Pernod's classic liqueur Hiram Walker has been innovating with flavored spirits for years, with flavors such as whipped cream, watermelon and pumpkin spice, but the company opted for to create a new brand Mama Walker's to project a retro feel and flavors that push the boundaries.
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"We did a flavor screen and we found that actually breakfast flavors really peaked consumers' imaginations," Falkoff said. That's how Mama Walker's emerged representing homestyle traditions with three flavors: glazed donut, blueberry pancake and maple bacon. "With all the growth of comfort food and the whole nostalgic raise it [the brand] fits right in."
The sweet liqueurs can be sipped by themselves or in cocktails. Mama Walker's maple bacon is a good addition to a Bloody Mary mix, Falkoff said.
The U.S. distilled spirit market grew 3 percent in volume in 2012, and 40 percent of its total volume is flavored spirits, said Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, an industry trade group.
"By our account, there are now over 220 different flavors that exist among distilled spirits from traditional flavors like citrus to things like wasabi," Coleman said.
"We are seeing everything from sweet to spicy, savory to floral coming into adult beverages," said Donna Hood Crecca, adult beverages analyst at Technomic, a market researcher. "There seems to be a resurgence of retro, comfort food flavors."
She cited the launch of Burnett's vodka in flavors such as maple syrup and sugar cookie as an example of the rising interest other producers have shown. The more exotic and obscure flavors have a tendency to generate a short-lived excitement among consumers and bar attenders, Crecca said.
In the vodka category, the core flavors with staying power haven't changed that much—with the exception of the whipped cream flavor. It catapulted onto the scene in 2011 and now ranks among the top three vodka flavors with the long-term favorites like raspberry and citrus, according to Technomic.
Consumers, especially the millennials (Americans born between 1977 and 1994), put pressure on companies to come up with new and interesting flavors, said Crecca.
"The millennial generation is a driving force in food and beverage," she said. It is the largest generation since the baby boomers.
Millennials grew up on the Internet and with the channels such as the Food Network, which broadened their understanding of food and beverages. Now, they are constantly in search of new experiences.
The spirits industry is ready for them, and just in time. By 2015, 100-percent of these 79 million Americans will be of a legal drinking age, said Crecca.
"There is clearly a trend towards more exotic and ambitious flavors," Coleman said."It is an opportunity to stand out from what has clearly become a larger crowd of flavors."