TRBusiness flew to Edinburgh to discover more about Edinburgh Gin’s game changing new distillery, upcoming flavour combinations and brand building move into airport executive lounges with Plaza Premium Group. Plus, we take a look at what to expect from the wider Ian Macleod Distillers portfolio in Cannes.
It’s a time of important change for Edinburgh Gin. The company was purchased by Ian Macleod Distillers (IMD) in 2016 and has already been ranked the number one brand within the UK’s travel retail super premium gin category*. Today, it’s counting down the days until its new state-of-the-art distillery and visitor centre opens in the heart of Scotland’s capital city in October 2023.
The new facility will merge the operations of its current two small distilleries into one. Not only does it look incredible (the landmark building is integrated around the historic arches of the old town), but it will offer the company a game changing opportunity to treble its production to approximately three million bottles per year.
It’s a significant step change for the brand, but a necessary one considering the rate at which it is developing.
In August, Edinburgh Gin teamed up with Plaza Premium Group to launch a new 700 sq m airside executive lounge at Edinburgh Airport featuring an Art Deco Edinburgh Gin bar as the centrepiece. Hosted by knowledgeable staff, it offers the widest range of Edinburgh Gin serves available in any on-trade setting, including three exclusive signature cocktails created for the venue.
It also stocks a wide range of IMD’s products, including Glengoyne Highland Single Malt, Tamdhu Speyside Single Malt, Smokehead Islay Single Malt, Langs Rum, Pig’s Nose blended scotch, Isle of Skye aged blended scotch and King Robert II whiskies, rums and vodkas. It’s a fantastic showcase, with the 195-capacity lounge open daily for all travellers regardless of airline or class of travel, also without pre-booking.
Further to this, the company is riding high on the back of its extensive airport activation campaign with Dufry in the UK and across Europe this summer and autumn, as previously reported.
The high-impact installations in the World Duty Free stores at London Stansted Airport and Heathrow Terminal 5 featured tasting bars, expert guidance from trained promoters and eye-catching imagery – all with a focus on flavour.
As well as showcasing brand, it provides a snapshot of how gin is bringing vibrancy to the spirits category.
“Gin brands have been very clever in terms of their image and some really stand out packaging has come through and some interesting flavours,” said Ian Macleod Distillers’ Global Travel Retail Director, William Ovens when we sat down with him at Edinburgh Airport’s Plaza Premium Lounge in September.
Edinburgh Gin enjoys a close relationship with Dufry.
“We work very well together in terms of spirit of collaboration – we invest in visibility and activation to build the brands, as we know this environment is a great place for people to taste and experience them,” said Ovens. “We know that consumers often buy brands for the first time or see them for the first time in travel retail – hence the reason for investment. Dufry provides fantastic showcases for the brands, so we have really been building that over the years – the presence and footprint.”
On top of having a comprehensive coverage of UK travel retail via Dufry, Edinburgh Gin is available through the retailer in Europe in airports in Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.
The relationship has flourished since its first exclusive flavour, Watermelon & Lime, was brought to market in May 2019. Another Dufry exclusive flavour, Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn, was introduced earlier this year.
They’re part of the 10-strong global travel retail range, which includes the Classic London Dry Gin, Seaside Edinburgh Gin, the other flavours and gin liqueurs. While each has its places, the unique flavour combinations especially have been a runaway success, with its Rhubarb & Ginger creation especially sought after. It was sold out when we passed through Edinburgh Airport.
Plus, there is a brand new flavour to come in January 2023: Orange & Basil.
On scope for the TREX flavours transitioning into the domestic market in the future Ovens said: “We want to keep newness in Dufry so we’ve committed to develop exclusives with them on an ongoing basis so there will be a rotation where, after an exclusive period, they will also potentially go into other travel retail locations and domestically.
“It’s a great seeding opportunity. If a product is getting traction, it gives us added confidence to take it onto the domestic market.”
Edinburgh Gin has another window to the world through IMD, which supplies ‘all the main travel retail operators, with the exception of the Americas’, according to Ovens.
Navigating the gin boom
The gin market has become increasingly competitive following the boom in 2009 when UK law was changed to allow alcohol to be distilled in small batches, giving rise to numerous craft (small batch) distilleries. Edinburgh Gin launched in 2010 and, just one year later, became the first brand to introduce flavour to the category with its Rhubarb & Ginger flavour.
