MB Insights: The Brewers Congress 2023: What’s New in Brewing?

Consumer, Drinks, Events, Hospitality, Industry, Insight, Sustainability, Technology

Posted on 17 October 2023

With worldwide revenue in the billions and roots that span millennia, today’s beer is an intriguing mix of passion, tradition, and innovation.

From charming microbreweries to sprawling industrial operations, the quest for brewing perfection has rapidly evolved this age-old craft into both an art form and a precise science.

While breweries from around the globe compete to create the ultimate ‘amber’, many are set to gather at the upcoming Brewers Congress in London.

With the prestigious event on the horizon, MacGregor Black sat down with industry expert Kieron Hall to delve into the ever-changing landscape of brewing, explore the latest cutting-edge techniques & technologies, and take a sneak peek at the brands that are set to cause a stir at this year’s Brewers Congress.

The Brewers Congress 2023

At its core, the Brewers Congress is a celebration of brewing excellence.

Hosted at the Business Design Centre in London, the event brings together some of the brightest minds in the industry, offering a unique platform for sharing knowledge, experiences, and innovations.

Brewers, both established and up-and-coming will unite under one roof to exchange ideas and push the boundaries of what’s possible in the world of beer. In its latest edition, the Congress will feature 30 guest speakers, 80 industry suppliers and over 300 breweries, bringing together not only some of the sharpest minds, but also the most tantalising flavours in the brewing world.

The climax of the Congress is undoubtedly the Brewer’s Choice Awards, which honours the finest accomplishments in brewing and recognises outstanding brewers, professionals, and innovations that have made a mark in the industry.

Previous victors have included the likes of Lost and Grounded Brewers, Derek Prentice, Lakes Brew Co, Lara Lopes, Moonwake, Rudi Ghequire, North Brewing, Abbeydale Brewery, and Colin Stronge.

With such impressive past winners, it’s anyone’s guess who will take home the coveted titles this year!

Brewing Evolution – The Latest Techniques & Technologies

Sustainable Brewing

In an age where environmental concerns weigh increasingly on consumers’ minds, breweries worldwide are wholeheartedly embracing sustainability as a core principle. It’s not just a trendy buzzword anymore; it’s a vital commitment to environmental stewardship, resource efficiency, and ethical practices.

Sustainable brewing entails a multifaceted approach, focusing on key areas that make a real impact:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Water conservation
  • Waste reduction
  • Responsible sourcing
  • Community engagement

When it comes to slashing energy consumption, breweries are turning to innovative solutions, such as investing in renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines. Simultaneously, many brands are also adopting energy-efficient equipment and practices, including optimising heating and cooling systems, implementing LED lighting, and recovering heat from the brewing process to preheat water.

Take, for instance, Signature Brew,” Comments drinks specialist, Kieron Hall.

They’re two-time winners of SIBA’s prestigious Brewery Of The Year Award and they’ve definitely made sustainability a cornerstone of their brewing philosophy,”

Thanks to their state-of-the-art steam boiler that maximises heat energy, Signature Brew’s brewhouse efficiency is something to be proud of. They recycle heat energy from one batch to the next, so cooling one batch of beer provides the necessary heat for the next brew.”

Packaging also plays a pivotal role in Signature Brew’s sustainability journey, with the brand opting for cans over glass bottles.

Kieron goes on to explain the reasons behind their decision, stating that it “Comes down to a few different factors,”

Cans are lighter, making them more eco-friendly during transport and they’re also easier to recycle. Their ‘stackability’ reduces storage space and energy use during transportation. Not to mention, cans chill faster, saving energy in the cooling process.”

At the 2023 Brewers Congress Awards, alongside Anspach & Hobday, North Brewing Co and Northern Monk, Signature Brew are proudly shortlisted for the 2023 Brewery of the Year Award.

Another concern amongst brewers is water usage. Water is a precious resource in brewing, and breweries in all corners of the world are making concerted efforts to reduce their water usage.

Adnams, a historic brewery hailing from Suffolk since its establishment in 1872, recently observed that their distillery produced a high temperature water waste stream, meaning a valuable resource was literally, going down the drain.

In response, a closed loop recovery system was developed to retain that resource. Now, the heat and water from Adnams’ beer and spirits production process is captured and reused, which has not only reduced water usage in their distillery but has also led to significant savings on their energy bills.

Remarkably, Adnams now recovers over 90% of the steam generated during their brewing process and converts it back into heat for the next batch.” Adds, Kieron.

Their forecasted water savings for this year alone is a whopping 2 million Litres. That’s a clear testament to the positive impact of sustainability-driven initiatives.”

Techniques such as closed-loop water systems are gaining popularity. Additionally, rainwater harvesting, and water-efficient equipment are also helping breweries minimise their water footprint.

Another aspect of sustainable brewing is crop cultivation.

