By the Illuminated Distillers at Pleasant Land Distillery
Welcome to the Pleasant Land Distillery blog! As specialists in the distilling industry we believe in knowledge sharing and collaboration, and with a myriad of interesting questions thrown my way I will attempt to answer and shed light on them through this blog, “The Illuminated Distillers”. Pleasant Land Distillery is a family-run distillery based in the South-East of England, creating fruit and grain-based distillates from scratch at our fully sustainable distillery. Working primarily with contract clients, we offer full spirit and liqueur production services for a huge variety of spirits including brandy, vodka, whiskey, grappa, eau de vie, absinthe and rum, alongside vermouth, amaretto, triple sec, sambuca, nocino, and many more.
So, our first focus is a hot topic and one of our most frequently asked questions: how to launch a successful spirits brand?
I will structure this guide with questions that you can answer, come back to, and elaborate on over time. Firstly, I will caveat this article with the fact that there is no right answer to this question, but there are some general rules that are applicable whether you are looking to launch a range of alcoholic homoeopathic vape pens or yet another groundbreaking pink gin. This is also a classic “how long is a piece of string” question with many depths, so I will give an initial overview of the subject, followed by a series of in-depth articles on each subject.
Why do you want to launch a spirits brand?
Launching a brand is difficult, demanding and will test you in ways you didn’t know were possible, but it is an incredibly rewarding opportunity to create your own story and leave your mark on this world. Knowing why you are doing this is something that should translate into every element of your brand. Is this a brand extension to an existing range of drinks, a unique business invention to take over the world, a way of monetising a waste stream, or even just a dream you have been sitting on for a while? Remember that whatever it is, this is an extension of you, the founder(s), and will be the story you deliver to all your friends, family and customers. An impassioned and deeper meaning will set the tone for a rich brand story, and be the main route to developing loyal customers and good press.
What are your product goals?
What is your dream for your brand? What is your vision for your product? Who do you idolise? Where do you envision being situated in the market? Are you breaking new ground by introducing a new category to the market, or are you offering a different iteration of a popular product? It is an important consideration for your future, because different product goals will produce different business structures, logistics operations and production strategies, and you need to understand your role within this system, as well as your product’s role within the industry.
What is your brand truth?
At the core of your brand should reside a truth nugget, something you truly and wholeheartedly believe in. It is all too easy for consumers to sniff out a disingenuous narrative, so your brand truth is essential for nurturing loyal and invested customers. Whether your limoncello brand is honouring family values, with happy memories of trying your grandmother’s homemade bottle after dinner, or whether you are embarking on a new and experimental flavour journey into uncharted waters, a genuine story is essential to a successful brand.
Who are your main competitors?
Where does your product sit in the market, and who will you be sharing shelf space with? Who will you be competing with for customer purchases and that spot on the menu? If you have thought of a fantastic idea, you would be lucky to be the first! Within the drinks industry there is a plethora of competition, but this can provide some of the best market research around. Take a deep dive into your competitors’ brands to discover valuable insights into your product’s target market. Investigate bottle designs, price points, marketing campaigns and storytelling to understand your product’s specific niche.
Who is your target consumer?
No, “Everyone” is not good enough. Here is why - in order to target, market and sell your product successfully, you must have a clear vision of the specific customer group you are selling to. Simply put, who is going to drink it, how are they going to drink it and when are they going to drink it! Then you can work out where they live, who they socialise with, what social media apps they are on, where they shop, and what their motivation for purchasing is.
Top down marketing strategies don’t work unless you have an infinite pot of money, and even then it’s tough. The reality is that you need to be out there, understanding and making yourself invaluable to your target customer.
How much will it cost to launch a spirits brand?
TLDR: you can’t sell a cheaply made product for lots of money… Unless you are Grey Goose and have a marketing budget of around $100 million. Main costs involved in launching a spirits brand include: recipe development, raw materials, bottles, label design and printing, liquid production, market testing, legal, taxes and duties, storage, shipping and logistics, website and social, and a product launch. And I cannot stress this enough - marketing and press! It is also absolutely essential to bear in mind your target consumer and what price they would be happy to pay. Spirits sit within an ecosystem containing the brand owner, the distributor, the bar/retailer and the end consumer. You will need to make sure that your product and pricing works for everybody within that system.
How do I find bottles and packaging for my spirits brand?
Once you have a detailed understanding of your brand, your target “Cost of Goods”, and who will be buying it, you will need to decide which partners to work with in the creation of your product. This will be guided by the production services you require, your budget, your timelines, your bottle and stopper designs, and your labelling and bottling requirements.
What licenses do I need to launch a spirits brand?
You are entering into a heavily over regulated industry with a myriad of governmental bodies all looking to accrue taxes, fees, fines, and generate reams of paperwork. The amount of paperwork required varies enormously depending on the complexity of the operation. AWRS, WOWGR, Duty Stamps, Personal licenses, Premises Licenses, EHO, Food business registration, AWTD, compounding, rectifying, distilling, movement guarantees, tax liabilities, EMCS etc will be covered in separate posts.
To conclude, this is not a “get rich quick” option. All too many people have seen the enormous exit strategies executed by celebrity led brands and charismatically secured funding from other enthusiasts, before realising that this is an uphill battle in the quagmire of a saturated market. With a cash positive plan, realistic metrics and as much wisely directed enthusiasm as you can muster, new spirits brands can achieve long-lasting success.