In 2009, reality-TV celebrity Bethenny Frankel founded Skinnygirl Cocktails on the premise that women want low-calorie, great-tasting Margaritas. In 2011, Deerfield, Ill.-based Beam Suntory acquired the brand, which has since grown to include 21 low-calorie products in the vodka, wine and ready-to-drink categories, according to Brendan Lynch, senior marketing director at Beam Suntory.

“…in collaboration with Bethenny and our marketing and sales team, the brand has grown aggressively, driven in part by strong, rapid innovation into new categories and flavors,” Lynch says. “Bethenny’s simple idea has turned into a business empire of Skinnygirl brands, as Beam has rapidly developed the brand into one of the fastest growing spirits brands on the market today.”

Frankel also has expanded her Skinnygirl brand to food and non-alcohol beverages; however, those operate as independent businesses and are not part of the Beam Suntory brand portfolio of Skinnygirl Cocktails.

Marking the market

A celebrity-founder can be a benefit to a beverage company, and Skinnygirl Cocktails has reaped the benefits of Frankel’s status. “Bethenny’s celebrity is certainly an invaluable asset for the brand. Her massive following, loyal fan-base and wide-reaching platforms help to drive awareness and credibility for our programming,” Lynch explains.

He highlights consumers’ excitement surrounding Frankel’s return to season seven of “Real Housewives of New York.”

“Fans could spot their favorite Skinnygirl Cocktails products in many of the episodes throughout the season,” he says. “In fact, the episode on July 28 featured our ‘Boy Meets Skinnygirl Cocktails’ event in which we launched Skinnygirl Pinot Noir and Skinnygirl Spicy Lime Margarita.”

In addition to capitalizing on Frankel’s celebrity, Skinnygirl focuses its marketing efforts on campaigns like the  Drink Like a Lady campaign in May 2012 — a 360-degree campaign spanning broadcast, print and digital mediums. Earlier this year, the brand launched its Skinnygirl Tastemakers campaign inviting consumers to be on the inside track of Skinnygirl news and events.

“Skinnygirl Cocktails teamed up with Flywheel Sports to host our Skinnygirl Cocktails Tastemakers for Cycling & Cocktails, a series of special VIP spin classes and cocktail hours across the United States,” Lynch explains.

Building diversity

Although marketing is crucial to brand success, variety and innovation are equally important. Since acquiring the brand, Beam Suntory and Frankel have closely worked together to launch new, diverse Skinnygirl products.

“Bethenny Frankel is heavily involved in the marketing, product development, flavor, innovations and all things Skinnygirl,” Lynch notes. “She has tremendous insights and knows the target consumer, so we rely on her to collaborate with us every step of the way.”

After launching the Skinnygirl Margarita six years ago, the company released Skinnygirl Vodka. But the brand didn’t stop there, venturing into the wine market. “From there, we recognized wine as the No. 1 most heavily consumed spirit among women and launched Skinnygirl, The Wine Collection in 2012,” Lynch explains. “Moving into wine allowed us to activate in a larger, year-round spirits category in-line with our target demographic and offer an everyday indulgence, guilt-free.”

According to Lynch, Skinnygirl’s wine varietals are showing strong growth with a 26 percent increase in volume year-over-year, citing Nielsen data ending
Oct. 10. Additionally, he notes that the newest products also are selling well, with Sweet’arita, which launched in April 2014, experiencing a 31 percent increase in volume, according to Nielsen data.

“Skinnygirl ready-to-serve products, including Skinnygirl Sweet’arita, hit on all of the right trends for women, including convenience, low-calorie and premium, great-tasting flavor/liquid all in one,” Lynch explains. “Consumers love our portfolio of low-calorie Margaritas, and we have seen particularly strong appeal for options that offer a sweeter taste profile. Skinnygirl Sweet’arita is in line with this trend and has received overwhelmingly positive responses from consumers and retailers. Since launching Skinnygirl, The Wine Collection in 2012, we’ve been able to activate in a broader, less seasonal spirits category that resonates with our consumers.”

This year, the brand expanded the Skinnygirl portfolio with the launch of two new products. Skinnygirl Spicy Lime Margarita blends lime, spicy chili and tequila with a light citrus aroma and spicy undertones, finishing with a lime flavor and lingering subtle heat, the company says. Skinnygirl Pinot Noir adds to Skinnygirl’s line of wines, and offers aromas and tastes of dark cherry, toasted oak and vanilla with a silky finish, it says.

“Skinnygirl Spicy Lime Margarita is in line with the spicy cocktail trend and has received overwhelmingly positive responses, featuring a low-calorie count like Skinnygirl Margarita but with a lingering subtle heat,” Lynch says. “The Wine Collection has been so well received by Skinnygirl fans that we’ve expanded from three blends to nine wine offerings…Pinot Noir is the sixth largest wine segment right now, and our new varietal provides a delicious low-calorie option for the Pinot Noir drinker.”