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Monday, May 20, 2024

The fine art of green premium

Rachael Edwards explores the world of high-end, sustainable alcohol brands


We’re living in a world where people are more conscious about the way they consume. The appetite is still there for luxury and premium, but customers are now actively seeking sustainable brands, too. In fact, two thirds of consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

Similarly, investors look at environmental, social and governance numbers when evaluating a company’s ethical practices. They want to invest in companies that are making a true difference while also earning profits.

So, it begs the question, how can you create a premium alcohol brand with sustainability in mind?

For starters what constitutes ‘premium’ has transformed dramatically in the past decade. One of the easiest ways for designers to ‘premiumise’ a product used to be putting it into a fancy box. However, with ‘premium finishes’ like foiling and complex laminates being difficult to recycle, and with overpackaging being wasteful and unsustainable, we must get more creative and look further afield to premiumise.

Premiumisation has evolved. Brands need to create memorable experiences that tell a story to consumers.

On a similar front, it’s not enough for brands to just claim to be sustainable. There’s no time or tolerance for greenwashing. It’s not optional, or a nice to have.

As more legal restrictions are introduced and customers’ priorities shift, premium brands will have to drive sustainability forward if they want to survive, let alone thrive.

The myth that premiumisation and sustainability aren’t compatible, simply isn’t true.

Through thoughtful creativity and finding a solution that keeps the planet and customers happy, without skimping on the premium feel, alcohol brands can get the best of both worlds.

The importance of a premium, sustainable experience

As awareness of sustainability grows, alcohol brands are pivoting away from relying solely on fancy packaging to define themselves as premium. Instead, they are embracing a fully sustainable brand experience as the new marker of luxury and quality.

Having a positive sustainable experience plays a pivotal role in defining the essence of premium brands. Beyond the tangible aspects of a product or service, premium brands understand the impact of crafting a unique and memorable experience for their customers.

One way of doing this can be through an unforgettable in-person experience.

These experiences transcend the transactional nature of business to create emotional connections that resonate long after the purchase is made. And more and more premium alcohol brands are recognising this.

Johnnie Walker offers its ‘Journey of Flavour’ experience, which uses AI to tailor drink recommendations for customers, choosing from over a thousand combinations to pick a drink perfect for their palette. This provides a unique experience for each customer, and generates an opportunity to create memories, shared experiences, and social connection.

Johnnie Walker Princes Street is a Scotch whisky tourism hotspot in Edinburgh, offering a range of immersive experiences

This is all done with a sustainable touch too, with Johnnie Walker emphasising the sustainable sourcing of ingredients to ensure their whiskies are crafted with responsibly produced grains. Not to mention their commitment to reducing waste throughout the production process, implementing innovative recycling and reuse initiatives.

As has often been the case with wine and whisky, the more customers know about an alcoholic beverage, the more premium it feels. Through experiences like the ‘Journey of Flavour’, brands that utilise tech to help customers understand their product in a sustainable way establish a deeper connection with their consumers through a personalised experience, which in turns gives that premium feel.

This all stems from a change in mindset from consumers in recent years – that moments mean more than material things. Consequently, the key for brands is to be at the heart of these moments to create long lasting emotional connections with their consumers.

Stella Artois tapped into this mindset by creating pop up restaurants in New York, offering alfresco dining experiences combined with craft pizza to create an inclusive yet premium experience. These events and tastings that work to highlight a brand’s premium nature, alongside eco-friendly practices like organic ingredients or environmentally conscious production methods, contribute to a sense of authenticity and responsibility.

The impact of prioritising eco-friendly practices extends beyond physical experiences, however.

By introducing eco-friendly practices in production processes and packaging materials, brands not only reduce their environmental footprint but also resonate with a socially conscious consumer base. From using recycled materials for packaging to implementing carbon-neutral manufacturing practices, these initiatives not only align with consumer values but also elevate the brand’s image to one that cares about both the product and the planet.

In doing so, they create an immersive and authentic brand experience that extends beyond the bottle, fostering loyalty and differentiation in a competitive market.

Becoming a premium, sustainable alcohol brand is more than just a shiny box. It’s about creating a unique, memorable, and sustainable experience with each and every customer, whether that be through a physical, in-person event or a production process.

Share your story

Experiences play a pivotal role in sharing the story behind your brand. The narrative behind the creation and ethos of the brand serves as a bridge, allowing your customers to align their values with the product they choose.

By sharing the journey of crafting a premium sustainable alcohol brand, a deeper narrative of purpose and responsibility is created.

Black Cow vodka does this extremely well. It uses leftover whey from its cheese-making process to make its vodka. But rather than describing the whey as junk or waste, they use their website to describe its importance in a “secret distilling process” to create a sense of mystery.

Image: Black Cow Vodka

In this way, a sense of storytelling is vital in crafting a sustainable and premium brand. When people buy into the story behind a brand, provenance and sustainability go hand in hand. The brand’s story becomes an integral part of the product, fostering brand loyalty by offering consumers not just a drink, but a narrative that reflects shared values and a collective vision for a more sustainable and responsible future.

Consumers no longer like something just because of what it looks like. They remember experiences and how a brand makes them feel and need the story behind the brand and its purpose to feel a real connection.

By embracing the transformative potential of storytelling, brands embark on a journey where every purchase becomes a testament to a collective commitment; a commitment to premium experiences, sustainable practices and a future built on authenticity and purpose. So no longer being able to rely on a fancy box often brings with it more creativity and more enjoyable brand experiences for consumers, and what’s good for our planet can be good for everyone else too.

Rachael Edwards is the Design Director at Born Ugly



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