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Excuse us, we're British

Patriotic drinks need not daub the red, white and blue

Lee Cook CookChick

Throughout history, we have painted evocative and patriotic images of Britain as an island nation through oratory and verse.

Shakespeare wrote romantically of “This precious stone set in the silver sea”. Wordsworth had us drifting lonely as a cloud o’er vales and hills. Tom Jones sings passionately of his green, grass of home.

We cherish regional diversity and nowhere is this more celebrated today than through our brewers, distillers and vintners. They paint a charming, patchwork of colour and rarely resort to bombastic, one dimensional images of patriotism. It’s subtler than that.

So, with Brexit looming (or perhaps not, given recent developments) let us stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood and reflect on how design is promoting the diverse, regional landscape of Britain’s drinks industry. A few lessons in here, but more importantly something to raise our spirits with summer fast approaching.

1. Not being French

British sparkling wine Ridgeview sits on top of the Sussex South Downs. It is some 300 miles from Sussex to our French cousins in Epernay and Riems, as the crow flies. But whilst distance separates us, design for so long has not. Over the years many English sparkling wine producers chose a design aesthetic that resembled that of the French. But this is starting to change. Arguably Nyetimber led the way with others making positive changes. CookChick's involvement with Ridgeview last year was the latest to create an elegant new language to reposition against Champagne. Very English in feel whilst commanding impact on shelf. It combines art deco inspired typography, bright accent colours and dark and light labels to distinguish between reserve and brut.

Ridgeview was proud to be awarded IWSC Winemaker of the Year 2018 and shows what can be achieved if you have the conviction to dig deep, find your true voice and express it in a way others cannot.

2. Symbols of regional pride

Flags, one of the most evocative symbols at our disposal, are so often used without imagination. Often slavishly added to designs as a quick way of adding meaning but rarely subverted to create new connections. An approach that risks becoming banal, expected and boring.

One recent exception is Walkers, the nation’s favourite crisp, which now combines a union flag with a burst of British iconography to create a witty reference of national pride.

Slightly closer to our drinks-world is St Austell’s Korev. An example of how to reposition a brand with a fresh new make-over, whilst retaining a visual link to its heritage. We at CookChick cemented the brand’s roots in Cornwall by taking the regional flag, simplifying it and linking it to surf. A deliberate move to attract a new, surf-loving audience. What was an historic icon of the brand has been given new meaning. A combination of the strength of the black and white flag with the energy of the Cornish spirit distilled in a powerful brush stroke.

To create change you have to be bold and the results then speak for themselves. Korev has been carving out new interest and widening its appeal with a younger generation of drinkers. The brand grew by 14.4 per cent in 2017 when the redesign was launched (St Austells 2018 Company Statement).

3. The bucolic scene

Nothing is more evocative that the English countryside. And nothing is more relaxing than a summer’s day shaded under the canopy of an English orchard.

Thatcher’s keeps us dreaming of lazy days in Somerset orchards looking out over idyllic rolling countryside. Their ciders are borne of their surroundings at Myrtle Farm, nestled at the foot of the Mendip Hills and lovingly cared for by generations of Thatchers.

As designers when you are surrounded by such beauty the trick is not reinventing what already exists, but honing it to become an iconic reflection of a brand’s story. By adding subtle touches of craft we increased the strength and depth of taste within these golden orchards of Somerset. 

So often when telling a great story, it’s about focus; about less is more. Removing the unnecessary and focusing on the memorable details to help you stand out.

This story saw Thatchers Gold grow by +18 per cent in the on-trade and +32 per cent in the off-trade in 2015.

4. Celebrating our coast

It’s no easy thing growing a portfolio. Particularly when you branch out into new areas of expertise. But that is exactly what Adnams decided to do. Building an artisanal distillery next to their iconic brewery in the heart of the coastal town of Southwold.

Then came the all-important question of how to design, market and launch these ‘grain to bottle’ spirits. We wanted any new offer to be linked to Adnams’ roots, its links to the coast and the role that colour and imagery have played drawing in a loyal following. 

By creating a strong design look and feel that is rooted in a place you are able to grow a diverse range of products that all tie together. A platform for future innovation.

Any brand looking to expand its portfolio would do well to take a leaf out of Adnams’ book. It has provided a good bedrock for exciting new products with Wild Wave, their first craft cider, launching only last week.

So, with the nightmare of Brexit still weighing over us and no clear answer in sight, rest assured that whilst all around us is politics, flag waving and despair our regional brewers, vintners and distillers bring us hope. It is the stories that they capture through design that make them memorable and draw us to them. Luckily many of them recognise the importance of their regional heritage and we, their audience, have such diversity to admire and choose from.

Brexit might be delayed beyond 29 March, but not British summertime. Come 31 March the rural idyll that is the British countryside will once again spring to life and remind us of the iconic scenes captured on many labels, bottles and cans. Now I’ll drink to that!

Lee Cook is joint founder and creative director of CookChick. The independent creative team behind last year’s repositioning of Ridgeview Wines, the redesign of Wimbledon Brewery, 20 years of design at Adnams, the repositioning of St Austell’s Korev, ongoing NPD at Thatcher’s and many other renowned regional British drinks brands.

25 March 2019