FIFCO USA Announces Partnerships with Reality TV Host Chris Harrison, Barstool Sports at National Sales Meeting

FIFCO USA is embracing its role as a “big-small company.” With just 1.3% of market share, FIFCO is nowhere near the size of the world’s largest brewery, Anheuser-Busch, but both companies have the same number of wholesalers.

FIFCO is much larger in New York, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Despite being relatively small across the country, FIFCO USA is still able to pull in big-name celebrity sponsorships.

Those celebrity relationships were on display during FIFCO USA’s national sales meeting last week in Philadelphia. Making appearances at that meeting were Chris Harrison, the host of The Bachelor; Real Housewives of Atlanta star Cynthia Bailey; Barstool Sports personality “YP” Ben Friedman; and Phillies mascot the Philly Phanatic.

Seagram’s Escapes and FIFCO’s portfolio of “beyond beer” offerings have driven much of the growth for FIFCO USA, while beer sales have remained sluggish at down mid-single digits.

FIFCO USA chief sales officer Josh Halpern noted that 2019 marked the 10th consecutive year of growth for Seagram’s Escapes. He added that despite competition from hard seltzers, the Seagram’s Escapes franchise continues its upward trajectory.

“It meant absolutely nothing,” he said, adding that Seagram’s Escapes is the No. 1 “traditional” FMB variety pack in 22 states.

In 2020, FIFCO USA’s flagship FMB line, Seagram’s Escapes, will launch a 100-calorie, 3.2% Tropical Rosé FMB in partnership with Harrison, whose image will be featured prominently on 4-packs of the product.

Harrison will also promote the brand through his social media, with more than 650,000 Twitter followers and more than 1.1 million followers on Instagram.

According to FIFCO, 73% of Seagram’s drinkers are reality TV viewers, so partnering with Harrison is a natural fit.

Seagram’s Escapes other reality star sponsor, Bailey, will be featured more prominently on the Peach Bellini packaging. She will also lead a female empowerment tour that will stop at a handful of college campuses.

FIFCO will also launch a Seagram’s branded mobile selfie studio tour during the summer, with four trucks that will feature unique backgrounds that will allow consumers to snap selfies in them. The tour is similar to the selfie museums that travel the country and offer social media users an opportunity to snap selfies in unique settings.

FIFCO USA CEO Adrian Lachowski added that the company plans to double down on FMBs over the next three years, with a goal of growing the Seagram’s Escapes family of brands from 10 million cases to 15 million cases.

“We must accelerate our success in 2019,” he said.

A lot of the focus of the meeting was on Pura Still — FIFCO’s 95-calorie, 4.5% ABV spiked still water. Jennifer McCauley, FIFCO USA marketing director of beyond beer offerings, encouraged wholesalers to continue supporting the brand and give it distribution in college towns. She acknowledged that some may have “fatigue,” but legal-drinking-age college consumers are still demanding the product.

“We still believe it has incredible potential,” she said.

In 2020, FIFCO plans to move Pura Still into cans, including a variety 12-pack and 23.5 oz. single-serve cans. The company also plans to work with around 50 “micro-influencers” on college campuses to serve as brand ambassadors to promote Pura Still through their social media profiles in an effort to “own the college market.”

McCauley’s hard sell to wholesalers to give Pura Still a second chance was to believe in the brand like they did when it first launched.

FIFCO leaders also proposed that their wholesalers adopt Fun Wine, a 5.5% ABV, carbonated line of canned wine, as an alternative to Arbor Mist, a 3 million case brand that is going through an ownership change. Mitch Turner, sales director at St. Louis-based wholesaler Major Brands, said Fun Wine has quickly outperformed the distributor’s expectations with about 20% of consumers making repeat purchases.

Lachowski called Hemptails — an 8% ABV FMB made with hemp seeds that does not contain THC or CBD — the “best kept secret in FMBs.” The brand was the No. 2 new FMB in the convenience store channel in 2019.

As for FIFCO’s beer portfolio — which includes Labatt, Magic Hat, Pyramid and Portland Brewing — FIFCO CEO Ramón Mendiola said the company needs to reconnect with consumers.

Next year, Labatt plans to focus on its core male consumers of Labatt Blue, reminding them that the brand has “still got it.”

Labatt Blue Light Canadian Pilsener will receive a lot of marketing focus with a Barstool Sports sponsorship deal in an effort to reach millennial and Generation Z consumers. Barstool Sports reaches half of all millennial male consumers daily.

The Labatt-Barstool partnership will focus on “Barguments,” the debates drinkers have at bars.

Labatt Blue Light campaign will also launch a humorous ad campaign of “pointless debates,” such as which direction the toilet paper roll should go, whether robots or aliens are going to destroy the planet, and whether the best dip is blue cheese or ranch. The campaign is aimed at getting consumers to lighten up when life gets tense during a presidential election year in the U.S.

And to reach drinkers seeking more sessionable options, Labatt is pushing Blue Citra, a 4.7% ABV hoppy lager. According to FIFCO, Blue Citra is sourcing its volume from craft beer brands such as Founders’ All Day IPA and Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine. In fact, the company blind tested Blue Citra against All Day IPA and scored higher than the craft brand in preference and purchase intent. FIFCO is rolling out a new advertising campaign that features a character who resembles a southern preacher shouting “It’s a beeracle.”

Meanwhile, Genesee’s Ruby Red Kolsch was the top-selling brand in the Wegmans grocery chain and the No. 1 SKU in Upstate New York over the summer.

FIFCO has also raised the price on Genesee Cream Ale, and the goal is to build the brand in the on-premise. The company said the brand is now available in 150 new markets, and Cream Ale’s line extension, Lemon Strawberry, has helped the brand reverse negative trends in the four test markets its been released in and created a halo effect for the original Cream Ale.

Magic Hat’s head of imagination and formulation relations Schuyler Blackman admitted that the brand attempted to do too many things in 2019. For 2020, the plan is to simplify and focus on flagship Magic Hat No. 9 and a new 5,2% ABV hazy pale ale Easy Miles, as well as 15-packs, which are up nearly 42% year-to-date. The company will also release a summer seasonal, Bartlett Bay, a 3.8% ABV, 120-calorie margarita gose.

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