Liquid Thinking

Own Brand Spirits

Show me the Innovation...

16th March 2022

As consumers begin to cut costs, supermarkets have a golden opportunity to lead on innovative drink options that offer an exciting experience, at a lesser price. However, despite huge funding, detailed trend insight, partnerships with leading producers, and a captive audience, true originality has hitherto been lacking. As we look at the current ranges offered by leading UK retailers, we ask, why follow when you can lead?

There’s no denying that own-brand booze has come a long way over the years. What once was a statement of how much you disliked your hosts when gifted at a dinner party, or else a sign of hard times, has become something that is hard to distinguish from the real thing.

Sophisticated packaging design, discreet (read as, barely there) supermarket branding, and brand name mimicking (we’re looking at you Aldi’s Haysmiths Gin), mean that many own brand products are incredibly similar to the brands from which they take their influence. And though a good deal will of course never be transparent about it, they often are the real thing, created under contract.

Headline-grabbing quality

And they’ve been making headlines. Two Aldi own-label whiskies have won gold medals at the Spirits Business Scotch Whisky Masters. In fact, Aldi products have wone Icons of Whisky Awards. World Liqueur and World Whisky Awards, alongside Icons of Gin award. Plus we’ve all seen the giddy tabloid pieces when a champagne, whisky et al freshly announced as the best comes from a supermarket.

But what they have in quality, they arguably lack in imagination. Rather than walk their own path, supermarket brands are always one step behind the drinks industry at large. Which can feel really baffling when you look at all the tools in their arsenals.

We recently took a visit to the aisles of a number of major supermarkets; Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose, and M&S, to see what’s currently on their shelves. A walk around the aisles has told us that while these stores may be unoriginal in the product categories they champion, or the trends they hop onto, they are at least willing to push the boundaries of those trends. Yes, we’re talking flavour.

Gin for the win

Gin liqueurs and flavoured gins loom large. Especially it has to be said at Asda, where we counted no less than three gin liqueurs (Raspberry & Rose, Rhubarb & Ginger, and Cherry Blossom & Lychee, at an unfathomable £8 each) and three flavoured gins (Parma Violet, Pear Drop, and Lemon Sherbert) in its range. With nostalgic sweet flavours, they’re clearly targeting a sweet-toothed crowd.

M&S too went for pastel hues and floral notes, but this time was overt that some of their liquids are produced by Edinburgh’s Old Curiosity Distillery. Their shelves were stacked with a Rose dry gin (the power of pink liquids is still a thing) and Lavender Dry Gin (a hangover from when purple was tipped as the new pink?). Its other gins consisted of trending Spiced Clementine Gin, and Pink Grapefruit flavours. It has also invested strongly in bottled cocktails, but focused upon the classics.

In its cream liqueur range however, things got a little more interesting. Hot Cross Bun, and Salted Caramel Brownie, are out-there British spins on flavour trends in whisky from across the pond.

Sainsbury’s however has taken the floral/ fruit route too. The majority of its own brand products were again, flavoured gins. There was Pomegranate & Rose, Orange & Blossom, and Winter Berry & Clementine. Its low alcohol range, the Flavour Tales, offered at 1.2% ABV were an interesting divergence. However, its spiced rum spirit drink, Caribbean Pearl was dangerously close to the bone when it came to pack design; watch your back Sailor Jerry.

Expecting too much?

Are we expecting too much of supermarkets then? Is producing lower cost, high-quality versions of trending drinks precisely their role and nothing more? What’s certain is there is a missed opportunity to innovate. Working with forecasters, stores could create first to market products, rather than simply releasing their own trend reports on what’s coming. 

In the same way that leading producers, such as some of the most exciting craft brewers, and spirits producers often join forces to create innovative new products, stores could do the same. Pulling in some of the biggest, most cutting-edge distilleries or brewers, showcasing rather than hiding their names, and taking their lead on interesting new directions for collaborative products would be a marked step-change from the current order, and would prove an exciting opportunity for consumers to purchase from brands usually out of their reach.

Handing over the reigns to exciting producers to make seasonal guest products would generate headlines, and allow for stores to trial drinks to see what their reception is. Looking beyond simply flavour would be a key way to start more compelling innovation.

Pioneering eco products are currently a blind spot when it comes to own-brand goods. An eco-friendly spirits range is also a key opportunity. Plant-based (raise an eyebrow if you like) drinks would also give supermarkets something to shout about.

In essence, supermarkets have the opportunity, but do they have the nerve?

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

Please contact us at or 0207 101 3939