Nutrl says cheers to the NHL

Now both the official vodka and vodka soda of the NHL, the deal is indicative of changing beverage trends among young drinkers.
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Hockey is about more than just pounding back a few brews with the boys. There’s a new drink of choice that has made it “official” with the NHL.

Canadian-made vodka and hard soda brand Nutrl has become the new official vodka and vodka soda of the league, effective Nov. 26. Paul Meehan, head of marketing for Nutrl, tells MiC the ubiquity of hockey and the NHL is a big plus for the brand. “You can’t beat the NHL for a partner in Canada,” he says. “This is great for us because we’re distillers as well, and we’re more than just a vodka soda.”

The alcohol market has been in a state of drastic change over the last several years. More than 50% of Gen Z Canadians of legal drinking age either don’t drink or drink less than once per week, and experts say that when they do drink, they are “drinking better,” opting for lower-calorie spirits (vodka being one of the top choices). That was perhaps best reflected last month when Molson Coors Brewing Company changed its name officially to Molson Coors Beverage Company, after launching two non-beer products (a canned wine and a “hard” coffee) and laying the ground work to explore growth opportunities outside just barley, hops and yeast.

As such, the old-school days of tall boys and frosty pints while watching the game are indeed changing. Meehan thinks Nutrl’s managed to get in ahead of the curve, having already previously committed to a multi-million dollar TV buy on Rogers Sportsnet. It’s also partnered with the specialty network to rebrand the former “Keys to the Game” segment to “The Nutrl Zone,” a play on the “neutral zone” on an ice rink.

“It works for our brand,” he says. Nutrl has never shied away from sports, he says, despite a tendency by some to think that hard sodas are better suited for the likes of music festivals and artsy events (not that Nutrl stays away from that scene either; earlier this year it struck its first TIFF sponsorship, marking the start of an increased focus on sponsorship, says Meehan).

But it’s been buying 30-second commercials on Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada for several years now, and Meehan says after years of increasing success and sales for the brand, the time was right for a more intensive, large-scale buy. “It’s a sponsorship of the whole league, which is great because it’s very inclusive. Consumers are stepping away from various things like beer and moving on to different options, some would say healthier.”

Nutrl subverts stereotypes when it comes to its consumer base; Meehan says its drinkers are mostly male. “We have super-high awareness and we’re nationally distributed, so I think we’ve got a good start in this category.”

The sponsorship and integration was brokered through Meehan’s own agency, Meehan Ideas.