Close Menu


“standfirst”>The future for drinks brands is in local produce, writes John Grant, consultant and author of The Brand Innovation Manifesto.

07_05_innovationI suspect the key to understanding current and future developments is to stand right back and take a broad view. I think it’s helpful, for a start, to recognise that there are already three very different components to drinks branding (and actually to branding in general). In the past these have been lumped in together and confused. In future they may point to separate trends:

One is industrial branding. Invented in the mid-19th century, this is the process by which an industrial good becomes a household name, a known quantity, associated with certain sorts of consumers, with certain values, acquires an image or personality. The ad agencies and design agencies you deal with can be used to dealing with other industries (like FMCG) where this is actually about all there is to it. But I suspect most people in the drinks industry would recognise that this is far from being the whole story.

The second is fashion. Fashion was invented during the Renaissance. The Renaissance was built upon two key industries; banking and textiles. Fashion fused the two; you could judge someone’s standing (and net worth) by their ability to keep up with fashion. Fashion today stretches well beyond clothing, into mobile phones, holiday destinations, social networks. It’s all about buying “the latest” and what this says about you.

The third is tradition. It’s hard to date this, but cave drawings from 40,000 years ago are one marker. If you include artefacts like stone tools you are going back two million years. Tradition is something that feels like “the way things have always been done”. Traditional brands are often rooted in specific places, connected with tightly controlled techniques, recipes or ingredients, associated with families or communities. Over the last 30 years the drinks industry has followed a general line of thought that it is all about creating successful industrial brands. Modern packaging, advertising and so on have been used in an attempt to create the “global brand” (akin to Coca-Cola). But these attempts have largely failed. It is possible to limit what is on offer. But, as with fast food, there is scant evidence that the result is valued. And where it is, the contribution of the other two systems have gone unrecognised. When you look at the true successes of drinks brands, phenomena like premium vodka (fashion) or Guinness (tradition) predominate.

So what’s next?

I think of industrial brands as the dinosaurs of today. And there are plenty of them acting like that is true; like Levi’s, Gap or Coca-Cola itself.

Fashion on the other hand is alive and well. The fashion brands in drink are – if you think about it – largely concerned with physical formats and servings. That’s because fashions spread by (visual) imitation: the alcopop; the Sol with a lime; the Magners on ice; the Stolly Bolly. I see these as archetypally venue brands, associated with certain scenes. In the way that Red Stripe became adopted by the punks (or recently by the snowboarders): “You had to be there”. I see this as potentially the preserve of the retail and venue estate. The new O2 stadium will perhaps have its own signature drink (I hope). Something infused with oxygen perhaps? There is certainly an opportunity to use key venue-based experiences and scenes to develop new drinks formats. What is the next “spritzer”? I suspect only a barman can tell you.

07_05_innovationAs for the traditional, I can’t help feeling that the big revolution about to hit the drinks industry may simply be the same as that already transforming the food industry: back to local. “Local is the new organic” in environmental terms. This is not a dark green issue anymore either; in the US this idea has made the front cover of Time magazine. The average ingredient of a home-cooked meal in the USA has 1,500 food miles. The ideal from a climate change point of view is to get that down under 30. How long before questions are asked about bottled beer from India, wine from New Zealand? I think that’s going to happen this year. Microbrews are probably part of the answer; but perhaps taken to a different scale – like supermarket baked bread? I’d be very surprised if the future of drink wasn’t local. And as with all change, there will be slow deaths and fast companies. (Turn to page 110 for Threshers’ take on this idea.)

That’s just a scenario of course – one of many. The next question, the real start of innovation, is to ask, “what if it came true?” How would you fare with your current brands? What could you invent, develop or acquire to fare better?

© db May 2007

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No