Science and research have shown us that agriculture plays a significant role in climate issues, and breweries are now exploring regenerative farming techniques with the aim of reducing or eliminating the emissions associated with barley cultivation.

South-London based brewery; Gypsy Hill Brewery is claiming a world’s first with the release of their carbon negative beers, without the use of offsets. The brand’s new brews are based on two main technologies, regenerative barley, and recaptured hops. To achieve this impressive goal, Gypsy Hills has partnered exclusively with Wildfarmed, who work hand-in-hand with farmers to implement practices like intercropping, cover cropping, and reduced tillage.

Commenting on Gypsy Hill’s success, Kieron states, “Gypsy Hill’s practices have many far-reaching benefits.

They enhance soil health, curbing erosion, and perhaps most significantly, sequestering carbon. In simpler terms, the process of farming this regenerative barley locks away more carbon in the soil than it releases into the atmosphere.”

Brewing Technologies

Whilst brewing beer is steeped in tradition, there’s no denying that the industry has recognised the potential of technology to enhance the process and increase efficiency.

More and more breweries are adopting advanced brewing technologies, including automated brewing systems, data-driven analytics, and innovative packaging solutions.

When asked about automated brewing systems, industry expert Kieron comments that, “They control all aspects of the brewing process, from mashing to fermentation, right the way through to packaging. Basically, the more automated the brewing process, the lesser the chances of human errors and inconsistency, which in turn can save the brand money, time, and effort.”

American craft brewing company, Bell’s Brewery is another great example of a brand that has made significant advancements in the world of technological brewing, with their Comstock based facility adorning all the hallmarks of a modern industrial manufacturer. The facility boasts a centralised control room, automated systems, and advanced robotics. Including, automated filling stations and keg lifting and palletising robots.

Speaking to Automation Alley on the state-of-the-art facility, tour guide, Ray Bristol comments,

We have the robot arms that replaced the human power of having to move kegs. All of the things our automated systems do to prevent the repetition and wear and tear on the human body,” Bristol said. One robot arm flips kegs to the upright state after they are filled. The other neatly stacks pallets of beer set for shipping out across the country,”

Prior to this we were more limited in throughput because it required someone using human power to flip kegs. . .Obviously, this is really tough on the body, and nobody wanted to do this for a long period of time. So we didn’t run at the same rate we are able to run at today.” Bristol said.

Packaging is also an integral part of the brewing industry, serving multiple purposes such as, preserving the quality of the product, promoting brand awareness, and ensuring regulatory compliance.

New packaging technologies are helping brewers all over the world preserve the quality and flavour of many much-loved beers,” States Kieron.

Beavertown Brewery are a great example. They use cans with special linings that prevent oxygen from getting into the beer and contaminating its flavour.”

‘Brands to Watch’ at BC 2023

With 30 guest speakers, 80 industry suppliers and over 300 breweries attending the Brewers Congress this year, there’s bound to be many brands making a splash.

Industry expert Kieron Hall has listed the brands, alongside those mentioned throughout this article, that we should be watching out for at the brewers Congress 2023, and why.

SALT

Founded in 2018, SALT is a brewery that has successfully married traditional techniques with modern innovations, crossing styles, exploring new ingredients, and producing many award-winning craft beers along the way.

The Yorkshire based beer’s branding draws inspiration from Sir Titus Salt, a pioneering industrialist who is best known for launching Salt’s textile mill and building the village of Saltaire in West Yorkshire, the brand’s homeland. With the aim of adding to the rich history and legacy that surrounds them, the SALT beer factory is proudly nestled within a Unesco World Heritage site, housed in a Grade 2 listed building that was previously used as a tram shed in 1904.

In 2022, the brand debuted their Double IPA, brewed with a ground breaking new form of hop from Yakima Chief Hops. Considered a much more reliable product than standard whole leaf hops, Yakima Chief Hops combines the concept of fresh frozen hops and the innovative technology of Cryo Hops®, which are pellets packed full of resins and aromas.

Late year, SALT also took steps towards brewing a brighter future, having teamed up with the world’s first plastic-offsetting service and ocean clean-up organisation – Seven Clean Seas to launch the hazy craft pale ale.

SALT’s Head Brewer, Colin Stronge, winner of the Brewer of the Year award at the 2022 Brewers Choice Awards, will be speaking at the Brewers Congress this year, dishing out advice, support, and encouragement to new and existing brewers. With an impressive career in brewing spanning over two decades, and five exciting years dedicated to SALT, Colin’s extensive industry experience ensures his speech at the Brewers Congress will undoubtedly, one to watch.

Mash Gang

Mash Gang, a name that’s been making waves among beer aficionados, is known for its innovative approach to brewing. Founded on the principles of quality, creativity, and sustainability, this brewery has steadily carved out a niche for itself in the competitive market, now and low craft beers.

