London Spirits Competition – A Serious Business
If you think that having a drink is fun then join the UK alcohol business and know that competition for spirits business in the UK is serious.
Identifying your brand’s USP is essential if you stand a chance of creating a market. If you do create a market then your brand can probably make it in any market around the world.
Exclusively developed by Beverage Trade Network the US drinks events, services, business, and publishing group, the London Spirits Competition judges the entries on a unique mix of quality, value for money and packaging. In essence how the consumer judges products.
With entrants to the competition doubling in a year the London Spirits Competition judging on Friday 22nd March was always going to be a fiercely fought competition. Many well-known judges from the leading bars and hotels of London included D&D Group, Annabel’s Club in Berkley Square, The Goring Hotel, The Waldorf Hotel, Roka, Nobu, Dim Tui Pung, The Bloomsbury Club amongst many others. These establishments really set the standard for how bars are run, their range, service, and quality not just in London but across the world.
This group of bartenders, mixologists, brand ambassadors, and traders make a formidable experienced set of professionals judging these ‘spiriteux’ for their all-around competence in this fiercely competitive of markets.
All entrants are judged initially blind without sight of the label, bottle, and presentation so that the technical aspects of the product can be judged equally. As a long time spirits taster retorted when asked about labels in the context of blind tasting the sight of a label is worth a lifetime of experience. Quality on its own is a valid contributor to the essence of enjoyment and requires to be seen in isolation. Indeed, quality in itself may be that all-important differentiator that is required to make success in the UK and global markets.
Quality of spirits is about their color, their nose and the taste especially the finish. The quality of spirit is telling especially on the nose and finish. Judges are seeking those aromas which really develop in the glass, representative of the essential elements from whence they come and the skill of the distillers' art of blending and selection. Equally the finish must be smooth and characterful, which may sound contradictory, but therein lies the skill of the distiller and to some extent the experience of the judge.
However quality in this objective arena is not the only basis on which the market selects products. Inevitably price has its part to play and for mass markets, its positioning is critical when seeking commercial success. Today though, there is a different aspect to price as a differentiator. ‘Reassuringly expensive’ was an added line by one of the most successful beer brands, Stella Artois, in the UK for over 25 years. This perspective of the market is becoming ever more important as consumers seek out unique exclusive experiences which they seek to reward themselves.
The ‘I’ generation of Millenials and now Generation ‘Z’ is maturing and wielding its spending power, which of course leads to the questions ‘how’, ‘on what’ and ‘why’. The clue is largely in the generation’s name ‘I’. They seek unique experiences. This presents a challenge to the business community, running counter to commercial organizations that seek to coral, organize and understand how products react to groups of individuals, other organizations and the overall environment. This struggle erupts into a price explosion as the one tool which can differentiate to the penny, pound, or tens or even hundreds of pounds. Paying lots of money for a spirit, lovingly produced, carefully nurtured, uncovering centuries-old traditions previously ignored as old hat reflects the value that new and old generations are increasingly placing on what may be a one-off experience. What value unique?
So, the price is then revealed and placed against the products, which yields a score in the second aspect of judging of the London Spirits Competition - value for money. When these new emerging sectors of consumer come to pay for their unique experiences then the value is discerned. There is no doubt of the general direction of most mature western alcohol markets - buy better, drink less, spend more. Value for money is even more critical as the ranges, products, and varieties concertina outwards into many different expressions of product attracting retails from the lowest available to almost unlimited.
But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the London Spirits Competition is the packaging and presentation. There is no other competition that judges on this level that we know of and yet it forms opinions – critical purchasing decisions. As we heard throughout the judging day packaging can change what and how you might think of a particular drink. This is revealing, a little scary, but nonetheless true.
During the video interviews of the day, several judges were heard to reflect on how critical the appearance of a product is. The bottle shape, size, labels front and back, overall appearance are important, but even more so when placed in the context of the product, its story, price and what it is trying to achieve. Some judges went as far as to say that the appearance of a bottle could change how we think and what we experience about a drink. Seismic thinking!
It is clear that the spirits business is taken very seriously by the professionals, in representing their selections for their customers, whose intent is clear – fun and quality. The irony cannot be lost that those self-same customers. It lays bare the elements of the competitive market, quantity, quality, story, price, exposure. As the presentation aspect of London Spirits Competition judging demonstrates every detail is important when presenting both new and existing spirits and liqueurs to the market. Producers have to fine-tune every aspect in a competitive context in order to get it right and give themselves the best chance of success.
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