New launches in the luxury alcohol sector

Despite the downturn, sales of many premium drinks brands are on the up. Tom Banks considers the recent success of the luxury alcohol sector

Set against a backdrop of spiralling unemployment and crippling debt it might seem unlikely that there is a market for luxury alcohol brands in the UK at the moment. But according to consultancies and alcohol brand-owners alike, rebranding and launching luxury alcohol products is still prevalent despite the recession. And research by the International Wine and Spirit Record shows that the market share of most premium brands is rising.

The segment share of premium gin has risen by 9.71 per cent between 2006 and 2008. Over the same period, the segment share of premium rum has risen from 3.51 to 5.97 per cent. Interestingly, although the market share of premium champagne has risen from 42.6 to 44 per cent in the period from 2006 to 2008, standard champagne has dipped from 55.12 per cent to 53.72 per cent. The super-premium share now accounts for 2.28 per cent.

Paul Foulkes-Arellano, managing director at consultancy Wren & Rowe, which specialises in alcohol branding, says he believes that budgets had been frozen as the downturn started, but have been re-established this year. He believes that many spirit producers, in particular gin distillers, are investing in branding higher-end products.

Another trend he notes is that while sales have been dropping, producers have been looking to reduce bottle volumes to maximise profits. ‘We could be briefed to put a 75cl brand into a 50cl bottle, but make it look more attractive – and they would intend to keep the same price. It’s almost like a Japanese-style presentation,’ he says. The consultancy is currently branding and packaging a white port, Twenty Year Old White Porto, for producer Andreson, a product that will launch in September. ‘All the brands we’re working with are looking at releasing older stocks,’ Foulkes-Arellano says.

Meanwhile, prestige champagne brand Taittinger has redesigned its entire range in a bid to unify its six products. Labels have been made the same shape, neck collars made smaller and the Taittinger name displayed on the bottle’s foils.

The company turned to Vitalie Taittinger, artistic director and daughter of managing director Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, to carry out the redesign. She was briefed to respect ‘the existing codes of the house’, and a Taittinger spokeswoman says the driver was ‘not especially to boost sales, but rather to reach a better consistency within the range.’

It is claimed that the origins of Taittinger can be traced back to 1734. Having gone through ‘evolutions’ of rebranding rather than ‘revolutions’, according to its makers, the label was due a rebrand having become unco-ordinated across the range.

As well as rebrands, luxury brands are still being launched. DQ Vodka, a new high-end drink from Swedish producer Nordic Spirit, will retail at about £50 a bottle when it hits UK shelves in September. A one-brand company, Nordic Spirit director Petter Moe has co-designed the new branding and packaging, having sought consultancy from Design Bridge and IDC.

‘Historically, luxury brands have performed well in times of financial turmoil,’ says Moe. ‘People having a hard time financially do still want to treat themselves with the odd luxury.’ This is a sentiment echoed by most experts Design Week spoke to for this article.

Moe maintains that he came up with the concept for DQ long before the recession started. This began with the name DQ, which is supposed to suggest ‘distillation intelligence – as in IQ’.

‘Flowing lines on the cap continue down the rod in a fluid way, showing that the product is continuously distilled,’ Moe says. The colour blue and the use of aluminium take their cue from the Swedish landscape.

Another barometer for corporate confidence in luxury alcohol is London department store Liberty’s decision to stock G&J Greenall’s new premium gin brand, Bloom – the first time the store has sold a high-end spirit.

The jewel-cut bottle with flowering vine motif and logo has been designed by Drinks Works. Greenall and Drinks Works are now collaborating on an even more high-end brand, Berkeley Square Gin, which will relaunch next month.

A Greenall spokesman says, ‘It’s been brought on by the Grey Goose effect. Now there’s a raft of premium vodka brands and the market is saturated, so we’re trying to do the same with gin.’

Ultra-Premium Bottles:

  • The Brand Union has designed packaging for Glenfiddich 50 Year Old and a bottle that uses real silver. It will retail at £10 000 a bottle
  • Taittinger Collection is a vintage product which sees the brand commission an artist to design a bottle and packaging. Robert Rauschenberg designed the latest 2000 vintage, and Roy Lichtenstein designed a bottle in 1985
  • Iordanov released a vodka in an ‘unbreakable’ bottle, decorated in Swarovski crystals, which retails at around £2500 a bottle

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