Stemming from a dedication to inclusivity and a commitment to sustainable brewing practices, one of Mash Gang’s defining moments arrived with the introduction of their vegan beer. Mash Gang’s vegan beer is crafted without the use of any animal-based additives. This means no honey, no lactose, and no gelatine in the brewing process, right down to the glue used on their labels. Instead, they rely on innovative techniques and plant-based ingredients to achieve the same depth of flavour and quality that beer enthusiasts have come to expect from the brand.

Mash Gang’s commitment to vegan beer is not an isolated endeavour. It aligns with their broader commitment to sustainability. The brewery has implemented a range of eco-conscious practices, from energy-efficient brewing equipment to waste reduction initiatives, ensuring that their commitment to ethical brewing extends beyond just ingredients.

Mash Gang will be exhibiting their range of exciting craft beers at the Brewers Congress this year, with their very own Founder & Chief Product Officer, Jordan Childs has been shortlisted for the 2023 Brewer of the Year Award.

BigDrop Brewing Co

Non-alcoholic beer, once a marginalised category, is now taking centre stage, and Big Drop Brewing Co has solidified itself as a name worth knowing in the industry.

Their range of non-alcoholic beers includes a stunning array of styles, from stouts and IPAs to pale ales and lagers. These aren’t mere imitations; they’re fully realized, delicious brews that deliver a world of taste without the alcohol. Not to mention, they brew all their beers with carefully selected brewing partners, so their beer comes without the nasty taste of an unnecessary carbon footprint.

The process of creating Big Drop’s non-alcoholic beer is unique in that it starts as regular beer. After brewing, the alcohol is gently removed, allowing the flavours to remain intact. This is in contrast to many non-alcoholic beers that are essentially diluted versions of their alcoholic counterparts.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Big Drop Brewing Co’s commitment to quality has been recognised with numerous awards and accolades, including World Beer Awards and the International Beer Challenge.


Most recently, in May of this year, Big Drop Brewing Co initiated a licensing agreement with In Good Company, the proprietor of Fourpure Brewing and Magic Rock Brewing. This strategic move is a pivotal part of Big Drop’s overarching strategy to significantly expand its operations and support its global growth aspirations.

The core idea behind this move is to create seamless collaboration with brewing partners in three pivotal markets: the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia.

Building on their already successful history of contract brewing at Fourpure in Bermondsey, Big Drop views this new partnership as a natural progression of its decentralized business model. This model enables them to produce fresh 0.5% ABV beer locally and ethically, all while keeping the carbon footprint to a minimum.

This collaboration also benefits In Good Company by diversifying its portfolio to meet the evolving preferences of craft beer enthusiasts. According to the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, the compound annual growth rate for the alcohol-free beer market in the UK is projected to reach an impressive +12% until 2026.

Amongst SALT, Mash Gang and Big Drop Brewing Co, industry specialist Kieron Hall recommends checking out Northern Monk, who’s very own Quality Control Manager, Tanya Kondratyuk will be speaking at the Brewers Congress.

Over the past two years at Monk, Tanya has displayed her remarkable prowess by spearheading the design and supervision of the brand-new Quality Control (QC) laboratory. In addition, she masterminded the launch of Monk’s current analytical and microbiological sampling programs, established a comprehensive yeast propagation plan, organised sensory panels, and diligently managed the barrel aging program.

Her contributions extend beyond the laboratory, as she also played an integral role in production planning and the development of new and exciting recipes.

Northern Monk has the potential to collect multiple accolades at the Brewers Congress this year, with the brand being shortlist for the Brewery of the Year Award, their Faith beer making the shortlist for the 2023 Beer of the Year Award, and their Brewery Manager, Pietro Maltini, who has been shortlisted for the 2023 Young Brewer of the Year Award.


In an industry where every drop of creativity matters, the Brewers Congress 2023 is gearing up to be a grand celebration of diversity, sustainability, and innovation – the driving forces shaping the world of brewing.

With trailblazing brands like SALT, Northern Monk, Big Drop Brewing Co, Mash Gang, and Signature Brew leading the way, we’re on the path to a future that’s not only more sustainable but also more inclusive and technologically advanced.

Here’s to raising a toast to that exciting journey! Cheers!

Consumer, DIY, Housewares, Insight, Retail

Posted on 13 September 2023

With the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic redefining the ways we inhabit our living spaces—combining work, leisure, and every-day life —global revenue in the DIY & home improvements sector has surged. This growth, amounting to 4.5% compared to previous years, has prompted experts to envision this industry’s potential to reach an astonishing $1.1 trillion.

Yet, as the Covid-19 dust settles and research indicates a gradual return to pre-pandemic growth rates, it prompts a compelling question: What lies ahead for the DIY & Housewares industry?

MacGregor Black sat down with Specialist DIY & Housewares Recruitment Consultant, Lewis Millican, to delve beneath the surface of the DIY & Housewares landscape and discuss the trends that are re-shaping the industry, the brands that are dominating the space, and what the future could hold for this ever-evolving category.

