Oculto: Great Idea or Gimmick?

Boelter + Lincoln, Oculto, blog, beer

You’ve gotta love the irony.

On Friday, March 13th, brewing giant Anheuser-Busch (whose Super Bowl ad skewered esoteric craft beers) introduced its newest product, Oculto – which, IMHO, seems pretty darned esoteric. A tequila-flavored brew, Oculto is infused with blue agave and aged in tequila barrels. It promises drinkers “a multi-sensory experience” and certainly the label delivers on that, with a Mexican Day of the Dead-style image featuring multiple crown graphics, tactile printing and black-light inks. The list of bells and whistles doesn’t stop there, either. A host of “discoverable elements” are embedded in the bottle design, including hidden messages and eyes that appear when the beer is chilled. Calling it “an unexpected mash-up” of flavor, A-B asserted that Oculto has “unparalleled positioning that will carry over to social media and all consumer engagement moments.” (Yes, it targets millennials.)

On the heels of all this big brand hoopla and self-congratulatory marketer-speak, the Brewers Association today released its annual industry sales data, which showed that craft brewers have now captured 11 percent of the U.S. beer market, up from 8 percent a year ago. That’s pretty impressive growth in just one year – particularly considering the category is flat overall. A-B should be so lucky.

The growth of craft beer is paralleled by the growth of artisanal, natural/organic and locally sourced foods overall. According to NEXT Forecast estimates, the natural and organic products industry is expected to more than double by 2019, growing to $252 billion. Closer to home, we are seeing similar sales patterns with the craft beer and natural foods brands we work with.

Is there a connection here? Absolutely, say many food/beverage industry experts. Journalists discussing consumer trends at the recent Natural Products Expo West in California mentioned several that apply to both natural foods and craft beer, including the growing desire of consumers to know what is in their products and to get healthier, minimally processed foods – without labels that require an app or a science degree to understand. Macro beer brands – which commonly use liberal amounts of genetically modified (GMO) ingredients and preservatives – simply don’t fit this description. In fact, Anheuser-Busch’s flagship, Budweiser, contains GMO corn and a genetically modified sweetener, dextrose. Not exactly health food material.

While I appreciate Anheuser-Busch’s attempt to push the category envelope, I have to wonder just what exactly is in Oculto, not to mention what it tastes like. After all, this is the same company that brought us the nuanced flavor of Bud Light Lime-A-Rita. Oculto strikes me as more of the same: another gimmicky macro-brew attempt to steal share back from craft beer. But it does have a multi-sensory label – and that counts for something, right?