Owning the Night

Any beverage alcohol brand that’s been introduced in the past several years and has a credible presence on-premise very likely debuted at the Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas (visit ncbshow.com for registration information). And this year’s event, slated for March 24 to 26 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, won’t be light on innovation, says Jon Taffer, president of show runner Nightclub & Bar Media Group and star of the Spike TV reality series “Bar Rescue.” Aside from an array of less-than-conventional flavored spirits launches, the show will see a renewed commitment from the nation’s largest brewers. And attendees will continue to try to navigate the ins and outs of social media during the show’s education program. Taffer gave Beverage World a preview of some of the highlights to expect at this year’s Nightclub & Bar Show.

BEVERAGE WORLD: There seems to be a significant commitment from the big brewers this year. What’s driving that?
JON TAFFER:
[Craft brewers] have really impacted the national brands. And some of the legacy brands like the Miller Lites and the Bud Lights are recognizing that they need to continue to have an on-premise presence. And this is really the large national breweries saying, “You know what guys, we really need to keep our name out there for the independent on-premise bar community.” And it’s nice to see because some of them did not put the effort into on-premise that I think they should have and as an end result they paid a price for it. It’s nice to see that they’re recommitting to on-premise in a big way. [Anheuser-Busch] is taking out the Hard Rock Hotel and creating the Bud Light Hotel for this year’s Nightclub & Bar convention. It’s a big deal. ….[MillerCoors] has come back with the largest booth and programs they’ve ever done before.

BW: What’s happening on the spirits side? Are flavors still big at the show?
TAFFER:
What’s exciting is that all of the new flavors of vodka and [other] spirits are launching at NCB. There are so many new flavors now that it’s a tasting paradise, to tell you the truth….This explosion of flavored spirits is related to an explosion in spirits at Nightclub & Bar…Diageo wasn’t at our show two years ago and they’re at our show in a bigger way than they’ve ever been before….It seems that spirits are center stage again, versus [on-premise] technology. Again, that’s because of the flavors. I mean, Froot Loop vodka, how cool is that!

BW: Some of the more unconventional flavors are undoubtedly attention grabbers and drive trial. But do you think they have staying power?
TAFFER:
A lot of them are fads, But here’s the important thing: If Smirnoff doesn’t introduce a new flavor in the next 90 days, it gets left behind. These flavors do two things: They keep brands relevant—because there’s always something new to introduce, to talk about and to try to mix with—and they also ride a wave. Whether it be a flavored Ketel 1 or a flavored Smirnoff, all of the brands have benefited from these flavors, these infusions that they’re doing....Their job is to sell vodka. If they have to change the flavor of vodka along the way to sell it, so be it….Look back to the days when there were no flavored vodkas; the fact is the industry is better for it.

BW: What platform does the Nightclub & Bar Show offer for innovation?
TAFFER:
Nightclub & Bar has been the basis for introducing new flavors and new products for about 29 years. New spirits always launch at the Nightclub & Bar Show. Toby Keith’s Wild Shot Mezcal, [Dan] Aykroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka, Malibu Red, Devotion [vodka], all of these were launched at Nightclub & Bar.

BW: Social media’s been a growing track at in the education portion of the NCB Show during the past few years. How is it evolving this year?
TAFFER:
We have a big focus this year on how do you monetize social marketing. So few bars know how the hell to do it…Just because you have a lot of likes doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t convert into money. These bars say “I have 10,000 likes.” Big deal, your bar is empty. 

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