Unpacking the Trends

As the allure of home improvement experiences a slight ebb, brands in the sector are being encouraged to employ innovative strategies to maintain momentum amidst changing consumer behaviours and market dynamics.

So how are brands keeping up with the shifting tides?

Consumer-Centric Innovation

Whilst sustaining appeal and desirability within the consumer market has long been a fundamental objective for a business. In today’s unpredictable economy, this pursuit takes on even greater significance.

Consumer-centric innovation is an opportunity for brands to remain relevant and has quickly become a crucial element within the DIY and housewares sector. It empowers brands to create products and experiences precisely attuned to the evolving behaviours of consumers. An exemplary case of consumer-centric innovation can be seen by Etsy, the global online marketplace.

Recognising a growing desire among their customers to support small businesses, Etsy recently embarked on a series of initiatives. The “Etsy Uplift Initiative” was a standout, designed to highlight and elevate local and small-scale sellers, simplifying the process for customers to actively support these businesses.

USA, Louisiana, Baton Rouge. Pottery by Osa. Osa Atoe. Home studio.

Moreover, as Etsy also noted more of their consumers embracing sustainable and eco-conscious practices, the American eCommerce brand expressed its commitment to social responsibility through the “Afghan Refugees Collective.” This initiative encompasses over 20 shops owned by Afghan refugees in the United States, collectively generating over $800,000 in sales.

Not only do these moves resonate with the current consumer sentiment,” Lewis comments.

They also solidify Etsy’s reputation as a platform that listens to its audience and connects buyers with unique and authentic products.

A Personalised Approach

The significance of offering personalised and customisable products has emerged as a driving force behind sustained sales in the DIY & Housewares sector. Companies are no longer simply providing products; they’re empowering customers to become co-creators.

Tylko, a digital-first company specialising in customisable furniture, is a standout example of how harnessing a personalised approach can drive sales and foster brand loyalty in this post-pandemic era.

Tylko’s commitment to offering a personalised approach to furniture design, from adjustable shelving to bespoke tables, led to a whopping 132% increase in sales following Covid-19, in comparison to pre-pandemic years. A clear indicator that personalisation can enhance the emotional connection consumers have with their products, increasing their willingness to spend and ultimately bolstering brand loyalty.

Another approach that many brands can take to personalisation, is offering tailored recommendations to their customers shopping online.

Lowe’s, an American retail company specialising in home improvements, recently leveraged data from their loyalty program and customer interactions to create personalised offers and recommendations to customers shopping online. They used purchase history and browsing behaviour to send targeted promotions, discounts, and product recommendations to customers, which in turn, improved customer engagement and boosted post-pandemic sales.

Sustainability & Ethics

In a landscape where consumers’ focus on ethical consumption remains steadfast, embracing a sustainable and eco-friendly approach has become somewhat of a non-negotiable in not only the DIY & Housewares sector, but across various other industries.

IKEA, the Scandinavian ready-to-assemble furniture chain, is a prime example of this transformation. Previously plagued by controversy, IKEA has recently made significant strides towards becoming an eco-conscious company.

IKEA plans on achieving its ambitious goals by reducing plastics, utilising more sustainable materials, reducing packaging waste and continuing their campaign that allows customers to donate old furniture to make new pieces.

In February this year, the brand also released its sustainability and climate report detailing its plans to reduce its climate footprint and significantly increase the use of renewable energy. The Swedish retailer says it will address emissions across its supply chain and operations, from factories to transport, and target the impact of its roughly 460 stores. The company plans to increase the share of renewable energy in its supply chain, targeting 100% renewable energy in its production by the end of the decade.

Lewis Millican highlights that, “By investing in these initiatives, IKEA has not simply relied on a strategy of convenience and cost-efficiency, it has also successfully aligned itself with the current values of conscious consumers. The brand’s commitment to sustainability not only drives sales but does a good job at positioning IKEA as a brand that stands for more than just function.

Partnerships & Collaborations

In the wake of the pandemic, various brands in the DIY and homewares sector have recognised the value of strategic collaborations to fuel sales and elevate their market presence. The result? A wave of partnerships that bring together innovation, expertise, and consumer appeal, driving a new era of growth in the industry.

On the 16th of August, George at Asda announced it has signed a new, exclusive collaboration with English singer and TV personality, Stacey Solomon. With an impressive following of over 5.7 million on Instagram, with whom she keenly shares her DIY and home improvement tips with, Stacey Solomon is in an ideal position to influence George Home’s target audience and affirm the brand as a key destination in the home interiors market.

When asked his thoughts on partnerships and collaborations in the industry, Lewis commented that, “influencer partnerships like the George x Stacey Solomon partnership have become increasingly popular within the DIY and Homewares sector. Influencers, celebrity or not, have the ability to showcase real life applications of DIY and home improvement products, and this really resonates with a niche target audience.

