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Beyond the gin boom

Katie Ewer, strategy director at Jones Knowles Ritchie design agency, comments on the gin boom and how brands can best go about making their mark in a rapidly expanding sector

Katie Ewer Jones Knowles Ritchie

The UK Gin boom is in full swing, and its astonishing growth over the last five years has created a remarkably diverse, mercurial and inventive category. Only this week we’ve seen the launch of a strawberries and cream flavoured variant, and another formulated from foraged berries.  But as the market matures, there’s a risk that the ground will be littered with the corpses of artisanal gins that failed to persuade us with their stories.

The gin category doesn’t need rules to regulate it – consumers will do that for us. And if an eccentrically-flavoured gin doesn’t have the necessary depth or layers to constitute a strong brand and an engaging story, these new variants will be here today and gone tomorrow.  

Every new handcrafted, small-batch gin claims to have a new and unique botanical ingredient that makes it different and desirable. Cassia bark, baobab, coriander and frankincense are just some of the bizarre botanicals featured in recent gin launches. There are now thousands of brands competing with each other on a single product detail, and it’s not a battle that can ever be won. It’s simply not enough to produce a new flavour or include a new ingredient: this will create an initial buzz, but without a strong brand behind it, that interest will soon wane.

Meanwhile, design isn’t helping consumers to choose in what is becoming an increasingly crowded market. The category’s prevailing visual aesthetic of craft has become homogenous, and very few gin brands are creating the kind of magnetism that makes them distinctive, memorable and compelling. What gin brands need to do to ride the wave of current success, but even more crucially, to outlive it, is to identify and amplify what makes their brand charismatic and unique. 

Brand design and packaging plays a crucial role in enabling brands to find and hero their own slice of charisma. Brands such as Hendricks, with its focus on Victoriana and curiosity, and Half Hitch, with its strong sense of self and references to its Camden origins, are good examples of where storytelling, compelling design and authenticity come together to powerful effect.

We need to see more of this emphasis on a rounded brand with a story and visual consumers can believe in, rather than a continuing trend of unusual flavourings and surprise ingredients if the category is to continue to engage, delight and satisfy consumers.

4 July 2016