A group of bartenders gathered together, without knowing each other or why they’d converged on an afternoon with Kahlúa brand leaders. They represented a range of New York bars—from trendy to dive, Brooklyn to Manhattan. Equipped with a full bar stocked with everything from fruits and vegetables to spices and espresso machines, they had an hour to mix as many Kahlúa cocktails as their minds could conjure. Picture Iron Chef, where the featured ingredient is Kahlúa.
After completing each cocktail, the bartenders sampled their concoctions with Kahlúa representatives and got real-time feedback. Bartenders riffed, tweaked and re-tasted on the fly. The more they explored, the more they were surprised by Kahlúa’s versatility—some of the most unexpected unions of ingredients and spirts yielded some of the most delicious drinks.
Kahlúa is a brand most everyone recognizes but few truly know. The coffee-flavored liqueur is best known as a staple ingredient in cocktails like the White Russian (The Dude’s favorite) and Espresso Martini; beyond that, misconceptions exist and confusion abounds. Is it creamy? Is it super sweet? What’s it in? What do I do with it?
And that was the challenge facing the brand: establishing Kahlúa as a base for the next generation of cocktails, from classic to creative. Oh, and do it at a rabbit-fast pace to meet a deadline for rolling these new cocktails out to the market. And that’s where Monigle came in.
To build a foundation for cocktail inspiration and innovation, the team analyzed emerging trends and practices in the cocktail and coffee spaces, then spoke with various internal and external stakeholders: brand leaders, brand ambassadors, bartenders, baristas. We spent a few good nights saddled up to bars in the name of research. Insights from the qualitative research informed whitespace within which Kahlúa could achieve broader consideration, usage and occasions. In a preliminary workshop, the team identified possible cocktail platforms to pursue, based off these insights. However, anything can look good on paper…
The best way to determine an idea’s success in the real world is to put it in the real world. But production of an innovation concept can be expensive and time consuming. Enter prototyping. The mix-off gave our expert bartenders just enough guidance and guardrails to keep their inventions on-strategy, but left the “how to do it” up to their interpretation. By prototyping these cocktails as a team we could assess not only the appeal, but the complexity and scalability of the top cocktail ideas. We witnessed the common themes across our bartender competitors and the wild ideas that caused us to rethink what we thought possible (and immediately explore those routes, too).
By the end of the mix-off, we had a double-digit list of potential cocktails able to be made by bartenders and consumers alike. We evaluated these as a team, then built plans around the shortlisted options—from marketing and communications to design and rituals. And the best part? All of this occurred over the course of a day.
This fast-paced methodology illuminates the power of prototyping in innovation. Forget lengthy concept-writing and testing, spending months in a test kitchen tweaking and trying—the mix-off provided an opportunity to create and iterate in real-time, resulting in testable, taste-able cocktails made within minutes.
Born in Mexico, Kahlúa first came into production in 1936.
Kahlúa is the top-selling coffee liqueur on the market—a title it’s held since 1980.
From growing to resting, the process of producing a single bottle of Kahlúa takes many steps and years.
Kahlúa has incorporated a number of new libations into its drink strategy as a result of working with Monigle.