Brewing, winemaking and chemical engineering

Once upon a time, brewers, winemakers, meadmakers did their best to improve their products to meet the highest standards. Things are slightly different nowadays: the highest standards are now those of rentability, benefits and income. Smell or taste no longer seem to be important. Marketers not tasters have the high hand of what the new products will be like. Such dinks are called "designer drinks" for this reason.

In the United Kingdom, these "flavored alcoholic beverages" (FAB) made 750 millions of sterling pounds in 1998.

This is not entirely new. This has always been the case for sodas where taste was not important compared to being cool and making you fat. What is new is that many alcoholic beverages are now designed the same way. Not just the bottle or the label, the drink itself. Beer, wine or mead are quite constrained (read the description of the beer styles or the Appelations d'Origine contrôlée for wine in France.) Cocktail-like drinks are easier to make, you mix anything with alcohol or an alcoholic beverage and you get a new product. Not that cocktails are bad per se, they are just easier to make through chemical engineering. The more stuff you add at the end, the more forgiving : if the vine-grower ended up with acidic grape the wine will likely be too acidic, if you decided to ticker with it, you can add fruit or herb flavor and sugar and the flaw will go unnoticed. Also sweeter drinks appeal more to some people. For instance, a study showed that to French people a dry white wine has 2 g of residual sugar per liter and semi-sweet wines have 8-10 g/L; to Germans, a white wine containing 12-15 g/L is dry and it is semi-sweet at 16-20 g/L. Younger people fed on sodas will not like drinks which are too different from that: sugar in solution in water.

Jackson and coworkers found that young Britons tend to experiment more than young people from other countries. So they are interesting guinea pigs for marketing new products. The researchers also found that some of these products where sold in smaller stores where age limit was not very much enforced: the Guardian writes: "The under-age know where they will be served. Indeed one city guide, itchy nottingham (sic), jokes that one bar accepts 'bum fluff moustaches' as a form of ID."


"Alcopops" or "breezers" are designed to appeal to young people, not adults (sweet, juice-flavored.) Examples: Mike's Hard Lemonade, Rick's Spiked Lemonade, Doc Otis' Hard Lemonade, Jed's Hard Lemonade, Tequiza, Sublime, Hooper's Hooch. MD 20/20 or "Mad Dog" is another example, it is a fortified wine with fruit flavors; it comes in a variety of flavors and variety of colors. The labels look like those of sodas with flashy colors. The taste tries to hide the prersence of alcohol that many teenagers dislike (whatever this may mean, alcohol has no taste, it has a smell at high proof only; so I'd like to know what the "taste of alcohol" may be.) According to a survey (March 2001), 90 % of the youth and two thirds of adults think that this is done in order to attract young consumers. The Portman group has upheld complaints concerning beverages that were marketed toward underage drinkers.


"By means of a comic, coasters and a competition the Maatschappelijke Jongeren Actie (MJA) of the Socialist National Health Service wants to draw the attention of youngsters on the danger of alcopops. Without a preaching tone, but still in a playful manner the MJA has worked out an education and information project. "

Marketing to under-age drinkers

Alcohol is not isolated, it is integrated in our lives and its consumption has a lot to do with social behavior and the image of oneself everyone wants to show.

Young people need alcohol for socialization and to be well integrated among their peers. Brands (which may include alcohol) are used to express one's individuality and to show that one belongs to a particular group. Drug takers between the ages of 16 and 29 are socially more active and they smoke and drink more [Ramsay and Spiller 1996].

Merges and acquisitions decreased the number of actors on the alcohol market but increased their size and their power. According to Jackson et al., manufacturers "no longer think of themselves as in the alcohol business but in the mood-altering substance business." The fact that some manufacturers tried to sell beers named "cannabis", "hemp" or "sorted" (drug-users slang for securing a supply of drugs) [Off-license News 2000]. But be reassured, accordind to the spokeswoman of Hemp Beer "It is not a cynical marketing ploy. It is not trying to cash in on cannabis chic." Now I feel better. It is therefore clear that these hummungous companies pay little attention to the quality of the stuff they produce (unless they find a target that will pay for it, but then this is pure marketing again.)

how oftenonce a weekmore frequent
  • get drunk
  • 'normal' behavior
  • central role in social lives
develop more sensible drinking
(know their limit)
Imageimportantimportant (shows maturity)
  • hide alcohol
  • high alcohol content
famous brand:
  • makes stuff for adults: maturity
  • image
  • low price per alcohol unit
  • price-sensitive
expensive looks cool
  • point of sale
  • word of mouth
  • mass media
  • packaging
Distributionsmall shops (may sell to under-age)bars
[after Jackson et al. 2000]


March 5th 2003