The Caramilk Cream Cooler, which comes in single-serve bottles and contains five per cent alcohol, and the Caramilk Cream Liquor, which packs even more of a punch with an alcohol content of 17%, were unveiled in Canada this past summer, complete with unmistakeable packaging made famous by the No. 4 chocolate bar in the country.
To the untrained eye, the two drinks looked like chocolate goodness poured into a bottle. An examination of the not-so-fine print, however, and the difference is clear – the two newest additions to the Caramilk family are most definitely alcohol.
What’s particularly disturbing to groups trying to keep alcohol out of the hands, mouths and bloodstreams of young people, however, is the similarity of the packaging to Caramilk’s chocolate shake beverage and its ice cream. They say the liquor-infused Caramilk drinks shouldn’t even be available on the market.
“When purchasing liquor, young people will purchase cheap products, particularly if it reminds them of something they’re used to drinking. This is especially true of young females who are new alcohol drinkers,” says Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada.
He adds society puts a lot of faith in liquor commissions, which regulate whether particular drinks will appear on retail shelves.
“There’s an appeal to the underage (with the Caramilk beverages),” he says.
Caramilk’s move is consistent with other brands that have expanded outside of their traditional categories but it also highlights an ethical issue of promoting liquor that is closely identified with one of the most famous chocolate bars in the world, a favorite among trick or treaters every Halloween and one of the most successful and unforgettable advertising campaigns of all time, the Caramilk Secret. (How do they get the soft-flowing caramel into the Caramilk bar?)
Derrick Coupland, a partner at Blacksheep Strategy, a Winnipeg-based branding strategy company, says the question that remains to be answered is whether the market wants a cream liquor that tastes like a candy bar.
“If it does, we could see a new niche category. We see brand managers slicing ever-thinner niches,” he says.
As an example, he notes Caterpillar produced heavy trucks and machinery for years before it branched out into apparel and work boots.
It’s worth nothing that Cadbury is owned by Kraft, makers of “Kraft Dinner,” Canada’s runaway brand leader of macaroni and cheese, a lunch time staple for kids. The company also lists “protecting children” on its website as part of its global set of values for consumer marketing.
“How do we feel about brands that are well-established with kids being extended into alcohol products with the probability that children will see mom and dad having one of the coolers on the deck? How does that impact their perceptions and subsequent actions? These are reasonable questions to ask without even being cynical,” Coupland says.
The risk, therefore, becomes whether children will see the Caramilk liquor bottles in the fridge, associate it with a favorite treat, and pour themselves a glass. Parents can’t put a lock on the fridge or stand guard 24 hours a day so will they perceive the potential trouble as too great and switch to close competitors, such as category leader, Bailey’s Irish Cream, instead?
Coupland says it remains to be seen if chocolate bar-flavored liquor has the making of a sustainable product category. If it does, other entrants will be quick to follow. But if it doesn’t stick, there will most likely be a prompt retreat.
Caramilk’s alcoholic beverages aren’t the first consumer products to be in the cross-hairs of groups looking out for the best interests of children. Last summer, retailers in Canada were banned from selling cigarettes, filtered cigars weighing less than 1.4 grams or blunt wraps flavored with anything other than menthol. The ban is intended to eliminate fruit and candy-flavored mini-cigars, which anti-smoking advocates say are intended solely to get kids hooked on smoking.
And energy drinks, such as Red Bull, also have a bulls eye on them as doctors from the Canadian Medical Association Journal recently said the highly-caffeinated drinks have crossed the line from beverages to “drugs delivered as tasty syrups.”
The secret for these products is finally out and the companies can’t be happy about it.