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The Story Behind the Crazy Sangria That Went Viral This Summer–and What’s Coming Next

Capriccio Bubbly Sangria was an overnight success–three years after it launched. Here’s how it became the drink everyone was talking about this summer.

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BY Jemima McEvoy - 17 Sep 2018

The Story Behind the Crazy Sangria That Went Viral This Summer--and What's Coming NextPHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy Company/Inc. Staff

Capriccio Sangria was the drink of the summer. Didn't get to try it? You weren't the only one--the fruity wine punch has been selling out in stores across the United States since it suddenly went viral in May of this year.

Thanks to an onslaught of social media posts--quickly lapped up by the press--demand soared for the 13.9 percent alcohol beverage. Fans quickly dubbed Capriccio "the next Four Loko," referring to the canned drink mixing alcohol and caffeine that gained popularity in 2010. The hype drew hoards of mystified customers across the country to their local liquor stores, hoping to track down the elusive sangria in its signature fruity packaging. Often, to no avail.

"People have been calling and coming," says Leo Kiteishvili, the general manager of East Houston Wine & Liquor in New York City. "We always listen to what people ask for and when we have more than two people asking for the same thing, we flag it and try to get it in."

Kiteishvili quickly jumped on the Capriccio trend and ordered around 100 cases in June. All of it sold out within a month. When he tried to order more, the wholesaler ran out. "This sangria has resurrected the category," he explains.

Capriccio isn't a new product--the sparkling sangria has been on store shelves since 2015. However, in the three months since Capriccio stormed the internet, the company behind it, Florida Caribbean Distillers, an Auburndale, Florida-based distillery owned by Alberto de la Cruz and his family since 1943, has seen its sales fly over $1 million in grocery retail alone. That's a 370 percent growth rate over the period, eclipsing that of other Sangria brands, says the distillery's national sales director, Dave Steiner. (The de la Cruz family did not wish to comment for this article.) While the drink still lags well behind the category leader Carlo Rossi, which the Chicago-based market researcher IRI says booked more than $5 million in grocery-store sales over roughly the same three-month period, the rapid rise of Capriccio is a case study in the making of a hit product.

The Making of an Overnight Success

The origins of Capriccio precede its boom in popularity by four years. After digging into consumer data, Florida Caribbean Distillers discovered in 2014 that sangria and sparkling wine were outpacing other categories, says Steiner. "So we thought, why not combine those two categories and bring to market something that hadn't been done before?"

And indeed they did. The sparkling, 100 percent natural sangria resonated with taste buds during its 2015 launch in a handful of markets across the Southeast and Northeast. Striking up deals with two major retail chains--Meijer in the Midwest and Publix in the Southeast--business was moving nicely for the product, but it wasn't quite booming.

"We just needed a bit of an accelerator," says Steiner. And in May of this year, they got just that. A few tweets from customers and the drink's reputation spread like wildfire. The company's planned social media campaign took a backseat to the distillery's scramble to meet production demands. "It was definitely a production challenge," Steiner says.

Harnessing the Momentum

So, why did this product specifically go viral? And how, if at all, can the consumer reception be replicated?

Steiner likes to think that people are simply responding to good quality. "The fact that it is a 100 percent natural product made of premium fruit juices" really resonates with customers, he explains. Though, he admits that social media played a role: "Without social media, it certainly may have gotten to where it is, but it would've taken a lot longer."

It's great marketing pure and simple, says Brandy Rand, the U.S. president of The IWSR, a supplier of data and market intelligence on the worldwide drinks industry. "Its popularity is likely due to the combination of several factors to appeal to a broad consumer audience," she says. One of which is the higher alcohol by volume than traditional wine--an explanation for the dramatic consumer reactions on social media.

Rand adds that it also builds on the popularity of alcoholic seltzers and sparkling wine. "It essentially rolled several appealing attributes into one product."

And while the company isn't endorsing the Four Loko comparison--that formerly caffeinated alcoholic beverage was banned in several states over legal and ethical concerns materialized over the product's marketing practices--it is seizing the momentum. Florida Caribbean Distillers is rolling out a range of new products starting in September. There's a white sangria launching this month and it's toying with the idea of a single serving bottle. Most importantly, the product that started it all is back in stock.

"The demand is not abating at all, and we are improving our capabilities to meet that demand," Steiner says. "We are expecting to be in it for the long-run."

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