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Making happiness happen

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Making happiness happen. This simple—yet effective—tagline embodies the carefree, playful spirit of Seagram’s Escapes, a fruity, fun, and highly drinkable beverage brand whose bestselling products are manufactured here in Rochester.

Thirty years after Seagram’s Escapes was founded in 1985, the brand’s famous wine coolers are more popular than ever. Long-time Rochester fixture Genesee Brewing Company (est. 1878) stores a massive stock of Seagram’s signature clear malt base in a constellation of cylindrical storage tanks, each housing more than 2,000 barrels of liquid.

One of the largest and oldest operating breweries in the country, Genesee Brewing Company (formerly High Falls Brewing Company) began producing Seagram’s Escapes in 2007, turning a century-old packaging facility into a New York beer destination.

“It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory—everything’s in a small room or a large room, but not everything happens in one giant area or one small area,” says production manager Dan Tuschong, noting that the plant’s sprawling layout aids in its many capabilities.

Except, unlike Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompa–led assembly lines, Genesee Brewing Company relies on the powers of innovation and automation to maximize efficiency and quality standards.

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The brewery’s production processes—which used to rely solely on manual labor—are now guided by complex machines that funnel the cans and bottles through almost every step of the manufacturing line.

With the assistance of conveyor belts, robots are responsible for many key tasks, including transporting the Seagram’s Escapes product into the facility, pasteurizing, drying, filling, mixing, boxing, and packaging each case.

An X-ray machine carefully examines every can or bottle to weed out any “low fills.”

Still, the human component remains critical, as brewery employees are ultimately the ones overseeing and managing these operations.

“It’s my job to control the robots,” says Andrea Turney, who has been working at the Genesee Brewing Company for ten years.

“There are six robots, and each robot gets its own color. My job is to make sure the colors are in the correct order and just make sure nothing [unexpected] happens.”

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The robots (and Turney) manage the part of the process where the product is uncased so that multiple flavors can be mixed (since each line can only fill with one flavor at a time).

This allows for the creation of variety packs, which have remained a popular choice for consumers.

Following the mixing process, the Seagram’s Escapes products are repackaged and prepared for distribution.

And this process is a massive one. Available throughout the US and Caribbean, Seagram’s Escapes is ranked fifth for volume distribution.

Tuschong credits the agility of the Rochester-based manufacturing plant, especially in response to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, with the success (both locally and nationally) of the brand.

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“COVID-19 was crazy to every manufacturing facility. Everyone was trying to find labor, trying to run at higher volumes…so we had to go from running five days a week to running six days a week. We went from what we would consider seven to eight lines to nine to ten lines.”

But, Tuschong asserts, the brewery was able to make it happen.

“We’re School of Hard Knocks, we fly by the seat of our pants; we learn from our mistakes and move on.”

While Rochester is integral to the success of Seagram’s Escapes, the brand’s reach extends far beyond the region.

Celebrity ambassador, reality television star, and entrepreneur Cynthia Bailey has been promoting Seagram’s Escapes throughout the US since joining the brand in 2018. 

Unlike the typical brand ambassador, Bailey not only promotes Seagram’s Escapes via marketing efforts, but she also assists in the development of new products, including the Seagram’s Escapes Peach Bellini. Additionally, Seagram’s Escapes maintains a partnership with iHeartRadio. The broadcast, podcast, and radio streaming platform owned by iHeartMedia has been linked with the brand for more than seven years. 

Later this year, Seagram’s Escapes will have the opportunity to be the official FMB (flavored malt beverage) of both the iHeartMusic Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada and Fiesta Latina in Miami, Florida. Those in attendance at either event will be treated to an interactive experience outside the concert arena. 

Alongside marketing campaigns and traditional quantitative and qualitative research methods, FIFCO USA (the organization that owns Genesee Brewing Company) takes a unique approach when engaging their consumers. 

Representatives for the band regularly shop with their consumers, watch how they make purchasing decisions, attend social gatherings in their homes, and speak with hosts about their thought processes when planning an event. 

Spoiler alert: Jamaican Me Happy is the go-to choice for most consumers of Seagram’s Escapes with Strawberry Daiquiri as the runner-up. 

On a quarterly basis, the Seagram’s Escapes marketing team talks with consumers and collecting input via test markets in Rochester, Houston, and several other major cities. 

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While Seagram’s Escapes aims to be “inclusive and welcoming in everything we do,” their primary demographic tends to be Caucasian women between twenty-nine and forty followed by African American and Latina women within the same age range. 

Still, the brand is working hard to engage men (who can be less apt to pick up a beverage with a lower alcohol content). 

This was, in part, the impetus for Seagram’s Escapes Spiked, a recently released line of beverages with an ABV of eight percent rather than 3.2 percent, the standard for the brand. Another new addition to the Seagram’s Escapes line is the 7.5 ounce can which is smaller than the standard 11.2 ounce bottle and sixteen-ounce can options. The adjusted size allows consumers the ability to sample their favorite drink flavors (such as Jamaican Me Happy and Pineapple Cherry Lime) in a compact form. 

So, what makes Rochester the ideal home for Seagram’s Escapes? 

Erin Dings, brand manager for Seagram’s Escapes, says, “Rochester is very important to the brand. The Genesee Brewery has a lot of capabilities and is able to consistently deliver an amazing beverage.” 

“Seagram’s Escapes is proud to be in Rochester,” she adds. “It’s about the community and the people in it.”

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