According to a report conducted by The Social Shepherd in July this year, 61% of consumers trust influencer’s recommendations, meanwhile only 38% trusted branded social media content. Within this, working with influencers is simply unparalleled among younger consumers, as when looking for design inspiration in the planning of a room, nearly half of consumers aged 16 to 34 years old look to social media as the top source of influence for this age band.

With the above in mind, the partnership between George at Asda and Stacey could open the doors to new audiences, increase the brand visibility, and attract customers who may not have been previously exposed to the brand prior to the pandemic.

Another brand that has harnessed the power of partnerships is The Home Depot. The multi-national home improvements retailer has recently partnered with business intelligence company, Morning Consult to complete a survey which sampled recent homeowners or potential homebuyers born between 1981 and 2005.

The survey found that 53% of the millennials asked reported worries about purchasing their first home. In response, The Home Depot has launched the ‘New Homeowners Hub’, which aims to equip the next generation of current and future first-time homeowners with valuable resources including DIY guides, product recommendations, design inspiration and more.

Commenting on The Home Depot’s latest venture, Lewis states that “By recognising the specific hurdles millennials are up against, The Home Depot isn’t just demonstrating its dedication to keeping customers content; it’s also putting its brand on the same wavelength as a generation venturing into homeownership during these challenging post-pandemic times.

Who’s Dominating and who’s Challenging?

As the DIY & Housewares industry undergoes transformation, it’s crucial to acknowledge the legacy brands that have played pivotal roles in shaping its trajectory. Giants like Kingfisher, IKEA, Wayfair, The Home Depot, and Lowe’s – to name a few – have helped set industry standards and inspire new players.

Below, Lewis highlights some of the brands that are making big waves in the industry right now.

Lick Paint

Lick Paint is a London-based paint company founded in 2019 by Lucas London and Sam Bradley.

Launched with a fresh perspective, Lick Paint aims to disrupt the traditional paint-buying experience by offering a curated collection of paint colours and an online platform that simplifies the process of selecting and purchasing paint. Also, at a time when sustainability is paramount, the B-Corp certified brand’s paint is water-based, low in volatile organic compounds and their packaging is bio-degradable.

In 2021, Lick’s success prompted expansion beyond the UK into the United States, marking a significant milestone in their growth journey and making quality paint accessible to a global audience.

Lick Paint recently made headlines with an exciting collaboration, joining forces with The Kraft Heinz Company’s iconic Tomato Ketchup to introduce a ‘world-first’ opportunity. The Lick x Heinz partnership allows decorators and ketchup superfans alike to paint their homes in the vibrant ketchup red, aptly named Red HTK 57.

The limited-edition paint shade is exclusively available for a short time, with only 570 tins made-to-order via Lick’s website. This innovative partnership between Lick and Heinz brings together two passionate and distinct fan bases, poised to generate significant interest, elevate Lick’s brand visibility, and potentially drive increased sales.

Simba Mattresses

Sleep tech firm, Simba Mattresses, a prominent player in the DIY & Housewares industry has been steadily climbing the ladder at a time in which many of their competitors have found increasingly challenging.

Even after consumer confidence fell in March 2022, Simba doubled their 2019 sales, demonstrating just how robust their business model and trading performance is. Last year, the brand also introduced the GO (Green Organic) mattress, as part of their drive for more sustainable sleep.

Commenting on the importance of sustainability at Simba, Co-founder and CEO Steve Reid told Furniture News, “Our ‘Health, People, Planet’ pillars put health, sustainability, and people at the centre of everything we do, and sustainability is a key pillar – not because it’s popular, but because we have a moral responsibility to uphold it.”

That said, more consumers are making an informed choice with their sleep purchase. So, our mattresses are made in the UK, 100% recyclable, and we have a zero-to-landfill policy – all considerations at the point of purchase.”

Simba has also committed to making a conscious effort to offer more affordable and accessible price points for customers, as the cost-of-living crisis forces many to ditch their tool belt to tighten their financial belt. The retailer has extended their payment options from 12 months to 48, and now offer responsible lending in partnership with Novuna Consumer Finance.

Gorilla Glue

Gorilla Glue is another brand that has been steadily ascending in the industry in recent years. Founded in the US, Gorilla Glue has quickly gained a solid reputation for its high-performance adhesives that can be used on virtually any material (although we don’t recommend using it as hair gel…).

At the core of Gorilla Glue’s success is its commitment to product quality. Recently, Gorilla Glue placed number one in a test titled ‘The Best Wood Glues Tested in 2023’, conducted by DIY enthusiast Bob Vila. And in January 2023, the brand released three new products designed to appeal to customers who are passionate about DIY but favour easy application. Their Gorilla Grab Adhesive can be used without the need for a cartridge gun, making it an ideal product for those tackling large DIY projects who may be overwhelmed by using a gun.

