On the 22nd of March, Signet attended the 2018 World Spirits Conference Europe in London. The World Spirits Conference is an annual trade event, that provides a range of international industry leaders with the opportunity to discuss and debate the commercial possibilities and challenges that the global spirit industry faces.
Signet has sponsored the event since 2009, which features experts in all sectors of the spirit industry; including marketing, production, design, sales, distilling and blending. As part of the event, many of these experts delivered detailed presentations and panel discussions on the key issues and elements of spirit commerce.
The World Spirits Conference began in 2005, designed to offer spirit industry leaders the opportunity to explore the issues and topics of the spirit business. It was previously called the World Whisky Conference, until it adapted to include other spirits. Through a variety of talks and appearances from well-known industry figures, the World Spirits Conference works to better the spirit commerce industry.
The event, which has developed considerably over more than a decade, increasingly integrates a variety of spirits that previously were not included, marking the advancements in the industry. This year alone the event has implemented a range of changes to the usual programme, to include discussion on the three key areas of the industry; distilling & blending, sales & marketing and design & packaging.
As one of the conference sponsors, Signet actively participates in the event – and has exhibited each year since 2013. We were thrilled to have a stand in the exhibition hall again this year, where we could meet and talk to the many attendees. We also supplied our lanyards, badge holders and bags for the event to give to guests, and we put a sample pack and some goodies in the bags too!
The conference began promptly at 8am on Thursday 22nd. Ian Lyon, our MD, Grant Lyon, from our Sales team, and Kirsty Goodenough, who heads up our Customer Care team, all headed to The Waldorf Hilton in London to help man our stand, and participate in the day’s events.
This year’s conference was a busy one, with more people streaming through the doors than usual – showing that the event is gaining traction year on year. Paragraph, who organise the event, even nearly ran out of the branded goodie bags that we provided!
Overall the conference was a great success, packed with interesting talks from some of the industry’s most prolific figures. To find out more about what we found to be the hottest topics at the conference, check out our key takeaways from this year’s event below.
The strength and importance of global travel retail (GTR) in the spirits sector was a hot topic at the conference. Cristina Carmueja from Diageo said that GTR is the second largest market for Diageo, who are the second largest players in the sectors – although GTR is a big market for everybody. While there are 6 million travellers going through airports at any one point, around 55% of those people don’t go in the shops. So, how do we engage with these travellers going through the airport?
Usually, these people are in the mood for buying, and they can be influential customers. Some may be regular travellers for business, but the majority are holiday making and exploring; the exploring spirit is something that brands can harness, and use to give customers a sense of retail adventure. Cristina said that we need to put the shopper at the centre of everything we do – which is a powerful message for spirit brands looking to target GTR buyers.
“When is the gin bubble going to burst?” was a key question at the event. The feeling generally was that the bubble will never burst – it may flatten, or plateau, but while the market is getting more saturated, and consumer interest is growing, there’s no sign of change any time soon.
Desmond Payne, master distiller for Beefeater Gin, who’s been distilling for 50 years, said that 50 years ago there were sometimes only 2 gins on offer in a bar. Last year we produced 51 million bottles in the UK, and 49 new distilleries opened, which highlights the growth of the market. He quoted that the recovery of gin isn’t just fashion – people want more choice, and they want to know more about what they’re drinking. Gin is set apart from other spirits because the greatness isn’t just down to the distiller, but also what’s done with it. Skill and flair of the mixologist is very important, as very few people drink gin on its own. Mixologists are affecting the taste of the gin greatly – which is an interesting prospect for gin distillers looking to monopolise on the market.
The need to communicate your brand with your audience is key, and that is done considerably through the use of packaging. The creative industry and agencies play a very important part in helping to create a strong brand story that consumers will want to connect with and buy into. We were reminded of the Spirits Summit in Edinburgh last November, when Ian McCulloch, MD of Silent Pool Distillers said: “Yes, the spirit has to be good so people come back. But it’s the packaging that gets it off the shelf to start with.”
We heard a great talk from Gary Doherty, Director & Co-Owner of Pocket Rocket Creative. He explained how they’d created a brand for a new gin, and how he drew on the geography of the distillery and the cultural values of the whole area, including landmarks and historical references. He used a reference to old Dutch roof tiles to influence the bottle being porcelain, not glass, and coloured the flagons to be white, with decorations from a small local flower. His talk showed that there was a strong narrative behind the brand and that it’s stories that people like – and stories that get the product off the shelf.
This message was further reinforced by a panel discussion on packaging, in which Paul Farmer OBE from Wade Ceramics spoke about the importance of sustainable and innovative packaging. His focus is on packaging that distinguishes the product, as well as being sustainable. This innovative and sustainable element, paired with storytelling, could prove a potent combination for brands looking to stand out in the saturated spirits industry.
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