13262 Thu, 12/13/2007 - 5:54pm
By David Gill
NEW YORK-- Margaritas have become one of the most popular mixed drinks, so manufacturers of kitchen electrics are stirring up some of that business for themselves.
Vendors such as Jarden and The Helman Group have introduced products that are directly targeted to making margaritas. Meanwhile, Hamilton Beach, Vita-Mix and the two Focus Electrics Group brands "Back to Basics and West Bend" are touting margaritas as one of the many capabilities of its blenders and smoothie makers.
The Jarden brand is the Margaritaville, licensed from Margaritaville Holdings, which is owned by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett. It was first launched in May 2006.
"Based on NPD [Group] data, the Margaritaville was the best-selling product in the blender category in June 2007," said Alejandro Pena, vice president of new business development for Jarden.
When the company introduced the Margaritaville line, its primary channels of distribution were specialty catalogs and high-end gourmet stores. "Our strategy was to establish success at each stage of distribution before moving to other channels," Pena said. "Now we have expanded into specialty stores and warehouse clubs."
The Helman Group, under its Nostalgia Electrics label, rolled out the first Margarator model in August of last year. According to Gregg Bond, vice president of sales and marketing for The Helman Group, the company has sold 400,000 units so far. The line has since expanded to include the Margarita Oasis, with an ice-shaving mechanism to reduce the possibility of chunks of ice in the blender; and the Margarita Mania, which is similar to the Oasis except for its styling and its price point, which is $10 less.
"Part of the appeal of dedicated margarita makers is that they both chop and shave ice," Bond said. "This produces a professional-quality drink, like you would get in a bar. These products are also versatile. You can use them to make daiquiris, mojitos, smoothies and iced coffee."
Small appliance competitors Hamilton Beach, Vita-Mix, Back to Basics and West Bend maintain that a dedicated margarita maker isn't necessary, however. In September, Hamilton Beach issued a statement claiming that its liquid blu blender, unveiled at the International Home & Housewares Show in March, can easily handle the task of mixing a margarita. The product's 800-watt motor and stainless-steel Ice Sabre blades are suited to producing frozen drinks and releasing the "inner mixologist" in the user, Hamilton Beach said.
Vita-Mix has positioned the CIA Professional Series of blenders as a multitask grouping that can serve as "the ultimate bar tool,' according to Dan Koch, the company's national sales manager. "We target margarita fans with public-relations initiatives," Koch said. "We've included a frozen margarita recipe by Chef Michael Symon [from the Food Network] as part of our campaign."
Although the blenders and smoothie makers from Back to Basics and West Bend aren't marketed specifically as margarita makers, they have the capabilities in place. "All of the Back to Basics- and West Bend-branded smoothie makers deliver a chip- and chunk-free frozen drink," said Chris Barnes, product managers for Focus Electrics, "and the new line of Ice Master blenders are specifically designed to crush ice for frozen drinks like margaritas and piña coladas. Additionally, the dispenser valve at the base of all Back to Basics and West Bend smoothie makers and a few Back to Basics blender models makes serving any icy drink a breeze."
Targeting margarita fans makes sense now for a number of reasons. "People want to be able to make restaurant-quality drinks at home," Pena said. "Margaritas are one of the most popular mixed drinks, and they're very popular in casual-entertainment environments. We've also found that consumers want to entertain friends and family at home, especially outdoors. Margaritas are very tropical and very appropriate for summertime entertainment at home."
"Margarita has become a buzz word, like salsa is the number-one condiment," The Helman Group's Bond said. "It's now the most popular party drink along with beer. It appeals to a lot of people because you can make them with different flavors, and they're very refreshing in hot weather. But they're also appealing for parties at the end of the year. These margarita makers are great gift items."
In Bond's opinion, dedicated margarita makers have an advantage over blenders that can make margaritas. "Blenders have a capacity of 40 ounces, but margarita makers have a full gallon of capacity," he said. "You don't have to keep making batches."
However, Vita-Mix's Koch said the nature of margarita consumers argues for more versatile machines. "Although we believe this is an important market, we have a different approach than many competitors," he said. "We feel that a one-drink positioning with a lower-end machine is more of a short-term sales proposition. The consumer who loves margaritas today will want to try something new tomorrow. We see consumers responding to the better value of a versatile, high-end machine."
Needless to say, Pena disagrees. "We have, in essence, created a category [with the Margaritaville line]," he said. "We have seen a significant level of activity since we launched, and we expect this to continue. The category will solidify in the retail environment because of the continued trend of entertaining in the home."