Liquid Thinking

Self-Identifying Drinks

Diversification is the newest catagory to hit drinks

31st August 2022

The tried-and-true formula of being a specialist, and sticking to what you know is no more. To truly stand out in this world of fast-paced innovation, it seems that tearing up the rule book is the way to go. As brands step outside of their traditional categories to create new liquids, we ask why diversified portfolios are becoming the ambition of some of the biggest brands.

Reputation and quality are everything in a drinks market that is becoming increasingly premium. Heritage and provenance then have therefore traditionally been the calling cards for some of the biggest drinks brands in the world when it comes to asserting their credentials. Essentially, tapping into a rich, storied brand history, and referencing the years of acquired expertise and specialisms that you as a brand have acquired, have long been the go-to method used by brands to assert that they’re the best. You should trust them.

Yeah, nah. Now the market has moved on. From gin makers flipping to make vodka and whisky, liqueur makers now making gin, and whisky makers inventing and producing entirely new liquids, the latest trend is to step entirely outside of what you know, and switch categories.

Right now, brands are making surprising moves. Amaro brand Stambecco's latest NPD is new Tiramisu flavour. The launch isn’t entirely out of leftfield, hailing from Torino which is said to be the Italian capital of coffee. And as previously mentioned in Liquid Thinking, Monkey Shoulder tore up the rule book entirely earlier this summer with the launch of Fresh Monkey, creating a new style of spirit made from a mix of two new make grain spirits and one Speyside malt spirit. Its aim was to straddle the line between a rum and a Scotch, taking the brand more into the cocktail moment with an easily mixable liquid.

And what comes to mind when you think of the brand cream liqueur brand Amarula? I bet you it’s not gin. But that’s exactly its new direction. Launched under the tagline ‘When was the last time you tasted something for the first time?’, the Distell brand keeps the core brand’s DNA by using the indigenous sub-Saharan African marula fruit to make its base spirit.

Surprising moves

The move is all the more surprising when the dominant trend at the moment seems to be the noticeable move by a number of gin brands to diversify their portfolios. Most recently Hayman’s – a family-owned gin maker with over 150 years of gin production behind them – entered to vodka category, with a eco-friendly launch called Respirited that makes use of neutral grain spirit from its production processes that would otherwise have gone to waste. Craft gin maker Portobello Road has now also launched several vodkas under its core brand. And Silent Pool has also recently launched its first non-gin, a rye whisky.

Woodcutter’s Daughter Whiskey, is said to be the first whisky to be made in Surrey, and according to the brand was inspired by both the Surrey Hills countryside, which makes sense, and the metropolitan dynamism of New York, which is a bit more surprising. Using a blend of east coast and Surrey grains, it’s intended to blend international whisky making traditions. But who will its core customers be? Intentionally, not its regular gin drinkers. One look at the pack design immediately makes that clear. Gone is the distinctive blue bottle, while the creative branding agency used has made a clear decision to not feature to Silent Pool name too overtly. Essentially, it stands on its own.

Gin a diminishing force

Though gin is undoubtedly still a force to be reckoned with, it is interesting that most of the category switch-ups occurring across the industry right now are coming from gin makers. Indeed, according to data from the Grocer’s recently published brands report, many of the biggest gin brands are now beginning to report marked sales declines; Gordon’s dropped 15% in value, while Bombay Sapphire dropped 34.2% in value to the year ended 30 April. Conversely, categories such as vodka are on the up.

It seems that brands across the industry are realising the value of a diversified portfolio, where consumer attention spans can be short, and loyalty hard to win in a market place this fast-moving. Whether selling themselves on their novelty, launching limited edition flavours to garner attention and remind consumers of their presence, or jumping categories entirely to pull new consumers into the brand, spread betting is a safeguard against the peaks and troughs of the market.

Diluting a brand?

But it is also nothing new. Who remembers both Smirnoff and Stella Artois ciders? Though short-lived, they at the time demonstrated brand makers next best guess on what booming categories to piggyback on. The question is, does such flip flopping across categories ultimately damage and dilute the core brands and their hard won sense of identity? If flops quietly disappear there’s an argument they don’t. And there’s a chance they could instead soar.

For consumers however, it can be a confusing prospect. Silent Pool’s decision to not cash in on its already well-known brand name, and instead build a new brand entirely for its whisky, seems a safeguard against such confusion. It’s a longer, harder path to build a brand from scratch, but when the product is this different, it’s also a shrewd move.

For the brands that are launching products under their same brand names or identities, there is a ‘watch out’ to be wary of; if the product is no good, it can impact perceptions of the parent brand. The answer as usual lies with quality. Any brand hopping categories must be sure the new product matches the value and quality cues of its core products or risk losing long fought for loyalty.

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

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