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Celebrities set their sights on gin

Tequila has been boosted by a number of famous faces becoming involved with brands. Now gin is getting in on the act, with an increasing number of celebrities putting their names to expressions.

Actor Emma Watson launched a gin in May.
Actor Emma Watson launched a gin in May

When a celebrity enters the spirits sector, there are often questions about the authenticity of the product, with some facing criticism for their involvement and marketing. Model Kendall Jenner was accused of cultural appropriation in the promotion of her 818 Tequila, while singer Jennifer Lopez recently faced backlash for launching ready-to-drink (RTD) Spritz brand Delola, as she is known for her sobriety.

In earlier years, celebrities would become involved in spirits by staring out of adverts or acting as a ‘brand ambassador’, but now more famous names are involved in the actual creation of their own products. Tequila has seen a swathe of stars join the category, and now it seems gin is following suit.

This year has been busy for the gin sector with three celebrities joining the category. First came Harry Potter star Emma Watson and her brother, Alex Watson, who launched the Chablis-inspired gin Renais made using grapes from the family vineyard. This was followed by another French gin, The Gardener, from Brad Pitt and his long-time winemaking partner, the Perrin family. Hollywood star Margot Robbie also jumped into juniper spirits with Papa Salt, made using botanicals from her homeland, Australia.

Volume growth

Globally, last year gin’s total volume grew by 8%, and is predicted to increase by 3% over the next five years, according to data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. In the UK, gin sales fell by 12%, and are predicted to reduce by a 6% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2022 to 2027, while the category has “lost momentum” in many growth markets such as Brazil, South Africa, and Australia, IWSR said.

With gin’s growth slowing in recent years as categories such as Tequila and RTDs soar, could famous names coming on board help it boom in the same way their involvement has helped agave spirits?

“I’m hopeful it will keep gin front of mind,” says Pal Gleed, director of The Gin Guild, of the famous names getting involved. “It could reinvigorate the category and give it an extra boost. Celeb endorsements have also helped, as long as there’s a credible connection. If you can’t go and have a drink with someone [famous], drinking their gin is like the next big thing. There’s an aspirational connection to someone you admire.”

Jose Luis Hermoso, research director, IWSR, says: “Celebrity investment in Tequila adds additional buzz to an already trending category. These brands are also seeing investment from multinationals, giving them the infrastructure to scale. For gin to reach the similar levels of success as Tequila, brand owners will need to focus on product innovation and driving consumer connection and excitement.”

Actor Ryan Reynolds became a shareholder of Aviation Gin in 2018

Spiros Malandrakis, Euromonitor International’s head of research – alcoholic drinks, pointed to Aviation Gin as a successful example of a celebrity-backed gin. The brand, which was part-owned by actor Ryan Reynolds, was sold to Diageo in a deal worth up to US$610 million (£466m) in 2020. It became the second celebrity-backed brand in recent years to be acquired by Diageo, following the purchase of George Clooney’s Casamigos Tequila in 2017. Deadpool actor Reynolds is often featured in tongue-in-cheek marketing campaigns for the brand.

“Ryan has, and continues to be, incredibly involved in Aviation Gin,” says Christina Choi, senior vice-president, Diageo North America for rum, Tequila and gin. “His passion for the brand and its distinct character is shown in Aviation Gin’s unique marketing and tone of voice. The exposure that Ryan brings to Aviation Gin, combined with our award-winning, American-style blend of botanicals brings consumers back and drives sales.”

Choi says Aviation “continues to disrupt, with humorous and culturally relevant activations and promotions”, including a spoof-airline safety video to promote a new partnership with British Airways, and a “cheeky” jewellery collaboration with English actor Jane Seymour.

Unique approach

Malandrakis says the “ironic approach” to Aviation’s marketing is “extremely unique” and separates it from other brands, noting that other players need to be “more approachable” as opposed to being too serious. Malandrakis believes celebrity-backed brands should follow Aviation and use their star’s personality and influence to help expand their audience base.