As consumers seek convenient solutions for their DIY endeavours, Gorilla Glue’s offerings simplify the process, making it more accessible and less intimidating for both experienced DIY enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

In doing so, the brand has not only secured its place in the post-pandemic DIY landscape, but also contributed to the wave of home improvement enthusiasts looking to transform their living spaces.

What Does the Future Hold for the Industry?

As consumer behaviours undergo continuous evolution, it’s evident that the brands taking proactive steps to transform, adapt, and embrace innovation will likely emerge as the industry’s future leaders.

Among the most remarkable catalysts of this transformation is technology, and its influence extends even to the DIY sector.

Brands in the DIY & Housewares sector are increasingly focusing on their digital offering. They’re enhancing their websites, optimising for mobile devices, and utilising e-commerce platforms to make it easy for customers to browse and purchase products online. However, it doesn’t stop there…

As our featured industry expert rightly puts it “The integration of smart home technology has become a hallmark of the modern DIY & Housewares sector,

Think smart thermostats, lighting systems, security cameras, and voice-activated assistants. It’s all about efficiency and convenience. Artificial intelligence and automation will also play a more significant role in the industry, with more brands utilising AI-powered tools to provide personalised project recommendations and automation to ultimately achieve more efficient and precise manufacturing processes.” comments, Lewis.

Lewis also added that customers may also see more brands utilising Augmented Reality in the future. Apps and platforms like IKEA Place already allow its users to visualise how furniture and décor items will look in their space before making a purchase. Features like these not only replicate the in-store experience but they also empower customers to make informed purchase decisions from the comfort of their homes, contributing to sustained sales even as growth rates stabilise.

Not to mention, as environmental concerns continue to grow, technology will also play a vital role in promoting sustainability in the DIY & Housewares sectors.” Lewis observes.

Which could even go beyond the development of eco-friendly materials, energy-efficient products, and apps that calculate the environmental impact of home improvement projects.

So, as the initial surge in home improvement starts to level off, it’s clear to see that the industry faces a new landscape where innovation is the key to maintaining momentum. Consumer-centric innovation has taken centre stage, the importance of personalisation and customisability has surged, sustainability and ethics have become non-negotiable in the industry, and partnerships and collaborations have also played a significant role in driving industry growth. Today, the DIY & Housewares industry remains vibrant and full of opportunities for brands that are willing to adapt, innovate, and prioritise the needs of their customers.

If you’d like to speak with our dedicated team of specialist DIY & Housewares consultants, get in touch today via hello@macgregorblack.com or via +44 (0)191 691 1949.

Consumer, Cosmetics, Events, Health & Beauty, Industry, Interview, Marketing, Retail, Sustainability

Posted on 6 July 2023

With global revenue over $571 billion US dollars and trending upwards, health & beauty has proven to be a resilient and dynamic sector.

Able to reshape itself around expanding innovations, shifting consumer demands, and intensifying competition, it takes a keen eye and expert knowledge to navigate this ever-evolving industry.

In an exclusive interview, MacGregor Black’s global health & beauty specialist, Kriisti Atherton, sits down with Jennifer Carlsson, the beauty brand expert and Founder of market research business, Mintoiro to delve into her journey, her expertise, and what makes her such a sought-after figure in the industry.

Kriisti Atherton: So, Jennifer, for those who haven’t come across your profile yet, can you introduce yourself and tell us what makes you the ‘Beauty Brand Expert’?

Jennifer: Oh wow, where do I start?

Well, my name is Jennifer Carlsson, I’m a 30-year-old beauty brand strategy consultant, data analyst and designer from Stockholm.

I’m also the founder of my own professional services business, Mintoiro, and I launched the Beauty Design Awards in 2020.

At Mintoiro, I work closely with independently owned beauty brands to help them get loved by the people that care, and take market share from big corporations…

At the moment, I spend most of my time doing competitive market research, which I love, and it also helps be inform the consulting work I do.

I guess a lot of people might also know me from LinkedIn. Every month I post updated lists of the ‘Top 100 Brands Trending on Instagram’ across skincare, makeup, haircare, and fragrance. Those I’ve been posting for a few years now.

What makes me the beauty brand expert? Hmm, since I’m constantly doing research, I’d say I probably know more about beauty brands than anyone else. I’m not claiming to know more about the industry than anyone else, of course, but on brands specifically, I know what I’m talking about.

I always say that I’m an information sponge. I want to know everything about everything, I want to understand every aspect of the beauty industry and exactly how everything works.

I’m always talking to people in all parts of the industry’s value chain, and I learn so much from those conversations. But when I think of what really makes me an expert, I think of a quote that one of my mentors, Errol Gerson used to say… ‘the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing’. You’ve got to do one thing well and focus on one thing at a time, because if you’re trying to do two different things at 50/50, you’re never really doing anything at 100, and how could you gain that expertise? Beauty is my main thing and I’m always giving it 100.

Kriisti Atherton: So why is Beauty in particular an industry you’re so passionate about?

