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Spirits of Value Move Fresh & Easy, Sam's Club To Launch Premium Libations

Walmart (WMT)-owned Sam's Club and Tesco (TSCO)-operated Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets may be on opposite ends of the store-size scale, but they both are emphasizing adult beverages to help them stand out from the competition

In 241 locations where it can sell alcoholic beverages, Sam's Club is rolling out premium French distilled vodka under a sub brand â€" Rue 33 â€" of its Member's Mark private label. In fact, Rue 33 is the first spirit to emerge from the Member's Mark brand.

The vodka initiative certainly doesn't represent Sam's first adult beverage initiative, however. The retailer launched a private label wine program in 2008, but not just any old wine would do. Sam's initial private label wine was Neu Direction, a 100 percent Malbec from Argentina produced under Fair Trade rules. When it expanded the program in March, Sam's rolled with Solombra Reserva, produced and bottled by Argentina's La RioJana Cooperative, as a Fair Trade Merlot and Pinot Grigio. A Sam's wine buyer, in a discussion last year, let spill that the Sam's private vintages emphasize value -- the wines are priced at $11 or less a bottle -- but also quality. The Fair Trade positioning, taking off from a Walmart-wide sustainable products initiative, signals Sam's Club customers that its adult beverage selection is built around superior substance as well as bargains. The Rue 33 vodka, at $28 for a 1.75-liter bottle, takes the theme into the spirits realm.

For its part, Fresh & Easy has launched Dutch Republic 1581 Beer just in time for the Super Bowl and in plenty of time for the World Cup, which may stir a little additional interest in imported beer, and, given the location, South African wine.

The new Fresh & Easy brew â€" and doesn't that read like an advertising slogan in and of itself â€" is a traditional pilsner-style beer from Holland. Pilsner and lager are the brewing styles most familiar to beer drinkers in the United States, although a Dutch-style pilsner is likely to be a little richer in its flavor profile than a mainstream American product. So Dutch Republic is familiar but offers a little extra something in the brew. And, indeed, Fresh & Easy characterizes the new beer as "full-flavored" but "smooth and easy to drink with a crisp, clean finish."

From the beginning, Fresh & Easy emphasized adult beverage in a manner similar to its British ancestor. the Tesco Express store format. Tesco Express stores feature grab and go items consumers can quickly assemble into a personal or family meal including a selection of grocery, perishable and prepared foods, and, as a nice finish to the feed, a conspicuous offering of beer and wine.

In the U.S., Fresh & Easy offers a wine selection that includes some better vintages but also serviceable and inexpensive competition for such libations as Trader Joe's Two-Buck Chuck. Fresh & Easy emphasized the quality vintages it carries exclusively in announcing this summer that its wines had won 29 awards at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition. About 60 of the 170 wines Fresh & Easy stores stock are exclusive to them.

Fresh & Easy stated that Dutch Republic was crafted for the discerning drinker as an addition to a store-exclusive beer collection including Steel Kettle Whistle, a lager-style beer, and Taurino Cerveza, a Latin-style beer.

Ultimately, the retailer wants customers to look at it as their connection to the good life even in tough times. Fresh & Easy spokesperson Brendan Wonnacott said value is critical to what Fresh & Easy wants to brew up with Dutch Republic and even it's wine program. He noted:

In fact, our Taurino beer, which we had from the start, was one of our first non-Fresh & Easy named private labels. Customers are really looking for more value without skimping on quality. That's why we've rolled out a lot of our new products over the past year, particularly the new Fresh & Easy private label items that are national brand equivalent at budget prices.