Choi says since Diageo’s acquisition of the brand, Aviation Gin has reported “significant growth”. Citing IWSR 2022 figures, it has grown by 38% in volume from 2020 to 2022. “Premiumisation trends and a dynamic ultra-premium segment are driving the momentum of gin,” she explains. “Aviation established a new, American-style of gin, producing a medley of botanical flavours that is less juniper-forward. It was created to be balanced and smooth to complement any cocktail, or even fly solo.”
In 2019, Aviation made a multi-million-pound investment in the UK, where it is distributed by Proof Drinks. According to Proof Drinks, sales of the brand rose by 32% on Amazon for the 2021/2022 full year. It is also sold in major UK supermarkets.

“Aviation has had strong growth year over year in the UK and is available at Tesco, Morrisons, and on Amazon’s homepage, with a focus on driving e-commerce,” Choi says. “Ryan has a strong presence in the UK market as the owner of [Welsh football club] Wrexham AFC, and we are working with him to build awareness of the brand in the market as an investor and also as a key sponsor for the team.”

Aviation has performed particularly well in its native US, and has no doubt been boosted by its Hollywood partner. For the past two years, Aviation Gin has held a 9% share of the gin category on US on-demand alcohol delivery platform Drizly. Aviation is the number-three-selling gin brand as of January 2023 on Drizly’s platform.

Crack the market

The US had an 11% volume share of the global gin category in 2022, IWSR data showed. Volume growth in the market fell by 1% last year, and is expected to be stagnant over the next five years (CAGR 2022-2027), but gin brands are still keen to crack the country. Malandrakis notes that gin is advanced in large Western markets, where there is a higher level of maturity, particularly the UK. He adds there is “some way to go in US” with momentum in the “prestige and ultra-premium segments”.

Renais is positioning itself in the super-premium and luxury segment, according to Alex Watson. “That part of the category has seen massive growth in recent years. There’s been an enormous amount of innovation in gin, but we’re just starting to see the best iterations of what the luxury super-premium gin sector looks like.”
Having an authentic story behind a brand is key to becoming successful and ensuring difference in a crowded category such as gin. Malandrakis points to “roots of authenticity” such as the use of Australian botanicals for Robbie’s Papa Salt gin, and the Watson family’s wine-making history.

The Watson siblings’ Renais gin was inspired by childhood trips to the family’s vineyard, Domaine Watson, in Chablis, France, which their father has operated for more than 30 years. Renais’ base spirit is made with ‘up-cycled’ grapes – by-products from the vineyard’s wine-making process – which are distilled in small batches. Watson is quick to note that his sister has “always been involved in the project”, and says the family’s winemaking business is a “big part of Emma’s identity”. She, like Alex, was born in Paris.

Alex says all the creative for Renais has been directed by Emma, and shot by her team. Emma has also pushed for the brand to be sustainable, he says, such as the gin’s use of biodegradable mushroom packaging from the Magical Mushroom Company.

Renais gin was a “deeply personal project” for Alex, who previously worked as on-trade customer-marketing manager for Diageo. The creation of the gin was a lifelong dream, and the liquid was in development for around 18 months. Talking about why he chose to make gin, he says: “The flavour profile I wanted to recreate was better suited to gin in terms of the depth and complexity of the liquid. I also think consumers are more adjusted to complex flavours in gin. Selfishly, I wanted to make something I wanted to drink, and the family are big G&T drinkers.”

But Watson hasn’t ruled out a move into other spirits under the Renais brand, and is also looking into making limited edition gins under the label.

As to what makes the gin stand out, he says there “aren’t very many grape-based gins that are paying specific tribute to a winemaking region”.

Renais is distilled in the north of England using ingredients imported from France, mainly coming from the Chablis region. “We need to upscale our production, which is a nice problem to have,” Watson says. “We’ve set ourselves up in a way that if we need to scale, we can do that.”

The Gardener Gin is a collaboration between actor Brad Pitt and Matthieu Perrin

The French-wine connection is also shared with fellow celebrity-backed brand The Gardener Gin, a collaboration between Fight Club star Brad Pitt, former Tanqueray master distiller Tom Nichol, and the Perrin family, a leading winemaker in the south of France. The gin was in development for two to two-and-a-half years, and made its debut during May’s Cannes film festival.

