Does fun really mean low quality? Not anymore. A move away from botanicals, and an increase in more playful flavours is currently dominating NPD across categories from tequila, to rum. But brand owners are keen to distance themselves from the low quality, high sugar connotations such explorations into fun flavours have previously gained a reputation for. And one way to signal that, is through their packaging.
Product trends, like cocktail trends, come in cycles. Rewind ten or so years ago and we were entering the period of molecular mixology. It was a time when no self-respecting bartender would be caught dead without a smoking cloche, a few bottles for fat washing on the back bar, and a blow torch. Which to be fair, does sound like the ingredients of an interesting Saturday night. For a cocktail or indeed a cocktail bar to be respected, it generally had to take this serious, sophisticated approach to its menu.
Products too have undergone a long period where sophistication and nuance ruled. From the addition of carefully thought through botanicals, to all-natural ingredients that have led on terroir, unusual combinations of flavour, or unique spins such as a focus on indigenous ingredients, teas, and complex aging processes, complexity has been the hallmark of a quality-driven, considered approach.
A period of playfulness
But just as bartenders are now knocking up drinks with foam bananas as garnishes, times have changed. We’re now entering a period of playfulness. Because when life gets too serious, the things we do for fun really have to deliver…. well, fun. And in drinks, fun usually means flavour. From tequila to bourbon, categories that have usually escaped a flurry of me-too wacky flavour fads, are now joining in.
For fun flavours though, this isn’t the first go on the merry-go-round. Remember the dessert flavour fad in vodka? True it was more Stateside, but from birthday cake to whipped cream flavour, anything and everything sweet became a drink. On the other side of the spectrum, pink gin trend has also been prolific over recent years, even if attempts to start a craze for other pastel hues such as violet, failed. We’re looking at you J J Whitley.
Though many of these products have enjoyed mainstream sales success, they’ve usually suffered from somewhat of an image problem when it comes to quality. From perceptions of being overly sweet, to frivolous packaging with cartoon fonts, dominant images of doughnuts, raspberries or whatever else, these products have largely been entirely devoid of the cues that consumers usually associate with carefully crafted, premium booze.
Until now. Brands looking to board the fun bus this time around are keeping the frivolity inside the bottle only, keeping labels pared back and premium. Just take Bourbon Bourbon for example. A Kentucky bourbon infused with real Bourbon biscuits, from the square, plain bottle, to the simple label, the brand is loud and proud about its use of the confectionary item, but keeps things firmly in a craft space, with a muted colour palette familiar to bourbon consumers. Only the realistic image of a bourbon biscuit gives the game away.
&Whisky is another good example of thoughtful brand design. Though not a flavoured whisky, the brand leads on the flavour notes found within by evoking a feeling among consumers. Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 18 Year Old (yes, that’s its name) does exactly what it says on the bottle. So does the very festive Roasting Chestnuts & Peat Fire Embers & Mince Pies & Hygge 10 Year Old. The label is entirely devoid of provenance, heritage statements etc. Instead, the stripped back label’s only notable feature is the product name in a stubbornly uncool font, with no spacing between each noun and an ampersand. What does that say to you? To us it transforms something that could seem faddy to something fun and approachable, but still serious enough to be credible.
New categories play with flavour
Elsewhere, rum brands are also attempting to take flavour into a more quality driven space. A lack of regulation, the overuse of caramel to hide a lack of aging, a propensity for pirate imagery, as well as marketing that focuses on the party drink market, have lowered the perceptions of, in particular, spiced rums. The recent flurry of flavoured rums therefore, have had a current to swim against, when it comes to portraying themselves as being of quality.
How have they tackled that? With a label that could be just as at home on a craft gin, Suncamino Floral Rum (which claims to be the world’s first floral rum) has opted for a detailed illustration depicting sun, sugar, and the tropics. Or in other words, depicting its provenance. Though the rum hails from Barbados, the hibiscus, orange blossom, and honeybush contained within is inspired by and sourced from South Africa.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Twin Fin. Depicting an entirely surfy vibe with its matte pastel range is inspired by both the Caribbean and Cornish coasts. Again, its another of the current flurry of rums to be shipped across from producing regions, only to be flavoured and bottled on less tropical shores. In this case, Cornwall. From the surfy font to the colour palette, Twin Fin is displaying this cross culturalism loud and proud.
Tequila treads a tricky path
A category to watch is the emerging flavoured tequila market, which has a tricky path to navigate. It’s well documented that tequila has worked hard over the past decade or so to rejuvenate its image, moving from shots to sipping. How then will flavours fit into this? According to e-tailer Master of Malt, sales of flavoured tequila have increased by over 200% from 2021 to 2022. And an increasingly booming amount of NPD is dedicated to it.
But there’s a ‘watch out’. Though consumers, clearly, are ready and already embracing this new subcategory, if brands lean too deeply, tackily, or without thought into a design scheme of neon candy skulls, sombreros and other cliché Mexican tropes, the category risks undoing the premium groundwork of the last twenty years. Perceptions matter, and proving quality from the bottle first, must be a priority.
Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?
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