“There was an explosion of local and regional gins but there has been a rationalisation,” explained Ovens. “By their very nature, the retailers will find out which brands have traction and momentum of scale. You are now finding the brands that have the highest equity and sales there, with the best international brands plus the very best of the local and regional brands.”
The one litres bottles are the focus for travel retail, offering consumers a sizeable price saving of 30-50%. The gin liqueurs are a standard 50cl size and selected 75cl bottles are only available for intra-UK sales.
Edinburgh Gin plans most of its activations in the summer, but there will be more to come in autumn and winter to capitalise on the bounce back in traveller numbers although, Ovens says, perhaps not to the scale of the most recent HPPs with Dufry.
In terms of what the future hold, Ovens points to international expansion.
“There will be a widening of the distribution of Edinburgh Gin and a broadening of the range,” he said. “That is the focus in the UK and Europe.”
More collaborations on airport executive lounges could also be on the cards.
“I don’t think it’s a one-off,” says Ovens. “We are in conversations with Plaza Premium Group about extending the relationship beyond here. We have had evidence already of people tasting the gins in the lounge and then buying them in the shop. Even if they aren’t buying in the shop, it is good for our brands as it’s a quality experience. It’s hard to get that even in the domestic environment.”
Edinburgh Gin is set to reveal a new brand ambassador soon. This will build on the success of its ongoing collaboration with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, which delivered worldwide reach of 1.6 billion consumers.
Add to this that the entire range will be having a design refresh, which will be rolled out from market to market in autumn 2023.
Ian Macleod Distillers portfolio growth
Looking to the wider IMD portfolio, Asia is a key market for the malts.
“With our new regional director, there we have really been extending the presence of four brands and it’s about making sure distribution works really well and we get the visibility,” said Ovens. “So we have had a step change of the business in Asia and we’ll be working with the partners there to make a success of the new listings.
“King Robert II is really driving this forward. It has such great credentials. But we have kind of been holding back until we completed the refresh and had the new NPD. Now we have both of these we can really take it forward as it’s a really good high-quality product with a value proposition and it’s one of the few brands that spans whisky, gin and rum, so we are looking at mix and match and multi-buy deals.”
You can read more about the King Robert II brand refresh and three new blends (including the GTR exclusive King Robert II 8 Years Old), in our previous report.
IMD is set to make a string of announcements across its three spirits categories (gin, malt whisky and blended whisky) at its new, larger stand the TFWA World Exhibition & Conference in Cannes (Red Village K22), which opened for registration today.
On top of the new Orange & Basil flavour Edinburgh Gin, which is being showcased alongside the other full-strength gins and gin liqueurs, the malt’s portfolio is taking a turn in the spotlight with the launch of the new Shieldaig American Oak Reserve. A new triple cask matured expression, it is described as an ‘accessible and affordable Highland Single Malt’.
Another key addition is The Six Isles, a blended malt combining single malts from the six key whisky-producing islands, Skye, Arran, Mull, Islay, Orkney and Jura.
Further to this, an exciting development is the launch of a completely new brand: The White Cask. The Speyside Single Malt Scotch whisky is pitched as a contemporary, accessibly priced malt (RRSP £39) that will be available from February next year and will be exclusive to the travel retail channel for two years.
The flavour-led expression is matured in specially selected white oak bourbon barrels and offers features vanilla, honey, citrus and apple notes and can be enjoyed long or short, straight or mixed.
“The White Cask is a new disruptive Scotch whisky which brings something unique to the category and complements our portfolio perfectly,” said Ovens. “The White Cask is one of the few malts which appeals to the younger and more contemporary audience. The travel retail market is the perfect environment for us to seed the brand for a future domestic launch.”
IMD’s range of single malts, including Glengoyne Highland Single Malt, Tamdhu Speyside Single Malt, Smokehead Islay Single Malt and Rosebank Lowland Single Malt will also be on display.
“Travel retail remains highly strategic for Ian Macleod Distillers as is demonstrated by our many channel-specific innovations created for 2023,” said Ovens. “We look forward to reconnecting with our customers, forging new relationships and celebrating the return in traveller numbers and improving fortunes for the channel.”
*Source: IRI Mar 22 Value sales/Brand Edge Dec 21 n. 2000 premium gin consumers.