Pitt previously worked with the Perrin family, owner of Château de Beaucastel in the Southern Rhône, on the launch of rosé Champagne brand Fleur de Miraval. Pitt and the Perrins decided to create a spirit that conveyed the “light, aromas and flavours” of the French Riviera. Distilled in Cognac, France, the gin’s botanicals are sourced from St Tropez, Cannes, and Nice, including sweet and bitter oranges from Cap d’Antibes. Co-founder Matthieu Perrin explained that the meeting with Nichol, who has more than 40 years of experience in gin, was by chance. Perrin says Nichol came out of retirement to work on creating The Gardener. With Nichol behind the gin, there is “some real credibility” to the brand, adds The Gin Guild’s Gleed. The Gardener Gin will launch in 50 markets, including the UK, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland and Australia.

“The US is big for us,” says Perrin, who has now relocated there to predominantly work on the gin, which will make its debut in September in seven states. “Gin is one of the biggest spirits in Europe. In the US, it’s a very small category.” Perrin says his family’s company will create an import arm in the US to support the brand’s launch.

On target

Pitt was involved in the look of the product, according to Perrin, with the actor working with design agency Stranger & Stranger to create the bottle. Perrin is targeting France with the gin, particularly the south, as well as high-end hotels and cocktail bars. Watson has similar aspirations for Renais, which has already secured a listing at Scarfes bar at the five-star Rosewood London hotel. Last month, it served two specially-created cocktails using Renais.

Other names to create a gin in recent years include opera singer Katherine Jenkins, Snoop Dogg, and film director Paul Feig. Meanwhile, in 2021 English singer-songwriter Jack Savoretti invested in Italian brand Portofino Dry Gin. Collaborative gins are also being created by the likes of Gordon Ramsay, who joined forces with Scottish distiller Eden Mill, plus Edinburgh Gin worked with comedian Eddie Izzard in June 2023, and Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge in 2021.

The latter gins were part of the brand’s Edinburgh Gin Presents initiative, a partnership with its home city’s Festival Fringe. All profits from the sale of the collaborative gins are given to support artists who want to perform at the festival.

“Both Eddie and Phoebe were very involved in the creation of their respective limited edition Edinburgh Gin expressions,” said Karen Crowley, brand director of Edinburgh Gin. “Phoebe designed her bottle, filling the label with hidden details to create a dream-like bottle that captured the wonder of her Fleabag experience – and the legendary role of Edinburgh in making it all happen, while Eddie worked with our team to create an entirely new liquid, infusing Edinburgh Gin’s classic blend with additional botanicals, the initial letters of which spell out a sentimental guiding word for Eddie; ‘Believe’.”

However, Malandrakis warns that celebrity collaborations do not always work, pointing to Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs’ recent lawsuit against Diageo. The rapper accused the company of racial discrimination in its handling of their jointly owned brand DeLeón Tequila.

In comparison with Tequila, which can only be made in Mexico, Malandrakis believes gin benefits from its ability to be made anywhere. “Agave could be a major problem,” he explains. “There’s a seven-year cycle of growth. Tequila producers are worrying a lot. It’s a major headwind in its expansion in the next few years. Juniper is not difficult to produce. The global potential for differentiation in gin can provide growth for the category.”

Ask the experts

Celebrities have become involved in creating gin in recent times. Do you expect the category to enjoy the same boom that Tequila has enjoyed?

Matt Ashton-Melia – managing director, Charter Brands: “Gin doesn’t need to appeal to the masses, that job has already been done. Instead, we’re noticing celebrities focus on personal territory, and what’s important to them. For example, Emma Watson’s Renais gin uses grape skins sourced from the family’s vineyard, Katherine Jenkins’ Cygnet 22 gin is made less than six miles away from her home town, and Papa Salt Coastal Gin was created by Margot Robbie, her husband and three friends as a homage to relaxing beach days Down Under. They’re all leveraging a sense of self and using this to connect to the consumer.”

