The craft gin market is hot. Last year saw a record number of applications to HMRC for distilling licenses. The breadth of choice is good news for consumers, helped by media interest and articles recommending the top picks. Craft gin’s visibility was evident at this year’s Imbibe Live with plenty of new arrivals on hand to showcase their products to buyers and bartenders.
It’s not all plain sailing though. As a recent Imbibe Magazine’s editorial noted, not all these brands will survive the current craze for craft and artisan gins. So what should craft distillers be doing to maximise their chances of success?
Product: it starts with your gin
It might seem obvious, but if you are pitching (and pricing) your product as a premium craft gin then it needs to deliver. Quality is key. You don’t necessarily need to be distilling yourself but if not, you need the right partner. Pinkster Gin openly acknowledge this and mention their partner: a distillery founded in 1760 and still producing today. They’ve also added raspberry to their gin to create standout. A silver IWSC award helps get across the quality message too.
You also need to differentiate your gin. Which mix of botanicals are you going to use? Burleighs gin originated from the distiller’s walk through Burleigh Wood in Leicestershire. Would the local dandelion, silver birch, burdock and other plants work in a gin? Clearly they do…
Presentation: standing out from the crowd
You’ve found your perfect recipe. You’re ready to start bottling and you’re eager to start selling your artisan gin to hotels, bars and pubs. So what’s your bottle going to look like? Shelf appeal matters. What is it that will make people pick your bottle over another?
Today’s consumers are ad-savvy, fussy and have high expectations. What look are you trying to get across? Traditional? With a modern twist? Natural?
In a highly competitive market, you have one shot at getting it right. Look at the market. Look at the direction of travel. Show your designs to local retailers and drinkers BEFORE you commit to a look and feel.
Provenance: what’s your story?
You’ve launched your premium craft gin. What’s your story? You need to consider how you sell your brand to trade buyers and consumers. The craft gin brands that are still standing in 10 years will have done this. And done it from day one. This should be aligned to your vision for your brand.
Provenance and locality are stories that can resonate with consumers.
Beckett’s have put conservation at the heart of their brand story. They’re working in partnership with the National Trust and Forestry Commission to save English juniper from extinction.
Brighton Gin have taken a different route, focusing on their local roots – gin distilled beside the seaside. Gin for the local pleasure seekers.
Promotion: getting you noticed
This is one of the biggest challenges for any start up. A lack of funds means advertising is out. Word-of-mouth should be a key objective. Building and telling your story via social media can deliver great results: excitement, awareness, engagement with consumers and trade as well as driving people into bars and retailers to try your product. Step outside of the spirits sector and look at how well craft brewers, many of whom are young businesses, have used social media to great effect.
People: get out and meet your customers AND drinkers
Drinking is inherently social. So get out and meet trade people. Stands at events like London Wine Fair aren’t expensive but will expose you to buyers and trade influencers. Follow up with people you meet, who sample your products.
It’s not just trade either – consumers are into gin, so get along to tastings and other gin related events. These can really help drive advocacy for YOUR brand.
Will the craft gin market’s bubble burst?
The craft gin market is hot. Will it last? Probably not, as something else will come along in the next few years. Many brands will have disappeared, which is the cold, hard reality of business.
However, the best of the new gins will still be around. Those that survive will have crafted great products, created a strong brand, built a large, loyal consumer audience and excellent distribution.
What’s the winning ingredient for those still standing? All of the above plus a healthy portion of ambition, bucket loads of hard work and a soupçon of luck.
* A version of this post was originally appeared on Harpers Wines and Spirits.