Frozen in time

10 May, 2018

Steeped in history, the bitters category is also steeped in confusion for many consumers – but history and authenticity are on its side. Angel Brown reports

THE CATEGORY OF HERBAL BITTERS is a sort of time capsule – a cache of history often imbued with religion and mythology. The recipes of these elixirs have generally been passed down through the generations and are still closely-guarded family or monastic secrets. With such heritage and authenticity, this is a category that can connect with consumers.

The Megatrend Analysis from market research provider Euromonitor International looks at how consumers are gravitating towards ‘authenticity’: “As consumers become more price conscious and mistrust brands and products more, there is a movement toward more ‘authentic’ products, complete with back-stories and workers/makers with faces, as well as to homegrown, homemade and other ‘root’ initiatives founded in tradition, trust, and nostalgia.

“There are also anti-big brand dynamics within this trend (eg anti-large-scale agriculture). Consumers are increasingly demanding local and personalised options that extend beyond the typical big brand offerings.”

History is a valuable asset in today’s consumer world. Look no further than the vintage or thrift trend in the US, which has been championed by millennials. These trends do not happen in isolation – the same consumer who buys vintage furniture and clothing is also likely to seek out alcohol brands with heritage. It is more probable that consumers will buy into something when nostalgia is used as an emotional hook. As the digital age becomes more impersonal, the modern consumer searches for individuality and optimism, looking to the past is a solid foundation for inspiration.

Having history is one thing, but presenting it in a way that connects to modern consumers is another. Kevin Shaw, founder and chief executive of branding experts Stranger & Stranger, deals with design requests from historic brands on a regular basis. “It’s great if a brand comes with some heritage, it makes our lives a lot easier, but quite often the task is more about actually uncovering the heritage.

“A lot of real heritage was painted over in the modernist latter part of the 20th century, so you end up going right back in order to go forward again in a more authentic direction. The trick is to keep digging until you discover something that feels real, something rooted in truth and history, and ideally unique.

“The founders of a brand, or the ones who made it what it is today, had the original vision and pioneering spirit and we think they should have our respect. We’re old-fashioned that way. We started doing this a long time ago but the heritage look became trendy in the past few years and now there’s a lot of ‘fake old’ out there – sometimes it even fools me. You have to look past all the filigree until you discover something like ‘EST 2002’.

“The trick really is to make the heritage brand current and relevant, not only with subtle updates but also modern twists on the old assets. You only have to look at great heritage brands such as Levi’s to see how nods to the past can be incorporated into contemporary communications.”

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