Patience Gould on the last great innovation

on 26 April, 2013

Former Drinks International editor Patience Gould looks at the wacky world of flavoured drinks as Baileys nears 40


It’s hard to comprehend, but Baileys Irish Cream – arguably the last and greatest innovation in the liqueurs category, if not the alcoholic drinks market per se – will be 40 years old next year. Of course there have been many reincarnations since its debut in Dublin back in 1974. Aside from ongoing packaging tweaks behind the scenes a lot of work had to be done on the production side of things to ensure its shelf life for starters and its emulsification – oh what a technocrat me!

Well I do remember going round the Baileys plant in a press posse and when a technician, on trying to explain the intricacies of one vital piece of equipment, was confronted by 10 uncomprehending faces, she quickly explained that it was the equivalent of more than 50 elephants bouncing up and down in unison. “Ah,” we all gratefully murmured, “that explains it.” 

But whether it’s your preferred tipple or a special treat on high days and holidays, Baileys is the stuff of legend. Aside from its monumental annual case tally, which was easing its way to the 8 million mark at its peak in 2007 (Drinks International Millionaires’ Club), it has spawned a melting pot of a category that is cream liqueurs. Interestingly too, line extensions came late into the Baileys lexicon which further underlines the giant and growing status of the brand. 

Indeed it was 30 years old when something akin to an alcopop, Baileys Glide, made a faintly inglorious debut – it was discontinued two years later in 2005. No, the first serious line extensions came to the fore in 2005 – Mint Chocolate and Crème Caramel. Other variants have since followed suit, the latest being Biscotti, Hazelnut and Orange Truffle – more are no doubt in the pipeline.

All of which begs the question: Will we ever see the like of Baileys again? Well, considering it is 40 years since its launch and nothing else in terms of real innovation has made it to the shelves since, the answer has to be a resounding “No”.  

It says a lot about the industry though, doesn’t it? Of course the costs of new product development are prohibitive, ergo the costs of failure even more so and, with the consolidation the industry has endured, NPD as it was, merely seems to be confined to the likes of adding flavours, particularly when it comes to vodka, and in the main line extensions. 

Consider the latest currently on trial in the US, courtesy of the Pernod Ricard-owned Polish vodka house Wyborowa – please  welcome Oddka Vodka Original along with five off-the-wall flavours: Electricity, Wasabi, Apple Pie, Salty Caramel Popcorn and Fresh Cut Grass. Apparently the flavours are all borne from molecular mixology by the well-known inventor Wit Oddoski.  

 “Oddka was created for the individual who seeks brands that are confident, expressive and challenge the norms, just like they do,” says Maxime Kouchnir, vice president, Pernod Ricard USA. “We are excited about the initial release of Oddka in select states and sharing our curious approach with these individuals and provoking their senses.” 

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