Jennifer: I mean, I’ve always been into fashion and makeup. I really love the industry; I love the people I get to chat with, and coming from a design background, the creativity in the beauty industry just speaks to me.

In my early 20’s, I used to be a fashion blogger. My main focus was cute Japanese street styles and I was quite well known in that scene.  

When I initially started my own business, I decided I was going to do design, so when the time came to launch Mintoiro, it just made sense to design for Beauty Brands. For my first year in business I was mainly doing brand identity and packaging design for cosmetics brands.

Kriisti Atherton: You mentioned earlier that you spend a lot of your time compiling market research for your clients. Can you talk us through your process?

Jennifer: There’s lots of different parts that go into it.

I’m constantly adding more to my database, most of which is gathered through manual data entry. This is time consuming but really beneficial because, coupled with my eidetic memory, it gives me a good overview of everything that’s in my database. The only exception to this is social media metrics, I update this every month, but I use a scraping tool to gather that data and automatically import it to my database.

For my ‘Top 100 Trending Brands’ lists, the way I rank companies is completely data driven and based on followers, engagement, and growth over time. This is important because it’s not interesting to look at what brands have the most followers; I try to capture which brands are steadily growing whilst maintaining an engaged audience.

I also look at the products that brands are launching, their ethics, certifications, which markets they’re in, their target audience and who owns the brand. I have so much fun doing the research, some people find it boring, but I just love it.

Each report can take several months to complete, and when it’s done, it’s really exciting to be able to see all the patterns emerging in the industry.

I’ve recently finished a report on emerging colour trends for beauty brands, which was grounded in tons of data analysis, but presented it in a really visual way. I looked at the latest colour trends in beauty product packaging, and as part of the research, I tagged the exact colour shades of over 16,000 products from over 3,500 different beauty brands. I then split the 35 trend colours I identified into 7 different colour moods.

I also tagged the colours of around 4,000 runways looks from the 2023 Spring and 2023 Fall collections, as well as looking interior design, sneakers and other adjacent industries, as you tend to see a lot of overlapping trends across different industries.

It takes so much time to do this research. Straight up, it just takes so much time. I don’t have a secret thing that gathers it all super quickly for me, I’m doing data entry pretty much all the time. But I really enjoy doing the market research side of things, so the time it takes isn’t a problem for me.

Kriisti Atherton: Your audience is really engaged with your content, including myself and a number of my clients. But from your perspective, why do you think it is that so many brands choose to work with you in particular?

Jennifer: I’m very interested and engaged in the beauty industry specifically.

When I’m researching, I look at brands from a holistic perspective because you can’t get a full picture of what’s actually going on in the industry from just looking at quantitative data.

I talk to all kinds of people in the industry, I look at visual aesthetics and I also try on a ton of products from a range of different brands, which gives me another type of data to add to my holistic view of the industry. Fortunately, lots of brands send me their products to try, even some that I wouldn’t typically be able to buy myself because they don’t usually ship to my location.

I’d say I also have a really good overview of everything going on in the industry so, if you want to understand your competitors and how you can differentiate your beauty brand; I’m the person to talk to.

For the brands that may not have the budget to fund a huge research project, I also offer pre-made research reports on my website, because I want to make my research affordable for beauty brands at all different stages of their growth cycle.

Kriisti Atherton: You recently attended the Clean Beauty in London event and gave a fantastic speech on ‘The Latest Trends in Sustainable & Conscious Beauty’, what were the key trends you identified?

Jennifer: My talk at Clean Beauty in London mainly focused on brands doing sustainability the right way to show that doing better is possible. That’s something I care about deeply and I’m well-read on the subject.

I find it shocking how much greenwashing is going on in the beauty industry, particularly around the use of plastic. I’m not a purist, I’m not saying that brands can’t use any plastic, but I think they should be honest about the fact that plastic is not sustainable, right? Brands should be truthful and tell their consumers that “we choose to use plastic packaging to be able to offer our products at an affordable price point”, which could up the conversation for consumers to tell the brands “we would pay more for your products if you stop using plastic packaging”. But if consumers are being led to believe these products are already sustainable, then the brand can’t really have those conversations.

People are getting really tired of the greenwashing and sooner or later, they’re just flat out not going to accept it. For example, using biofuel or fossil fuel doesn’t make much of a difference. Turning either into plastic causes just as much pollution and people based near plastic plants are getting sick from the chemicals.

In Mississippi, there’s a stretch of land where over two hundred petrochemical production plants are based, and people call the area ‘Cancer Alley’. When you look at the whole picture like that, you start to realise the bigger issues and how necessary it is that we as an industry approach them.

Kriisti Atherton: As well as a more focused approach towards sustainability, what other trends have you noticed shaping the beauty industry?

Jennifer: Well, I’d say a lot of beauty brands are rethinking the way they approach marketing.

