Strange brew

Written by Erik Heinrich

It could be the wackiest brand extension you’ve heard of, but there’s method in the madness of the beer-flavored ice cream from Toronto’s Great Lakes Brewing Co.

The strange idea came courtesy of The Micro Agency, the Toronto marketing firm charged with helping Great Lakes’ Golden Horseshoe Premium Lager and Red Leaf Smooth Red Lager cut through the advertising clutter. “I was a little reluctant when I first heard the concept,” admits Great Lakes’ Peter Bulut Jr., who runs the family business. But the 1%-alcohol dessert, which comes in light-lager vanilla and red-lager maple varieties, proved an instant hit when it debuted in August at the Toronto International Beer Festival. It’s being distributed by 25 ice-cream trucks and 15 mid- to upscale restaurants in the Toronto area, and Bulut says discussions are under way with parties such as the CN Tower and Fairmont Royal York hotel. Priced at $3 per serving or $8 for a 750-ml jar, the product has already generated significant profit and media coverage.

Beer ice cream could have been a branding and financial flop, but Great Lakes has slashed the risk of its odd venture. Bulut spent just $10,000 on test-marketing and product development, which he outsourced to a local ice-cream maker. The same firm produces only 1,000 litres of the ice cream monthly, limiting Great Lakes’ exposure should the flavors lose favor.

Bulut doesn’t think that will happen soon: he says more beer-enhanced products are scheduled for launch by Valentine’s Day.

© 2003 Erik Heinrich

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