Drinking, dining & disruption
In days gone by, the Food & Drink sector was fairly static. The shelves were filled with heritage brands, many going back decades, and things changed very little in terms of products, methods of manufacture and so on. Not any more. We have grown increasingly used to seeing a constant stream of new brands, new technologies and new kinds of food and drink – all of which makes this a really exciting sector for consumers, companies and IP attorneys alike.
But these aren’t the only changes. It’s no longer enough to have a product which looks and tastes good. These days, social responsibility and sustainability are key to the success of a brand – and authenticity is an absolute must.
So how do disrupters in the Food & Drink sector see things themselves and what do they think the future holds? We decided to speak to some of the sector’s most innovative and passionate founders to find out.
Our first revolutionary
Annabel Thomas is not your traditional whisky distiller; not every management consultant leaves a lucrative career to follow a Scotch-based dream. Yet the young, independent, female-led distillery Nc’nean is going from strength to strength and is one of the most exciting brands to come out of the whisky industry in years. We caught up with Annabel, founder and CEO of Nc’nean, to find out what drives her, why sustainability is so important to her and what sets Nc’nean apart in this very traditional, long-standing industry.
Q. You have previously referred to “the whisky industry’s image problem”. Where do you think the problem lies?
There are amazing things rooted in the traditions of whisky making, but in general the industry has an image of being relatively old school and rather male dominated (both in leadership and also in audience). Speaking to many of my peers, whisky is often referred to as “that thing my grandpa drinks” or “something my dad likes at the end of a night”.It’s just never really associated with women, even though plenty of women love drinking whisky - and plenty of amazing women work in the industry too!
Q. So where do you see the future and what are the challenges?
It’s not just a question of who drinks it, but also how.Whisky tends to have the image of being pretty rule-based. For instance “you must only drink single malt neat”. It’s really important to us at Nc’nean that people feel free to drink whisky however they like, whether that’s in our favourite serve (A Whisky Six with ice and soda), or in a cocktail, or simply with an ice cube. We hope that bringing a little more openness to the industry will only mean that more people want to start enjoying this delicious spirit.One of the biggest challenges will be keeping the attention of younger generations if whisky continues with too traditional an image.Luckily, making the category feel more open isn’t too hard - it just requires a little bit of open mindedness.
Q. How important is sustainability to your business? And how does this compare with the rest of the whisky industry?
Sustainability is the reason we exist. First and foremost we are here to pioneer sustainable production; and only then to create experimental and delicious spirits. If we hadn’t been able to find a source of renewable energy, or a way to save 80% of our water footprint, we wouldn’t have built the distillery in the first place. But luckily we managed, after a lot of research, to build a distillery which uses just one tenth of the carbon used by a distillery of the same size powered by fossil fuels. Combined with a small amount of offsetting, this means that the carbon emissions from our own operations have been verified as net zero – a first for a whisky distillery in the UK. This is evidently important for the health of the planet but also for our consumers, with 58% of our consumers actively seeking out sustainable or eco-conscious brands (data taken from a survey we ran back in April). There are other distilleries doing amazing things in terms of sustainability too - Bruichladdich, Arbikie and Adelphi to name a few – but in general, the whisky industry is pretty carbon intensive. With many of the distilleries being very old, uprooting infrastructure can be pretty tricky and very expensive. This isn’t an excuse for distilleries who aren’t prioritising sustainability, but it isn’t always as easy as people think!
Q. We love your brand name Nc’nean. As IP attorneys, we have to ask: where did it come from?
Our name, pronounced “Nc-nee-an”, is an abbreviation of Neachneohain, an ancient Gaelic goddess who was a huntress, protector and lover of all things wild. She was never afraid to walk her own path and hence we try to follow her ethos in everything we do. Obviously Neachneohain is pretty hard to pronounce (harder than Nc’nean!) and is also rather long to fit on any kind of bottle or marketing.So we opted for Nc’nean, “Nc” being a nice nod to the female founded nature of the business as it means “daughter of” (the more familiar “Mc” means “son of”).
Q. Speaking of daughters, what challenges, if any, have you faced as a woman in a traditionally male industry and how have you overcome these?
To be honest, not that many. I get plenty of comments from consumers along the lines of “do you actually like whisky” (for the record, I do!), but within the industry I have found people incredibly supportive and perhaps more gender-blind that you might expect.
So there you have it. An innovative daughter blazing a trail through the traditional whisky industry, seeking out sustainability in everything she does and creating a pretty delicious and beautifully branded tipple along the way. If that doesn’t make a Gaelic goddess sing, we don’t know what will.
If you would like to carry on the discussion, please contact Rowena.