Quality Control

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or even used the expression — “It’s all about what’s in the bottle” — when referring to the appeal of a spirits brand.

It’s homage to the intrinsic appeal of the product and recognition that image alone is not sufficient.

Couple of interesting questions…

If that’s the case why do some awful tasting brands of booze sell well? To maintain my friendships in the industry I won’t cite any examples but lets just say there are brands that sell more on image than product taste.

The more important question is, who decides if it’s “in the bottle?” For the smart marketer it’s based on consumer taste tests, sensory panels and research of that nature. Generally there are benchmarks, action standards and criteria or hurdles of acceptability.

Except when the owner or senior executive decides that he/she knows better than the consumer.

At Seagram there were the owners who made the decisions and their deputies who established the criteria.

I once asked the head of quality control who had been trained by Mr. Sam about Jack Daniels and got a 20-minute lecture on what was wrong with the quality of the brand. I protested that his view of the product was counter its performance in the market place and consumer appeal. Good thing Mr. Sam was long gone by this time or my head would have been rolled down the building plaza.

A good friend who was there when Seagram introduced a Scotch called 100 Pipers recently told me a story that illustrates the point.

Despite the fact that the company owned Chivas Regal, the leadership at the time, from Mr. Sam on down, was Canadian whiskey driven. So when the idea of 100 Pipers came along the QC folks, led by the owner, kept rejecting the formulation until it reached their notion of acceptability. Research was ignored; R&D and production was ignored; they kept fiddling with it until it tasted the way they thought it should. They felt that no one wants to drink Scotch so take the Scotch taste out.

The result — a good tasting Canadian whiskey that Scotch drinkers hated and Canadian whiskey drinkers wouldn’t consider. It never clicked.

Guess what? According to data I recently saw, it sells over 2 million cases today with more than half of that in Thailand. Who knew?

Still made by Chivas Brothers and owned by Pernod Ricard. Bet it tastes like Scotch too.

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