From Arctic Lite to The Dinner Party Set

The Brand Historian goes in search of Key Drinkers

What are the three most important concepts of strategy?” was how the Chilean Arnaldo Hax liked to tease the senior managers who attended his workshops as Unilever’s house strategist. His answer, delivered with appropriate glinting charm, was “Segmentation, segmentation, segmentation.” This was a precept that certainly resonated with me because I have always enjoyed slicing markets and naming the parts, perhaps because great segmentations require the perfect fusion of creative yin and analytical yang

There was one segmentation project that I worked on in the late 80s that was particularly memorable, and from a business point of view, quite successful. It was a study of UK drinking habits and it sought to validate the pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) by exploring the importance of Key Drinkers to various alcoholic drink categories. 

A few years earlier, I had met Derek Penney, the doyen of booze research. It was Derek who was able to identify where the brewers went wrong with their attempt in the 1980s to bring the concept of light (low calorie) beers to the UK. On a simple ‘sip test’ there was nothing particularly bad – or good – about lager brands like Hemeling and Arctic light. But his more realistic ‘session testing’ methodology showed that on the production lines at British Leyland and Ford, where, after long shifts, lager drinkers would drink 6 to 8 pints a night, 5 nights a week, drinkers experienced an uncomfortable physical response which Derek believed was to do with the reduced calorific content of their beer consumption over time. Significant rejection by these core drinkers explained why light beers failed dismally after making a promising debut. 

It was also Derek who first showed me the importance of what he called Key Drinkers: the comparatively small number of consumers responsible for very significant amounts of the alcohol consumed in the UK. A few years later accompanied by Ken Baker and the big data of the TGI, we walked in Derek’s footsteps and created a behavioural segmentation model of alcoholic drinks which we called Measure for Measure..

Amongst the groups we identified was The Dinner Party Set, young upscale and well-educated adults who accounted for 8% of the population but a whacking 49% of the gin market, 44% of the Scotch market and 28% of the wine market. Using the latest geo-demographic mapping techniques, we were able to explore the UK geography of the Dinner Party Set at post code level and we created a series of maps which were subsequently used by retailers to site their shops and who knows, perhaps even the odd bottle bin.

The big irony of course was that twenty-five years later, it was the children of the Dinner Party Setters who were in the vanguard of the renaissance of gin and the great ginoflation which followed their enthusiasm for botanical micro- connoisseurship.

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