer a good value of basically getting the same amount of liquid as a 20-pack for only $14.99 or $15.99.

Q: How do you think the category will evolve in the years ahead?

A: I see brewers starting to get much more data-driven in terms of identifying store types and demographics to help guide new-product development and store-sets recommendations. I think this investment in data will continue to increase and really improve the ability to predict what the consumers want or will support.

Q: Will craft beers and hard sodas continue to make waves?

A: I think that the hard sodas will run their course soon and we will be on to the next craze. One thing that I see beer companies rolling out are the hard sparkling seltzers, but I’m not sure how it will catch on outside of major metro areas. I think craft beer also has its place and is not right for every store, but it can still grow organically in the right environment.