Posted on | March 30, 2012
Written by | W.R. Tish
Playful and premium, this innovative spirit is the next big thing in chocolate.
When you stop to think about it, practically every wine, beer and spirit on the market represents an acquired taste. Adult Chocolate Milk stands deliciously apart, delivering not only a smooth, creamy flavor that millions adore, but also a smile-inducing dash of nostalgia. The product’s tag line—“Retaste Your Youth. At 40 proof!”—captures its playfulness. Meanwhile, a groundswell of momentum based both on quality in the bottle and wildfire word-of-mouth is promising to make this grown-up treat one of the most remarkable spirit launches so far this century.
Co-founded by two high school friends, Tracy Reinhardt and Nikki Halbur, who reconnected via Facebook, there is a modern-day storybook quality to Adult Chocolate Milk’s origin. It started in a California kitchen. Reinhardt, would often joke with friends that wine was her “adult grape juice.” One night she felt like something different, and whipped up a vodka-based chocolate cocktail. She updated her Facebook status to say she was enjoying some “adult chocolate milk.” A flurry of comments followed; friends wanted to know more—and to try it. Before long, Reinhardt was making larger batches (including many enjoyed at Hollywood events). Then she and Halbur formed Adult Beverage Company, to take the product to the next level.
It wasn’t easy, Reinhardt recalls, because both partners insisted on using premium ingredients. After 16 separate flavor trials, they finally hit on a shelf-stable recipe of dairy, vodka and chocolate that was not too heavy, not too sweet, and could be enjoyed straight (chilled), on the rocks, or in a cocktail. Dressed up in retro-chic packaging and priced to retail for $19.99, Adult Chocolate Milk was set to leave SoCal.
After being introduced at the 2010 WSWA convention, the first cases shipped in September. Empowered by mouth and social media buzz—plus some hefty chain and supermarket orders—Adult Chocolate Milk spread from four to 40 states in the next six months and by June 2011 was pegged as the third fastest-growing spirit in the nation. A turning point came a month later, as Adult Beverage Company forged a distribution partnership with W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Ltd., whose track record includes megabrands Georges Duboeuf and Yellow Tail.
More Adult Fun to Come
The two women, still balancing households with kids, have a complementary division of labor, with Reinhardt focusing on product development and public relations, and Halbur managing the supply chain. The alliance with Deutsch has given them chance to turn some attention to expanding the portfolio. Rolling out in April, Adult Limeade, based on reposado tequila, reflects a similar devotion to premium quality and the flexibility to be enjoyed straight or mixed.
Halbur defines their target market as “people like us: busy women, who want a premium cocktail but don’t want to have to mix up a bunch of different ingredients.” Sampling has proven incredibly powerful for Adult Chocolate Milk; its love-at-first-sip taste wins over men as well. Halbur estimates that 5,000 samples were poured at the 2012 South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February.
Technically a vodka liqueur, Adult Chocolate Milk is typically shelved alongside Baileys, Kahlúa and Godiva. But as Reinhardt notes, sales get a boost when it’s stocked in a cold box, or case-stacked with the recently introduced POS display—a huge replica of the bottle. It makes a great gift, too, because, well, chocolate is so giftable.
Another key is its mixability. Being based on premium vodka, it blends seamlessly with liqueurs and flavored vodkas. Signature drinks have had great success on-premise. Case in point: bar concessions at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim stadium serve the Chocolate Monkey, inspired by the team’s famous rally monkey.
All told, with depletions both on- and off-premise continuing to accelerate, the co-founders are looking to build on the momentum. “I am absolutely thrilled with the success that Adult Beverage Company has seen since our introduction to the marketplace with Adult Chocolate Milk,” says Reinhardt. “Nikki and I are living a dream, and to see that dream materialize is extraordinary. We are so grateful to our customers who continue to inspire us and who have made this brand among the fastestgrowing in the industry.”
2 oz. Adult Chocolate Milk
Chill, layer and serve in a chocolate