20 Things You Should Know Before Starting An Alcohol Brand


20 Things You Should Know Before Starting An Alcohol Brand

A list of tips 20 tips to help new brands navigate the competitive world of craft alcohol production, distribution, and growth.

Starting your own alcohol brand can be one of the most rewarding and most challenging things you can do in your career.

As the co-founder of a vermouth brand that has had success across several European markets, I know the path isn’t always easy nor is it a straight line. That’s why I wanted to share a few points that I have learned from my experiences over the years to hopefully help other up and coming craft brands.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that this is not an exact recipe to follow, as in - we are not baking a cake - but rather, key concepts to internalize and then apply in your own way, for your own brand.

1. Prioritize passion

Pick a product and a brand story that you feel passionate and strongly about. Passion is not fun to fake. Your excitement is your best point of connection to others. Your brand isn’t just a logo and a product. It is a story, a cause, a way of connecting and sharing experience, a method, ingredients, and so much more. This is how you will connect with your customers. 

2. Conceptualize your future customers

As you conceptualize your brand and product, do the same for your future customers. Consider who may be the natural clients for your brand and the context of your products. 

Is your product meant to be used in cocktails, to drink on its own, for home use, for any bar or pub, or just high-end cocktail bars? Conduct market research and have an honest conversation with yourself about where your product may fit.

3. Decide how you want to differentiate your brand

How do people experience you? Your brand and products are the intersection of their story with the actual taste, look, feel of the product.  Have something that stands out and memorable, something that’ll stick in people’s mind. There are many brands out there, so it’s important to focus your messaging around something people can connect with.

4. Limit your complexity for production

As you start, limit your complexity for production. Of course, this depends on your budget, resources in general, and your specific product, but it is safe to say that limiting the issues you need to deal with will enable you to be stronger and excel in where you choose to direct your attention. In short, pick your battles! If something can go wrong, it’s safe to assume it will go wrong at some point!

5. Growth is a step by step process

Make sure your initial production method makes it possible for you to grow to your next set of objectives. Keep in mind that as you grow you can change and adapt. The journey from A to C passes through B. So it’s all good.

6. Trust your tongue

Test, test and taste your liquid. Get as much feedback as you can. And remember, people may want to be polite and please. Never release a product that you are not happy with its properties. 

7. Understand your production cycle

Keep in mind production length (from ordering of ingredients until products are ready to be poured into the bottle). This will give you the beat of your production cycles. Some businesses you work with may request a custom product variation from you, so it’s good to know if / how fast you can deliver.

8. Don’t get too discouraged by high production costs early on.

Production costs for small quantities may be painful, but remember, to get from A to C… B. Just don’t let it suck up all your budget.

9. Understand How Your Product Change Over Time

Some products may change with time, be sure to test your product in different conditions so you know what to expect (color changes, sediments, flavor and smell changes, and so on). If your product has a best before or expiration date, be sure to communicate that to your customers so they can have the best experience.

10. Custom packaging is an investment

For your packaging, consider the scale you want to start with, this may depend on your budget priorities. 

You may want to start with generic easy to find bottle sizes, and shape labels. If you choose to opt for a customized mold for your bottles, it can for sure add value. Usually the minimum product amount would be quite high so just be sure you have done the correct cashflow thinking on your end. It’s an investment.

11. You only have one change to make a first impression.

Style and preference aside, remember that you want your product to stand out and be memorable for others (universal mantra this). If a first time customer has a good (or bad) experience with your product, they are likely to assume all your other products and future products will be the same.

12. Different price points make for different clients.

Price points inherently define which customers you may have for your products. It’s a lock to the product, and only the customers with the right key can open it, for better or for worse. Choose wisely. 

13. Remember you can make yourself available to multiple audiences

If you’d like, consider releasing different editions at different price points. It may increase your client range, as well as add more character to your brand (bear in mind this can also distract and take away focus). 

14. No one will care about your product as much as you do

No one will care, love and push your brand as much as you will and should. It’s your baby, and while it may have many siblings, uncles and cousins, it remains your baby. Something to always keep in mind when dealing with distributors. 

15. “Distribution” is a word that can mean and cover a wise aspect of things.

But essentially it comes down to two main points: The first is making your product shoppable in the market. And the second is marketing and pushing for sales in the market.

16. Traditional distribution isn’t often the right for craft brands

Traditional distribution predates the craft and independent products revolution we see in the last 10-15 years, and all too often hasn’t adapted to accommodate craft brands well. Keep in mind that most big and successful distributors usually have large catalogues with other products that may compete with you. There are no gifts in this world (or very rarely).

Distributors often ask for budget towards marketing and sales from the brand, which will leave you paying into a system you’re not necessarily the designated priority winner. Keep an eye out. 

You may not be able to control the price point of the product, or have full transparency regarding clients and sales efforts. Be sure you choose your right partner. 

Distributors by definition act as a middle person, and traditional distributors often have a heavy operation structure that requires them to take a larger margin. All things to consider.

17. There are great solutions specifically for craft brands

Alternative to traditional distribution is the direct path. Working with solutions like Lexir, that offer Distribution as a Service. Brands can control their price and margins, and are the ones to direct budget and sales and marketing efforts. The upside is you get a better margin for your products, full transparency and your sales efforts and resources go directly to your brand as opposed to a middle person. The challenge here is to make sure you have the capacity and resources (financial and time) to grow. That being said, traditional distribution will also require such resources, as we said earlier, there’s no such thing as a free gift. 

18. Attention is the new currency

They used to say customers need to see your brand 3 times to remember it. In our day and age, with so much digital noise and so many brands out there, that number is probably 3 or 4 times that, so closer to 9-12 viewings. Raise awareness for yourself!

Not all awareness converts. But some will, and will generally help facilitate direct sales efforts. (If a potential customer hears about you before they get to taste the product it will for sure help!).

19. Find your path of least resistance 

Identify the path of least resistance for your products, where they fit most naturally. Whether by theme, origin, style, type, price points, taste, and so on. Look at growing layers, you lay down an initial layer in terms of client targets and product volume. The first layer will help the second layer spread better, stronger and quicker. 

20. It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Starting your brand can be immensely rewarding personally and professionally. And like all rewarding things, it’s challenging. It’s a process of self-discovery, interconnectivity, and ingenuity. Be passionate, be social, and be clever.

Good luck on your journey! We are rooting for you! 

Craft brands make for a more interesting world, one with more choices and identities. And often add that extra zest of love!