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Cocktail mixers are big business across the globe. The category has been booming for the better part of a decade and is expected to eclipse $14.6bn in total revenue by 2028. Driving much of that growth is the premium segment, which has seen all sorts of nascent brands enter the fray, eager to stay in step with the growing number of craft liquor labels on shelves today. But for Franklin & Sons, the business of enhancing quality cocktails is hardly some new fad. The British company was launched all the way back in 1886 by the same family whose name still graces the bottle.
Ironically, founders Frederick, Albert and George Franklin perfected their enduring formulas for lime soda, ginger beer, tonic and seltzer water after a lengthy trip to the US, at a time when the temperance movement was in full swing. They wanted to know what Americans were drinking if it wasn’t alcohol. Now the story is about to come full circle, as their award-winning tonics and mixers expand—with a new look and new SKUs—into premium grocery chains across the United States.
The expansion is being spearheaded by Global Brands, a leading independent drinks company and beverage distributor in the United Kingdom, which has invested heavily in the movement. Forbes sat down with its chairman, Steve Perez, in order to get a better understanding of what makes Franklin & Sons so unique, how best to bridge the market divide between UK and US, and why now is the perfect time to introduce this particular mixer to American drinkers. Read his responses below.
What separates Franklin & Sons from competitors across the tonic category?
Steve Perez: “The Franklin brothers began creating drinks in 1886 – traveling across the North Atlantic Ocean acquiring the finest natural ingredients inspired by the pioneering drinks they experienced while traveling there. That teamed with our independent parent business, built from hospitality professionals, it was a perfect storm. It is our job to continue with the brother’s ethos to create truly remarkable mixers that have versatility at their heart. Our award-winning liquids were created by bartenders, for bartenders. So the range is made to pair perfectly with any spirit, and to lift its flavor rather than masking it.”
The Global Brands portfolio includes actually spirits as well. How does marketing and selling a tonic differ from booze? What makes it more challenging and/or easier?
SP: “Being able to partner with a huge network of spirits brands is what is truly special when relaunching the Franklin & Sons brand. There are so many brilliant spirits brands out there from the niche independent distilleries, to the bigger boys (Diageo/Bacardi), and we have the pleasure of being able to create truly remarkable partnerships, whilst experimenting with cocktails with our ambassador network. In reality, marketing Franklin & Sons doesn’t really differ from marketing our other alcoholic brands, you are still creating theatre, perfect serves and enjoyable drinking experiences.”
Do you have a favorite product in the Franklin & Sons portfolio and why?
SP: “Spritz serves are taking off huge in the UK with long tequila drinks taking the lead. I particularly like our take on the Paloma with our Sparkling Pink Grapefruit mixer, it takes the hassle out of batching pink grapefruit juice, whilst still delivering that crisp punch.”
How does the approach to building the brand in the US differ from the UK approach?
SP: “In many ways it doesn’t change in whichever market we have successfully taken Franklin & Sons to over these past few years. We have a formula that we believe works which is offering drinks that are remarkable at home and in the On-Premise. We partner and will be gaining listings in the best On-Premise restaurants, bars, hotels and destinations along with premium grocery and liquor stores for that at home occasion. We do this by engaging and supporting the bartender community and work with them in creating only the best drinks for remarkable occasions. One clear opportunity for us in the US is to engage the consumer on their purchasing journey delighting them with recipes and usage inspiration beyond the traditional at home serves so they can make their own remarkable moments and drinks at home.”
What is the different between the cocktail drinker in the US and UK, in your opinion?
SP: “It’s always said we are two nations divided by a common language and to a degree I think it’s the same when we talk about cocktails on both sides of the pond. We do like sweeter cocktails in the UK yet in the US a lot of cocktails like the Margarita take on different, punchier flavor characteristic. We see that Vodka & Tequila are key to the cocktail drinkers’ taste in the US whilst here in the UK we are more Vodka & Gin focussed. Bourbon & Whiskey big categories in US. In the UK the Old Fashioned is probably the most popular cocktail in that category. Some of these trends are driven by the demographics of the US consumer and some through tastes and usage occasions spanning generations. The UK has experienced a boom in the use of more herbaceous & complex flavour profiles where the go to mixer would be something other than Tonic or Ginger Beer, particularly with Tonic Waters and experimenting driven by the Gin boom of the last 10 – 15 years. The US I don’t think experienced that boom as much, but they certainly have in Tequila which is why we have a range of mixers created specifically for pairing with that spirit. Tequila is growing in the UK, but you will find few bars serving Ranch Water cocktails.”
Any plans to debut new products in the coming months or is this the core portfolio in the US for the foreseeable future?
SP: “We have launched with 11 flavors. You can pick a spirit for a base for drink, and we have in our US line-up at least one mixer that will create a remarkable drink when paired or enjoyed on its own. Franklin & Sons have been drinks pioneers since the Franklin brothers returned from the US and started the company in 1886. That pioneering drive is in our DNA and clearly shown by our Sparkling Pineapple & Almond and Sparkling Mandarin & Ginger flavors. As we grow, we will introduce more from our remarkable range and continue to innovate and bring new flavors to the drinks market not just here in the USA but across the globe.”