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Brand Builder – Bitter and Listed

Angostura bitters must surely be the only drinks brand with no competition. This icon of good taste now comes with an atomiser, and every good bar should have one, says Clinton Cawood

In a Caribbean company, many years ago, one person was in charge of ordering the bottle for a remedy for stomach ailments, and another in charge of procuring the label. When the label turned out to be too large for the bottle, and no one did anything about it, an iconic brand was born. Or so the story goes.

Angostura aromatic bitters has a rich history, featuring a number of legends such as this, and an unchanged secret recipe known by just five people – not forgetting that label which is too big for the bottle. This all contributes to make Angostura bitters the well-established, truly international brand that it is. In its distinctive 200ml bottle, it is reputed to be the most widely distributed bar item in the world. Angostura bitters are over 180 years old, yet sold 10,000 cases in the UK last year, an increase of 7-8% over the year before.

Originally created by the German Dr Siegert in Venezuela with a medicinal purpose in mind, its properties as a flavouring for drinks were quickly discovered. An 1848 definition of the word “cocktail” was “a stimulating beverage, made of brandy, gin or other liquor, mixed with bitters, sugar and very little water”. It did not take long for bitters to become indispensable behind the bar.

And as Charles Marshall, senior marketing manager at distributor Paragon Vintners confirms, “Angostura bitters stands alone. It has no competitors.” The bitters category is almost always synonymous with the Angostura bitters product, and it is a necessary ingredient in a number of cocktails, such as the Champagne Cocktail or Old Fashioned.

The brand’s history has a very definite impact on how it is marketed today. The traditional, instantly recognisable packaging is unlikely to change, so initiatives have focused on raising awareness of bitters, and then educating consumers and demonstrating the product’s versatility. Angostura bitters apparently has a useful place in the kitchen as well, featuring in a number of recipes, especially Caribbean.

Marshall explains that the UK marketing strategy is linked to the global strategy of Angostura Ltd, which is based in Trinidad and Tobago and where Angostura bitters are produced. He explains that they do take into account what is pertinent to the UK market, and will take advantage, for example, of the world cup football match when England faces Trinidad and Tobago in June this year.

Available first in the UK is, according to Marshall, Angostura bitters’ “first packaging innovation in 180 years”. They have recently launched an Angostura atomiser, which reduces spillage and allows for greater accuracy in measurement. The contents of the traditional bottle are decanted into the atomiser, so this development has allowed for the atomiser to feature an updated version of the traditional branding, in a brushed aluminium-style finish.

The brand continues to grow, owing in part to increased interest and reinvention in cocktails worldwide. Marshall acknowledges that, “Bartenders are becoming increasingly professional and international and they are taking bitters with them.” He also attributes some of the growing interest in bitters to the promotion of cocktails by spirit brands, which, in turn, generates interest in bitters. Angostura aims to further promote the use of bitters in cocktails using rums which it also produces.

Meanwhile, Australian bitters sales are up 15%, largely brought about by the popularity of a traditional mixed soft drink known as LLB (lemon, lime and bitters), and there are LLB initiatives planned for the UK this summer.

The brand still has room to grow. As Marshall confidently says, “There are 136,000 on-trade outlets in the UK that should all have a bottle of Angostura.”  db February 2006

Angostura Bitters Key Facts:

  • 40% of target consumers between the age of 18 and 60 recognise the Angostura name
  • In August 2004 Paragon Vintners took over distribution and marketing from First Drinks Brands Limited
  • The trial for the Angostura atomiser began at the end of 2004, and was launched in the UK in 2005
  • Angostura was invented in Venezuela in 1824 by Johann Siegert. The business was later moved to the island of Trinidad by his sons Carlos and Alfredo
  • In 1904, the company was appointed purveyor of Angostura aromatic bitters to the King of Prussia, in 1907 to King Alfonso XIII of Spain, and in 1910 to King George V
  • The House of Angostura is located on a 20-acre complex in Trinidad
  • Rectification capacity at this plant is 50 million litres
  • More than 95% of this is exported

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