Why packaging in whisky global travel retail (duty free) is so important

let’s begin

Known as GTR if you’re in the trade, and duty free if you’re not, global travel retail is one of the most lucrative frontiers for brands. But why is this the case, and why is so much being spent on developing brand awareness and driving sales in this 70-year-old retail channel.

The whisky category is a system for turning economic capital into social and cultural capital – demonstrating economic power.

Formerly a loss-leading branding exercise but now it is expensive but highly lucrative for brands and immensely immersive for consumers. A global distribution channel worth over $60 billion. The biggest emerging market in the world with whisky accounting for 4 of the top 10 sold brands in GTR.

Why Global Travel Retail?

Travel is becoming affordable for millions of families in India, China and all over the world so now brands are investing big time in installations as they are seeing huge opportunities for brand exposure and getting known in new markets. People even book on to flights just to go to an airport and pick up a specific limited edition, then get on the next flight home again – seriously, my father-in-law does this often.

Part of this comes down to consumers having greater dwell time; they will browse and seek out products, they spend an inordinate time with products throughout their retail experience and, unlike many retail channels (including online) they actually pick bottles up and explore the design and the stories, so any packaging design needs to be much more interesting and tactile.

The base conventions are that consumers look for familiar brands, but products that they’ve not seen before, and this is definitely driven by awareness of the parent brand but the products available also satisfy their  rarity needs, especially if the product is limited by region and availability.

One of the best examples of this is of course Johnnie Walker; they have their core ranges, but in the GTR world they have a traveller exclusive range called the Explorer’s Club Collection along with airport-specific limited editions too to mark elements of travellers’ trips.

They have a natural propensity to trade up and of course brand owners have a massive appetite for premiumisation but noteworthy to remember that many new travellers are migrant workers and the emerging middle class who are just as interested in entry level products with authenticity as seeing these huge brands delivering something at the super-premium end.

You must realise that the quality bar is higher in global travel retail for products to stand out, be engaged with and to be purchased; they are often higher priced and that comes with commitment not to be sniffed at.

The easy way to win in whisky global travel retail is to weave craft with provenance stories, but those stories must be authentic, grounded in truth, ooze credibility and have something unique about them otherwise the product will not stand out one bit.

As for the design… the packaging has to have an element of function by giving the retailer a chance of making it successful, it also needs to be geared towards making any and every retailer’s life easy; you can have a stunning bottle, but if the box (or secondary pack to those in the trade) is not working hard enough for what you’re trying to achieve, it will ultimately fail.

If the design is inferior to the competition it will get relegated to the bottom shelf, and whisky on the bottom shelf only gets attention from people looking to find bargains and who are deliberately shopping by price. So the whisky itself and the bottle may be far superior to the competition, but the exterior packaging, if not delivering on the premiumness and quality of the whisky and bottle will let the brand down massively.

Ultimately, every part of the brand’s packaging experience should be a reaffirmation that each consumer is making a sensible choice when buying that product.

And how do you win at storytelling?

Use true stories that are grounded in the brand, not the obvious Scottish twang that many brands rely on, they must tell stories that have interesting nuggets of information and usefulness for the consumers who are both buying for themselves, and for others, and these need to be told well. Brands should not be afraid to explore the fringes of the story too and stray from the founder-specific ones that heritage whisky brands often spend time talking about.

When all of these things come together to excite a consumer before they jet off the brand can tap in to the £millions waiting to be spent in GTR.

What are your favourite GTR releases, ranges or products? Any you think are not working that well?

Tags: Duty FreeExplorer’s Club Collectionglobal travel retailGTRJohnnie WalkerPackagingtrade
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My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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