Love and marriage; baseball and apple pie; alcohol and meat.

While the latter might not seem to be an obvious pairing, many meat companies have dipped their toes into the alcohol waters recently and have found great success.

BBQ and beer are often enjoyed in the same eating occasion, and the popularity of alcohol-infused meats has been on the rise. That’s why Golden, Colo.-based Coleman Natural Foods decided to partner up with Budweiser.

“The Coleman family has been in the meat business for more than 100 years and always take pride that we are an American-born and raised company. We’ve got strong ties to our family farmers and have always had a focus on simple, real ingredients,” said Mel Coleman, Jr., vice president of Coleman Natural Foods. “In late 2018, Budweiser came to us when they were looking for an opportunity to enter the meat category from a licensed product standpoint. It was perfect timing as we were looking for a like-minded partner to develop a new product and it turned out Budweiser was a natural fit.”

Furthermore, he shared, Coleman Natural and Budweiser share the same values and heritage to be proud of, so it was an obvious fit from a cultural perspective, but also, who doesn’t love beer and barbeque?

The Budweiser BBQ Collection hit shelves in May 2019.

“Everyone is looking for more convenience and easy to prepare meals for one, two, or a crowd, so making a heat-and-eat product line to enhance the Coleman Natural Foods existing offerings made sense,” Coleman said. “The Coleman Natural brand itself is having a sort of renaissance, so partnering with one of the most recognized brands out there provided an opportunity for us to enhance our brand recognition as well.”

Since there are a lot of alcohol/food brand partnerships out there, one thing the company wanted to make sure of was that it went beyond just combining the two brand names on a package.

“When you look at our ingredient statement, one of the ingredients near the top of every single item is Budweiser American Lager. We’ve held true to that,” Coleman said. “When developing the product, it was all about getting the right balance of ingredients. You have to have the perfect balance of beer and pork so one flavor doesn’t overpower the other and both flavors remain authentic. Both Coleman and Budweiser are very happy with how well both ingredients work together.”

Drew Calvert, vice president of innovation at Northglenn, Colo.-based Niman Ranch, admitted this sort of collaboration was uncharted territory for the company when it decided to team up with New Belgium Brewing in 2019, but from the start, it felt like a natural fit.

“This partnership came together through a shared passion for quality flavors and doing good in the world,” Calvert said. “We are both Colorado-based brands with teams who are passionate about creating the most delicious craft products, sustainably.”

New Belgium Brewing is a Certified B Corp., meaning that they balance purpose and profit, have ambitious sustainability goals for their company and work on public policy to protect the planet. Similarly, Niman Ranch is the largest meat company in the Western Hemisphere to be certified humane and is committed to supporting small independent family farmers who are dedicated to raising their livestock with care and using traditional farming practices that preserve biodiversity, support pollinators, build soil health and protect our waterways.

Niman Ranch launched its Craft Beer BBQ Collection in the fall of 2019, pairing New Belgium’s award-winning Fat Tire Amber Ale with its certified humane meats. The initial team-up included Fat Tire Beer Bratwurst, Fat Tire Spicy Cheddar Beer Bratwurst, Pulled Pork with Fat Tire BBQ Sauce, Shredded Beef with Fat Tire BBQ Sauce and St. Louis Ribs with Fat Tire BBQ Sauce.

“This line has been so successful, that we expanded it with the Voodoo Ranger Mango Habanero IPA Beer Brats this past February,” Calvert said. “The daring new brats get their heat from the bold spice of habanero pepper balanced with Mmosaic and Amarillo hops from the premium IPA, creating a fresh, clean and perfectly elevated brat.”

Vernon, Calif.-based Golden West Food Group, a manufacturing company that does meat processing and distribution of beef, chicken, pork and other proteins, has been partnering with Jack Daniels for its licensed barbecue meats products for approximately 15 years.

“They are made with Jack Daniels Tennessee whisky and the products have a very high ranking in Nielsen and IRI data and are No. 1 in their category of fully-cooked, packaged barbeque,” said Tony Cimolino, chief marketing officer for the company. “We are a premium brand in that category and helped to redefine it as we entered into the marketplace in 2007.”

Presently, Jack Daniels barbecue meats represents nearly 40% of the entire category, with offerings that include Pulled Beef, Pulled Pork, Beef Sirloin, St. Louis Ribs and many more.

