Case Study: Project Flavour

How do you recruit new consumers and ‘open up’ the world of whisky?

The challenge

Chivas Brothers had 2 key objectives: recruit new consumers, and ‘open up’ the world of whisky.

They identified that consumers have a limited vocabulary to describe whisky flavours, defaulting to traditional descriptors – e.g. rich, creamy, smoky – potentially due to limited category understanding.

Sign Salad was approached to help Chivas Brothers:

  • Uncover new, culturally meaningful descriptors and visuals of traditional flavour terms – e.g. rich, creamy, smooth and smoky – in US, China and Spain.
  • Understand how their brands (The Glenlivet, Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s) currently use traditional words & visuals to communicate flavour;
  • Build a new, future-facing ‘library’ of visual and language cues to communicate flavour for each brand, in a way that would be culturally relevant across markets, as well as authentic to each brand’s flavour profile and equity.

What did we do?

Chivas teams worked with Sign Salad, using a combination of expert interviews, semiotics and language expertise, to uncover evolving cultural meanings and expressions of flavour internationally by:

1. Refreshing the language and visuals of the whisky category across the US, China and Spain.

2. Creating strong brand standout for the Chivas portfolio, defining a unique visual and verbal ‘flavour library’ that could open up the world of whisky to more people by making whisky approachable & familiar.

Where did it lead?

Findings from this study evolved The Glenlivet and Ballantine’s drinks strategy, introducing whisky & tea pairings.

  • Our recommendations fed into the innovation and development of flavour notes of each whisky SKU – e.g. moving beyond ‘fruity’ to ‘succulent flavours of mandarins in syrup’; from ‘sweet’ to ‘pear, fudge, marzipan’. This was taken into consideration across The Glenlivet range, including a new SKU in US; Caribbean Reserve. The new SKU outperformed expected sales targets pre-Covid 19. 
  • Internally, Chivas teams mapped out each scotch SKU against emergent flavour segments, helping understand where each has permission to play.
  • Our findings brought emergent flavour guidelines into the Chivas ambassador training programme, aligning their flavour vocabulary internationally (UK, Canada, EMEA).

By evolving flavour representation in line with wider cultural & consumer shifts, Chivas has built a distinctive proposition and created a more exploratory, inviting and meaningful set of flavour notes with which to engage consumers in a dialogue about luxury whisky flavour internationally.

Our partnership with Sign Salad, really helped us to future proof our scotch brands through challenging ourselves to reconsider how we talk about flavour. Winning the Insight Impact award with Alex/Katrina, has helped us demonstrate to the Pernod Ricard group how to put insights into action. Inspiring drinks strategy, innovation through to informing the business with regards to white spaces and education – Project Flavour has truly driven change in Chivas Brothers.”

Dale Milliken, Senior Consumer Insight Manager, Chivas Brothers, Pernod Ricard

The insights provided by the semiotics of flavour allowed an immediately actionable new and innovative approach to Scotch whisky mentoring tailored specifically for the first time to the audience, by taking into account cultural and verbal cues.

First, our global Scotch Whisky Academy how to nose and taste module was updated to take into account the new descriptors by region.

Second, the semiotics of flavour project was shared across our four brand homes in Scotland and to our international graduate ambassadors in 28 countries including 19 who could directly implement new cultural tasting cues. It was also shared with our US team to implement.

As such, we have revolutionised our tasting notes and inspired ambassadors of Scotch whisky to make their educations sessions culturally relevant.”

Alex Robertson, Head of Heritage and Education, Chivas Brothers Pernod Ricard