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Alcohol Brands

Your new alcoholic drink may be smooth, but launching it won’t be

By Richard Horwell, Brand Relations

The business of creating an alcoholic drink is not for the work shy, or anyone with very little time to spare. The sale of alcohol is far more restrictive in the UK than anywhere else in the world and yet it’s the most saturated market. Only one in ten new alcohol drinks business ventures will survive beyond two years, so here are a few tips for navigating what is an extremely difficult, fast paced, often fickle, long and hugely expensive path. 

Imitate and you’ll fail

I can’t stress enough how important it is to check out the market. Is your idea unique? Is there a need for it? If it isn’t unique, why would you expect to knock a competitor off the shelf to make way for your product? It’s not going to happen. You need to stand out from the crowd. The alcohol industry is dominated by a few big players who have vast teams, research facilities, influential connections, and the very deep pockets to fund it all. Most new alcohol brands don’t see any return on investment in the first 3-5 years – are you prepared for this journey?

Ask yourself if your product is the one your target audience will cross the road for, and don’t just limit your research to the UK: you need to think global. Any similar, well-established brands overseas will easily be able to blow you out of the water. Learn from mistakes as well as successes. If you know why something didn’t work, it might help you to avoid making the same mistake again.

Forget about selling to hospitality

Anyone who thinks they can sell direct to hospitality and make money is deluded. You will not make any money. They can do it cheaper and better themselves plus this area is dominated by the big brands that pay a fortune to be there.  If you do for some reason decide on the on-trade route, be prepared for long hours, cold calling into venues yourself, walking for miles with a heavy bag on the vague chance you’ll get to speak with someone. Stick to retail. It’s more honest. You still have a lot of hard work ahead of you, but by far the best way to build your brand is in retail. 

But don’t think you are going to set the world on fire with one idea. One drink is not a brand. You need at least another two or three ideas to take up space on the shelf. Consumers need to be able to see you and that won’t happen if you are tucked in between a whole load of other brands that dominate. If anyone came to me with an idea for one drink, I would send them away to think up some more.

Choose the product name wisely

Make sure the name you choose is relevant to your product, something memorable and simple is what you should be looking for and be careful about choosing anything that might be attractive to children with alcohol related products, or the Portman Group, established in 1989 to encourage responsible drinking, will hit you with a ton of bricks. 

With ninety per cent of the first sale dependent on branding it’s important to give your brand name some serious thought. And bear in mind, just because something makes your friends laugh doesn’t mean it is going to work. It has to be relevant. Research what the key attractions are to your target audience. Calories are high on the list of importance for consumers now so one good way of cutting down on sugar is to be a skinny version. Sustainability of packaging, brand provenance and a ‘background’ story are all important to the launch of a successful alcohol brand.

Don’t expect to get rich quick

Be prepared to be in it for the long run. Launching a product in the drinks industry is a long, slow journey. It is always the dream of a new brand to have an instant success, and there has been a lot of innovation over the past ten years where some small brands have indeed been snapped up by the big players. But while it can happen, it is rare, as most brands don’t stand out enough to make a real difference. It took me several years to get traction with my alcohol brand, without any income, but in the long run I sold it to a very wealthy Dutchman, making it all worthwhile. Make sure you’ve planned for a marathon not a sprint.


Richard Horwell is the owner of Brand Relations, a specialist food and drink marketing and

branding company based in London. Over the last 14 years, Brand Relations has been

behind the launch and development of over 100 brands in the UK. Richard has also built up

and sold companies of his own in the Food and Beverage sector. He has over 30 years’

experience in marketing FMCG brands around the world, having lived and worked in the UK,

USA, Australia and the Middle East.