“It’s a great partnership and we are very proud of our product line,” Cimolino said. “We are one of the largest industrial users of Jack Daniels in the world in terms of volume and it’s about a $175 million business.”

In 2020, the company will be rolling out its second license with Jack Daniels—bottled barbeque sauces. Previously, Kraft-Heinz held the license for this for 15 years, and Golden West Food Group was able to acquire it and has reformulated the product with its first placement in the stores expected this summer.

Pros of Partnership

In a short period of time, Niman Ranch has seen numerous benefits from partnering with an alcohol brand.

“Not only are we offering fun, new products for current Niman Ranch fans, but we are also able to reach a whole new audience of eaters,” Calvert said. “New Belgium Brewing has a passionate following that is excited to trying new brands and products that align with their values of sustainability, making a positive impact and, of course, delicious food and drink.”

Cimolino noted the chief benefit of the partnership with Jack Daniels is the connection with the consumer as the authenticity of an iconic brand with that much legacy makes customers want to try the product.

“The demographics for Jack Daniels is bikers to bankers, from legal drinking age to damn near dead—it’s certainly wide,” Cimolino said. “When you use that product as a key flavor-driver and element in your food product, and you maintain the highest premium standards, you have something that brings people in, and the quality keeps them coming back.”

As both partners prosper, it also leads to new flavors. For example, after seeing sales increase monthly, Coleman Natural Foods is introducing two new flavors to the Budweiser BBQ Collection in 2020—a beer & cheese bratwurst and a spicy pulled pork will be added to the heat and eat line.

Secret to Success

As with any partnership, communication is a key component of ensuring that both parties are getting the most out of the pairing.

Calvert noted that the company’s shared values with New Belgium Brewing has also been essential to the success.

“We worked hand-in-hand on recipe testing, package design, sales strategy and more,” he said. “This partnership is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts—we are able to have much more impact and success for the Craft Beer BBQ Collection by joining forces and working collaboratively.”

Working together takes work from both parties. For instance, Coleman Natural Foods and Budweiser have monthly calls and are currently going through some discussions about line extensions and how they can collaborate from a marketing perspective.

“Budweiser is a brand that's everywhere. But when you work with Budweiser as a partner, you realize how meticulous and careful they are with whom they associate the brand. They're very collaborative and want to be part of the process,” Coleman said. “We had them visit our Innovation Center to test some things, thinking about what makes sense not only for us, but for them and their Budweiser customer.”

Cimolino said it’s important to nurture the relationship and he works closely with the licensing team on what he sees in the marketplace and consumer behavior and the changing landscape of what people like.

For example, Golden West Food Group is rolling out its new Sweet & Spicy Jack Daniels Pulled Pork and Pulled Chicken—both in response to growing consumer habits of spicy foods.

“It’s really about communication and sharing the data that we learn,” he said. “Even now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working very closely with them on sharing what we are seeing with increased demand from retailers.”

Getting the Word Out

While these partnerships have worked out well for all involved, a big part of that success was getting in front of customers and letting them experience what the teaming is all about.

While beer and BBQ are a great pairing they aren’t often displayed in the same part of the store.

“We’ve done some cross-aisle shelf-talkers that let people know about our BBQ collection when they are grabbing a case of Budweiser out of the beer cooler,” Coleman said. “We’re working with Budweiser this year at the regional level to roll out some collaborative promotions where we can. It gets tricky because there are certain states and municipalities that you cannot offer a discount for purchasing a combination of beer and food in a retail setting.”

Niman Ranch has had a lot of fun getting the word out about its Craft Beer BBQ Collection at the store level.

“From social media contests, a showstopper launch at the New York Fancy Food Show and even a co-branded food truck, we have found new ways to get people excited about this collaboration,” Calvert said. “For stores in particular, we created co-branded signage and other marketing materials like rail strips and danglers to draw the eye of customers to these new items on shelves.”

The company also partnered on instore events to support the launch. For example, it hosted a tailgate BBQ at a little market called Richmond Farms in Rhode Island where folks came out to try the new line, have a beer and meet some NFL cheerleaders and gridiron greats.

With showcases like this, these products are only going to continue to grow.