Posted on | March 1, 2011
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
Some credit mixologists with kick starting the pre-made sangria growth trend by igniting an interest on-premise that then moved to retail. Others cite the swell of at-home entertaining or the proliferation of Spanish tapas bars. Yet perhaps the most convincing explanation for sangria’s recent explosion—with its growth rate of 14%, it is among the fastest-growing wine categories in the U.S.—is the largely unmet demand for red wines that are sweet and packed with flavor. And sangria is just the beverage to fit the bill.
Joe Janish, marketing communications manager at Opici Wine Company, has seen sangria take off first-hand. Opici’s wholesale operation sells -Ed Hardy Sangria, and Janish reports: “We couldn’t keep it in stock. It became a massive brand overnight and it was flying out of our warehouse.” In order to keep up with feverish demand, Opici’s import side of the business created Opici Sangria in a 3L box in October.
Ed Hardy and Opici are part of a recent wave of category entrants, yet growth is occurring for brands old and new. Arbor Mist launched its Zinfandel Sangria in 1999, well before sangria was posting double-digit increases, and today sangria is the brand’s fourth best-selling flavor, with annual volume of nearly 360K cases. Amy Martin, marketing director for Arbor Mist, believes the home-entertaining trend has fueled sangria’s growth and brought more men into the category as well. Franzia introduced its 5L bag-in-box sangria five years ago, and a 1.5L two years later, and both are quickly moving off shelves.
Gene Schaeffer, VP Nicolas Wines, is metaphorically knee-deep in sangria these days. Nicolas Wines makes and markets Ed Hardy wines and although sangria is one of the most recent line extensions, it quickly became the brand’s best-seller, hitting 12,000 cases a month soon after it was released. “We will likely do 150,000 cases this year,” he shares. The company also makes similar-tasting sangrias under private labels for Whole Foods and Cost Plus as well as the Jorge Posada Cinco Anillos Sangria (whose profits are donated to the Jorge Posada Foundation)—all of which are on fire right now and target very different consumer groups.
But, is there one group more responsible for sangria consumption than others? “Yes,” says Schaeffer. “It tends to be younger consumers new to wine. It’s a market that gravitates toward easy-to-drink beverages with a fruit profile. It’s the same type of consumer that was drinking wine coolers in the 1980s.”
TALK DRY, DRINK SWEET
Sangria also appeals because of its sweet nature. Brands vary in sugar content, but most veer far right on the sweet spectrum and that’s precisely why they are so popular right now, says Time Hanni, MW, an expert on flavor and sensory sciences. His research has proven that there is a certain group of consumers who will always prefer sweet wines because of the way their palates experience flavors. “Trying to move these consumers to dry wines on the theory that dry wines are inherently better or more appropriate with food will simply backfire,” he says. “You have to engage them and build up their confidence in wine preferences if you want to lure them away from cocktails and light beer and towards wine.”
Another sangria common denominator is low alcohol content, he adds: “A big part of our findings is that higher alcohol levels are much more likely to generate an unpleasant burn for the people naturally more attracted to sweet wines.”
Sweet whites have been growing for years, and Hanni sees a “confluence of factors” lining up to give sweet reds a serious advantage: “The image that red wine is more sophisticated, combined with health research that focuses more on benefits of red wines in general, and finally, there are higher-quality sweet red wines becoming available.”
Sangria is now reaping the benefits of this trend, reports Bill Berkoff, VP, BevMax in Stanford, CT. “The American wine drinker has always been ‘talk dry, drink sweet,’ and the category of sweet red wines has been exploding for the past two years—it’s grown more than almost any other category,” he says. Berkoff has observed that until recently, most sweet reds were light in color, which wasn’t what his consumers were looking for. Sangria boasts that dark red color, making it a wine many people want.
The red-and-sweet phenomenon isn’t news to Wendy Nyberg, senior director of marketing, Sutter Home Winery/Trinchero Family Estates. The company launched Sutter Home Red—a sweet red meant to be consumed chilled—four years ago. “We watched all these regional brands have amazing success with sweet reds—New York’s Red Cat or North Carolina’s Duplin Winery, for example—yet there was no national brand of any significance,” she points out. Initially, Sutter Home Red didn’t list “sweet” on the label, but once it did, it started to fly. “Sweet is not an ugly world—it’s a word that sells. Suppliers are foolish not to give consumers what they want,” Nyberg continues.
Sangria’s advantage according to Nyberg? “Consumers assume it’s sweet—you don’t even need to list it on the label. Trinchero came out with a sangria under its Bandit tetra-pak brand about a year ago. We see big growth opportunities for Bandit Sangria particularly in supermarkets and places where outdoor activity is more prominent and tetra-pak packaging is advantageous.”
SANGRIA’S MANY SHADES
As the category grows, many predict we will start to see more sangria permutations. Real Sangria, the number one imported sangria from Spain, is leading the way with its white sangria, introduced last spring. “So many restaurants were introducing white sangrias, so we thought we should offer one, too,” says Ricky Febres, national marketing manager, Shaw-Ross Importers. Despite its higher price, Real Sangria has posted solid growth for the last decade, up 10% just last year. “When the wine market boomed in the 1970s and ‘80s, the market for sangria practically disappeared. Spain is so hot right now—tapas bars, Spanish wines and food—and the fact that so many restaurants are making sangrias helped bring it back,” Febres explains.
THE BARTENDER EFFECT
The category has had an undeniable boost from bartenders and the mixology culture. According to Mike Quigley, manager, Empire Wine & Liquor in Albany, he sells just as much pre-made sangria as he does sangria ingredients: “There has been a big increase in pre-made as well as people making their own. Customers come in looking for large-format Spanish wines and asking us about how to make it at home. The interest in at-home mixology is entirely due to the prevalence of today’s cocktail culture.”
One category newcomer which doesn’t fit the profile in terms of price point and sweetness level is Savida Sangria, founded in 2009 by former banker Jay Tramonte. He got the idea for Savida from bartenders having spent a lot of time in bars with his Agua Luca Cachaça brand (which he since sold to Heaven Hill). “There are sangrias on cocktail menus at every type of restaurant from hip urban bars to T.G.I. Friday’s and Olive Gardens,” he says. “The on-premise did the work in creating a market for premium sangria, but I didn’t believe there was a real option for replicating that experience at home.”
Savida is targeting a different consumer—the seasoned wine drinker who prefers a less sweet style. Made with mostly California Syrah, Savida’s red is infused with passionfruit, elderberry, lime and strawberry juices, and the white is made with white peach juice; both have no added sugar. At The Wine Cellars in Atlanta, Savida is the best-selling sangria, according to employee Pamella Robuck: “A lot of our consumers feel that most sangrias are too sweet. Savida might be a more serious sangria, but it is still a real crowd-pleaser—it is a perfect wine alternative. Most of our customers use it for entertaining.”
NOT JUST FOR SUMMER ANYMORE
Real potential for the category lies in its ability to transcend seasons. “Everyone used to think of sangria as a summer wine, but it’s breaking out of that stigma now,” says Berkoff. Indeed, Schaeffer reports that in the month of January, Ed Hardy Sangria sells just as well in a chain of supermarkets in northern Michigan as it does in Miami. And if retailers work to market these wines year-round, they will simply sell more wine, says Hanni: “It’s a limited viewpoint that sangria is for warm weather only. Sweet wine drinkers want to drink wine in every season and occasion, and if you don’t offer it to them, they will choose an alternative instead.”