Innovating beyond flavours: Johnnie Walker pegs digitalisation, globalisation and sustainability as key post-Covid alcohol trends

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Johnnie Walker believes that post-COVID-19 innovation within the alcohol industry now needs to move beyond flavour variation. ©Getty Images
Johnnie Walker believes that post-COVID-19 innovation within the alcohol industry now needs to move beyond flavour variation. ©Getty Images

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Johnnie Walker believes that post-COVID-19 innovation within the alcohol industry now needs to move beyond flavour variation and to focus more on digitalisation, globalisation and sustainability aspects to satisfy consumer demands.

According to the Scotch whiskey heavyweight, although innovating with flavours has always been important to the firm, today the drinking experience has become just as important as the product for consumers and it is key to provide consumers with that.

“Pushing the boundaries of what is possible in whiskey [flavour innovation] has always been important for us, [but we know] it’s also important to say that innovation isn’t just about flavour, it is how people enjoy our whiskey and how we make it,”​ a Johnnie Walker spokeswoman told FoodNavigator-Asia​ via an email interview after the firm’s recent NFT launch event in Singapore.

“That means looking at and exploring how people experience our whisky but also being creative – [digitalisation is one aspect] and we’re looking at that via our NFTs, and another way we’re looking at this is also via our Johnnie Walker Princes Street [immersive experience] location.

“This is how we are combining digital and physical experiences to reach out to different audiences, [as] when we opened Johnnie Walker Princes Street, as much thought and effort was put into crafting the virtual experience as the physical one, [allowing us] to breathe new life into it with that sense of reimagining and reinventing.

The Johnnie Walker Princes Street experience centre in Edinburgh is an eight-storey building that contains several bars, a performance studio, a whiskey department store and more.

“In addition to digitalisation, international travel [has also been greatly missed] by many consumers and to provide that experience, we’ve just launched the Johnnie Walker Black Label Keep Walking Cities collection,”​ the firm added.

“This series comprises six limited edition Johnnie Walker Black Label bespoke bottles showcasing [six cities] across the world, including two from Asia – Bangkok and Delhi – via the specific designs.”

The other four highlighted cities are: Istanbul, Warsaw, Mexico City and Madrid

The firm has also taken great care to merge its innovation with sustainability, which it has identified as yet another major trend that alcohol consumers today are gravitating towards.

“Each bottle’s design has been created using an ink made from air pollution by recycling carbon emissions, [and this is an interesting way] to convey one of the ways we make our whisky more sustainable,”​ she added.

“We definitely want to be the most sustainable whiskey in the world, and apart from innovations like this we have also developed a paper-based bottle for our spirits that is made from sustainable wood pulp, made using renewable energy, and can simply be dropped into a regular paper recycling bin once the whiskey is finished.

“Johnnie Walker also aims for all of our whisky production to be net-zero carbon by 2030, and to use 100% renewable energy across all our direct operations by that as well. This is in addition to our 2025 goal for all Red Label and Black Label bottles to be made using at least 60% glass, all glass bottles to be made using at least 60% recycled content by 2030, and all plastic used for packaging or marketing to be made from 100% recycled plastic.”

Digitalisation and modernisation in the industry

Johnnie Walker has not been the only major alcohol brand to place strong emphasis on revamping its marketing strategies to focus on the experience and elements such as digitalisation – wine giant Penfolds has also been investing a good amount in this area, particularly in its concept of ‘phygital’ marketing​.

“An internal 2021 brand study showed us that for consumers to become aware of brands and make their retail purchases, retail visibility is very key in driving this awareness,”​ Y​odissen Mootoosamy, General Manager, Penfolds International (South East Asia, Japan, Korea, Europe & MEA) told FoodNavigator-Asia​ ​earlier this year.

“So we have focused on this from a few fronts, including integrating high-tech sensory upgrades to our displays to give consumers a ​‘phygital’ experience​​ when shopping for their wines, to establishing eye-catching pop-up stores, to making sure that the shelf displays are also able to drive category knowledge on the wines via digital methods so they know what they are looking at and looking to purchase.”

Penfolds is also keen to provide consumers with much more wine knowledge and education via these digital upgrades than is currently commonly available to them, in order to get them to make higher-value purchases.

“When a consumer has better knowledge of a wine, they will be more willing to look beyond the price tag and focus more on the variety of products available and [potentially more premium] variants that could offer higher quality,”​ he added.

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