Sign Salad is delighted to have won the MRS Virginia Valentine Award for Cultural Insights for our work with Chivas Brothers, Pernod Ricard, on opening up the whisky category by creating category re-defining flavour wheels, refreshing the verbal and visual cues of whisky flavour.


Project Flavour summary:

Whisky has long been an intimidating category, defined by flavour descriptors lacking cultural variation, and exclusive to experts.

  • Traditional descriptors – e.g. “fruity, sweet, smoky” – had become standardised across scotch, leaving consumers uninspired and unequipped to express their flavour experiences.
  • Chivas Brothers had a major opportunity to create differentiation by developing a new approach to describing whisky flavour – one that could excite and engage new consumers globally.
  • They identified 15 key flavour descriptors/words that they sought new visuals and vocabulary for – in English, Spanish, and Chinese

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.

Project Impact: Refreshing Flavour

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 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


“We are thrilled to have won this award in partnership with our brilliant clients Chivas Brothers Pernod Ricard. With a challenging brief, and multi-market demands, it was a pleasure to conduct an analysis of whisky descriptors that led to revolutionary new vocabulary and visuals for the whole category, and for our clients brands in particular. This exciting project allowed us to demonstrates that our robust and actionable approach works for clients. Not just informative and interesting, cultural insight delivers proven commercial outcomes.  It is increasingly a necessary tool for brand guardians to apply to ensure business success.”

Alex Gordon, CEO, Sign Salad


“It was such a pleasure to collaborate with the Chivas Brothers, Pernod Ricard, teams on this wide-ranging, innovative study. Flavour perception is often seen as more of a scientific factor than a cultural one – with this project we showed how experiences of flavour sit within a constantly changing cultural context, as well as revealing actionable ways brands can update to reflect that cultural change. Our rigorous attention to international differences meant we were able to make recommendations that account for cultural nuance, making whisky more relevant to more consumers globally and thereby opening up the category for those who previously felt that whisky – with its traditional overtones of expertise and intimidation – simply wasn’t for them.”

Katrina Russell, Project Director, Sign Salad

MRS Cultural Insight Award: Winner