Martinelli’s Gold Medal Non-alcoholic Sparkling Apple Cider is a classic example of successful seasonal branding. Billing itself as the perfect alternative to alcohol, this sparkling beverage has defined and dominated its market category, making it a fitting brand success story to study for the New Year.

Although sparkling cider is marketed year round for weddings, celebrations and other affairs where alcoholic Champagne is used to toast the occasion, it is the Holidays and New Year’s Eve that have made this brand so exceptionally successful. It has become America’s go-to non-alcoholic bubbly.

As successful brand builders ourselves and the creators of Barefoot Bubbly California Champagne, we appreciate all the strategy and positioning that has gone into this great American brand. We realize also the tremendous challenge it had to overcome to get and keep good distribution, even with such a great niche product. Its success is apparent in its wide availability across the country and internationally.

Here are some things this brand did right that we can all learn from:

1. Niche. They defined their own niche, “non-alcohol sparkling cider.” They discovered and addressed a need for a Champagne-like product without the alcohol. This became the staple celebratory brand for minors, designated drivers, and anyone looking for an alternative to alcohol consumption. Most of us grew up with Martinelli’s cider, and take those fond memories to the grocery store every year.

2. Packaging. Brilliant! The heritage label is particularly reminiscent of a classic Champagne package. Folks are even encouraged to enjoy it in a Champagne flute. Value queues including gold medals on the label as well as gold within the name, validate the customer’s decision.

3. Message. Consistent messaging on labels, shippers, point of sale materials and radio ads tout its brand promise of being the top non-alcohol “festive alternative” to Champagne. But it goes on to distinguish itself from others in the category by adding, “100% juice from U.S. grown fresh apples, not from concentrate, with no added sweeteners or preservatives,” to guarantee its quality.

4. Tradition. This brand goes back to 1868 when their founder produced fermented champagne cider from California’s first producing commercial orchards and won the State Fair Gold Medal. During prohibition they discovered the market for non-alcohol sparkling cider and have continued to produce it ever since. It has taken generations to develop this aura of dependability.

5. Quality. The brand has a long history of consistent quality for a reasonable price. Since 1890, the brand has won over fifty gold medals for product excellence at state, national, and international expositions. This legacy of third-party endorsements has built a perception and expectation of quality. This in turn built consumer loyalty and extended the product’s excellent reputation.

6. Distribution. Most brand experts seem to take this one for granted, but without constant vigilance and tremendous in-store attention, all brand-building efforts would be for naught. To their credit, S. Martinelli & Company has learned and applied effective distribution management. This makes it possible for you to find it on nearly any shelf in America.

You will likely see Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider at any New Year’s Eve party you attend. It is available because it addresses a specific need, dominates its niche, has the perception of quality, and most importantly, it is in stock where your host shops. We have to appreciate this classic case study in successful branding and brand building.

Here’s to a successful American brand and all it took to get there. We toast to a great New Year for every brand builder out there. Cheers!


Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) & Shelf Smarts courses to help consumer product brand builders achieve success. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular business site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact