Peter Marshall (PM): Ian, it’s always good to feature a new product for the travel retail sector that encompasses smart tech as well as provides a unique experience for travellers. Smart Spirits does just that. As I understand it, your strategy is to do nothing less than shake up and redefine the drinks category. Too big a gambit?
Ian Smart (IS): Not at all, Peter. The alcohol industry has lost its ability to innovate. Almost every spirits company focuses only on delivering a variant of something that already exists – a new flavour, a new expression, a new label or bottle. But there is nothing new in this approach. Spirits companies define success in 9 litre cases.
Smart Spirits is the innovation for everyone. For a long time the spirits industry has focused on premiumisation, which in reality translates into exclusiveness – to existing in a bubble or worthiness and self-satisfaction. Smart Spirits is inclusive and puts the customer front and centre, as ordinary people also want to be included and not excluded from the conversation.
It’s our view that Smart Spirits redefines the industry by giving the consumer choice, convenience and control, so allowing them three key things. To choose a drink from a wide selection of flavours made with natural and nature identical ingredients, to decide on the level of alcohol from 0% to 40% per pour, and the convenience of enjoying the tastes of the world with one bottle of alcohol, not 30.
All these things at the touch of a button on the dispenser or on their smartphone.
Ian Smart, co-founder of Smart Spirits, believes that the alcohol industry has lost its ability to innovate
PM: So how does it work in practice?
IS: Smart Spirits is a system that uses high quality alcohol made with the finest grains in the heartland of vodka making in Eastern Europe and through the dispenser mixes this with the consumer’s chosen flavour in a pod. The dispenser also allows the consumer to control the level of alcohol and even have a non-alcoholic pour with the same great taste. Smart Spirits actually offers more than 30 flavours of the world’s best-loved spirits.
PM: In travel retail today, theatre is key. I can see that this product can easily be applied to other sectors – airlines, hotels, cruise lines and, of course, in-home. Whatever the destination, its very personalisation will add to the experience.
IS: Yes, as I said, there is already a lot of personal experience for the consumer in that they can choose from 30 different flavours as well as the level of alcohol, if any, that they may want for their drink. With the Smart Spirit app they will also be able to interact in a more detailed way with the system and learn about easy-to-make cocktails using Smart Spirits. For example, a Smart Spirits White Russian with or without alcohol tastes equally great.
When consumers mix their favourite drink, for example bourbon with a cola, are they really only interested in ‘adding alcohol’ to the cola or does the taste actually matter? After all, vodka, rum or gin would arguably be just as good if the consumer only wanted to add alcohol. Clearly that is not why consumers choose one drink over another to mix with cola. It’s because the consumer likes the taste of their bourbon and cola or their rum and cola. Smart Spirits starts with this premise that consumer preference is all about taste. We provide the flavour without alcohol and the consumer then has the option to add it in if they so wish. Simply put, it is the consumer that is in control of how they enjoy their favourite tastes – with or without alcohol.
PM: So what can we look forward to?
IS: In the future there will also be flavour innovations as well as dispensing innovations – these are already in the pipeline. Both will add to the theatre of the Smart Spirits Dispensing system. The plethora of new and flavoured gins on the market today, just as with vodka flavours in years past, clearly reflect the consumer’s preference for flavoured drinks. However, the traditional industry only understands innovation in the narrowest sense. They choose the flavour, they decide on the alcohol content and they sell you a bottle. The consumer’s only choice is reactive. Do I buy or not? With Smart Spirits, the consumer is front and centre because the system offers a range of flavours to the consumer as well as control over the level of alcohol. It’s the consumer who is now in the position to create new experiences and adventurous tastes.
The consumer is in control using the Smart Spirits dispensing system
PM: So do you see this as complementary to the category or as a direct competitor?
IS: It is complementary to the category as Smart Spirits is a real innovation that can attract new LDA’s to the category. But there’s more. Smart Spirits can attract a whole new group of consumers who want to enjoy the taste of their drinks of choice without alcohol, or with a reduced level of alcohol. Smart Spirits is unashamedly inclusive. Our flavours and our Smart Spirits system give the consumer a chance to explore a world of flavours without worrying about marketing nonsense about ‘the only way to drink this is this’…
PM: Might it also open the doors to you bringing new brands to your overall offer?
IS: Absolutely. One of the potential uses for Smart Spirits is of course, to be a platform for new and exciting flavours. There is no limit to the possibilities. At the same time we say that Smart Spirits is complementary to the industry because it is an ideal system to launch and try new offerings without the need for full-scale production.
PM: Are you also looking into dispensing specific product to cater to the growing non-alcoholic market?
IS: Yes again. As I said, the Smart Spirits system already offers the consumer the choice of having their favourite tipple without alcohol. We are enhancing this feature and are expanding the range, in addition to other exciting innovations currently under development.
A key point of difference is that our system is not predicated on an alcohol base for the consumer to enjoy a flavour. The taste is what matters and we allow the consumer to decide whether or not to add alcohol.
PM: It’s early days, I know, but which sector is developing a taste for Smart Spirits?
IS: Two sectors have responded enthusiastically to Smart Spirits – hotels and small bars as well as café bars which also sell alcohol. For them one of the attractions is offering their customers a wide choice of drinks without having to stock a wide variety of different SKU’s of alcohol.
PM: First mover in any market does not always bring about commercial success. How long do you think it will be before the major players join the marketplace?
IS: This is a moot point as Smart Spirits is patented. The exciting developments we have planned will further enhance Smart Spirits status as the leading and, dare we say, the only truly revolutionary and disruptive technology.
PM: One last question, Ian. If there is one thing you want to let the travel retail industry know at this point, what would it be?
IS: Smart Spirits is going to build its business to the point where ‘thinking outside the bottle’ becomes integral to the consumer’s decision making process.