Alexandra Alfaro – marketing director, Guatemalan Spirits: “We have seen a vast number of new brands coming into the category in recent years, as well as heightened innovation from the most established brands. I believe the ‘boom’ it is enjoying relates to how innovative the category can be. The beauty of gin is the flexibility it provides as a liquid, giving it ample space to innovate not only in flavours, but colours, aromas, elaboration processes, and, of course, as a base for other categories, such as RTDs.”

Arturo Illan – global brand manager, Martin Miller’s Gin: “There is no doubt that these frequent launches indicate that celebrities’ financial advisors foresee a highly favourable forecast in the premium-and-above gin category in the US. It is challenging to predict a boom in the category in North America, as we have seen with Tequila, but celebrity endorsement contributes to improved recognition and interest in the gin category, which is traditionally European. But it remains relatively small there compared with other spirits categories in this vast market. This exposure can present a significant penetration opportunity for smaller brands since it will inevitably attract a curious consumer.”

Eric Sampers – global marketing director, Brockmans Gin: “Gin has already enjoyed an international boom with the explosion of craft distilleries globally, but celebrities could have the same impact as they did for Tequila in the US where they helped propel the category and further draw the attention of mainstream consumers to it. That is, if the celebrity and gin partnership is done well. Gin consumers have become particularly discerning when it comes to picking their brands, and they will analyse how credible a brand and celebrity match is, so it is important that the brand and celebrity align on a credible joint purpose for the venture to be successful.”

Jon Hillgren – founder and master distiller, Hernö Gin: “The celebrity gins will help put even more focus on the category, and there will probably be a couple of them booming big time. But the market is otherwise different than the one for Tequila, with a lot more brands and products.”

Chris Egger – chief marketing officer and co-founder, Portofino Dry Gin: “The involvement of celebrities in the gin industry brings attention and visibility, and generates curiosity and excitement among consumers. Besides this trend, the gin appreciation is growing and has seen a surge in popularity driven by factors such as the rise of premium and ultra-premium brands, the emergence of new flavour profiles, and the increasing interest in artisanal spirits. Time will tell how the gin category will evolve, and whether it will experience a similar boom as Tequila. To contribute towards this, producers need to focus on distillate quality, innovation, and strategic marketing efforts.”

In a category as saturated as gin, how are you ensuring your brand stands out on shelves and online?

Matt Jones – co-founder and brand director, Four Pillars Gin: “Every brand has to commit to the one thing it wants to stand for, and how it’s going to do it. At Four Pillars our ‘one thing’ is Australian flavour. We think Australia is the best place on earth to make gin, so our focus is on celebrating the place we come from and the craft that goes into turning the world’s most delicious place into the world’s most delicious range of contemporary gins. We are focused solely on gin, and every day we innovate, experiment, collaborate, and look to share the results with great joy and even greater drinks.”

Akiko Miyama – marketing manager, The Kyoto Distillery: “There is no gin that speaks about where it’s produced like ours, which represents the beauty and tradition of Kyoto and its craftsmanship. We think our target audience appreciates the passion we have for gin making, and our focus on quality.”

Jordi Sahis – marketing director, Beveland Distillers: “We employ key strategies. We craft a unique brand story, offering a rich range of gins that deliver unique experiences with innovative flavours and authentic Indian ingredients. Through an engaging online presence, we connect with our target audience, and collaborate with influencers. Emphasising sustainability and ethical practices, we have an aggressive corporate social responsibility programme. These tactics allow us to differentiate Jodhpur Gin and foster loyalty in the highly competitive gin market.”

Chris Egger – CMO and co-founder, Portofino Dry Gin: “We believe that some of the things that characterise Portofino Dry Gin’s success are the combination of a unique brand identity and authentic storytelling that originate from our passion for Portofino and the Italian Riviera. Emphasising our brand’s heritage, craftsmanship, and distinct flavour profile sets it apart from competitors and appeals to gin enthusiasts looking for a premium experience. In addition, its eye-catching packaging helps stand out on shelves, and attracting attention from potential customers. Collaborating with other brands in different industries that share the same values and lifestyle not only expands the reach of Portofino Dry Gin but also creates unique and memorable experiences.”

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