I’ve heard a lot of brands saying that they’re not getting as much return on their ad spending, which I think will see a lot of companies exploring alternative options. I mean, to see a good return on paid advertising, brands should really be spending at least 25K a month on it, and honestly, if a brand has that much to spend, I’d say they’re better off using it elsewhere.

My advice would be to take that money and spend it building partnerships with more influencers, I think the optics of that is way better than just throwing money at ads. Especially if you’re working with influencers that aren’t that big yet, and have a targeted beauty audience, because they produce genuine content that’s real and honest. And if you’re a brand that’s aiming for transparency, this fits well with that goal. Plus, you’re giving money back to hard-working, diverse content creators in the community.

Although, I’d say that if brands go down the influencer route, they need to do it right. I’ve heard some horror stories about beauty brands paying marginalized influencers less than their other influencers, which is just unacceptable. Aside from the fact it’s totally wrong, it’s also likely to hurt your brand’s reputation as people in the beauty industry talk to each other and these things always come out before long.

So, yeah, doing things right is super important, people don’t want to buy from brands that don’t.

Kriisti Atherton: I’ve combed through pretty much every inch of your blog by now and I’m always recommending it to others. In addition to your own, which other blogs/publications would you recommend for beauty fans to check out?

Jennifer: One of my favourites is the Founded Beauty podcast by Akash Mehta, he’s one of the founders of Fable & Mane, which is a plant-based haircare brand inspired by ancient Indian beauty secrets!

On the podcast, Akash interviews beauty founders and entrepreneurs about their business journeys. It’s extremely insightful and it’s a great podcast for people who really want to understand the industry.

Kriisti Atherton: And Jennifer, as The Beauty Brand Expert, which brands should our audience be keeping an eye on right now?

Jennifer: Oh, wow, that’s hard to say. There are loads of really great brands out there.

One brand that I mention often is Dip.

They’re a haircare brand that does shampoo and conditioner bars. I’ve tried a lot of products like this and theirs is the best on the market.

They mostly work with smaller refill stores, and they don’t spend anything on advertising, their brand is spread entirely by word-of-mouth. I think that’s so interesting. Plus, they’re really inclusive, they don’t do different bars for different hair types, they’ve made sure their product can be used by anyone, you just pick the scent you like.

Also, a Swedish brand that I’m really liking at the moment is Manasi 7. I’ve been using their products recently; they have a cheek and lip tint that I actually use for both my lips and cheeks. I also really like their branding. In Sweden, there’s a big market for minimalistic designed brands with a very specific look to them, and these guys have nailed it.

Oh, I’m also really fascinated with exploring the Indonesian beauty market at the moment. They have some really cool looking brands with great formulations. They look like luxury brands that could be sold in Sephora. A good example to check out is the brand Dew It Skin. I love their products.

Kriisti Atherton: You’ve given us some great insight into your expertise and what you’re doing as The Beauty Brand Expert right now. What’s next on the cards for you and your business?

Jennifer: My biggest focus in 2023 is creating the research reports that I sell through my website.

I find the work very satisfying and enjoyable, and creating my own reports allows for me to put all my strong sides to use.I have a few different types of reports in the pipeline and I’m excited to reveal and share them with everyone soon!

I’m also doing Beauty Design Awards for the fourth year running. The award is completely free, and brands are welcome to submit their products for consideration until the end of August. You can find more information on the website, beautydesignawards.com.

The award looks at the holistic experience of a product, so both packaging and formulation are just as important.

Kriisti Atherton: Jennifer, thank you so much for your time today and we look forward to seeing yours and Mintoiro’s success in 2023 and beyond.

Consumer, Drink, Drinks, Hospitality, Industry, Insight, Retail, Technology

Posted on 19 May 2023

Evolving from small medieval distilleries into the colossal $88 billion dollar industry that it is today, the story of whisky is one founded on tradition, revolution, and a thirst for innovation.

So, in honor of World Whisky Day, MacGregor Black explores the murky origins of whisky, the art of distilling, and the factors that fueled the rise of one of the world’s most popular spirits.

 

Where Did Whisky Come From?

Whisky’s history dates back hundreds of years. Which means, unfortunately, there are a number of theories as to where exactly the fiery golden liquid originates from.

Some academics argue that the ancestor to modern whisky was first discovered by Irish, Scottish, and English farmers, who began distilling spirits from their surplus grains. Although, a more favoured theory suggests that missionary monks brought the art of distillation over to the UK over a thousand years ago having mastered the practice on their travels across the Mediterranean, the Middle East and mainland Europe.

If we turn to the pages of history, we find the first ever written evidence of whisky appears as early as 1405, in the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise. Here it was documented that the head of a clan died from ‘taking a surfeit of ‘aqua vitea’. However, the earliest historical reference to whisky appears a little later down the line, in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls of 1494 where an entry refers to King James IV of Scotland granting ‘eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae’.

Aqua vitea, a term historically used to describe distilled spirits, is a Latin term meaning ‘water of life’. When translated from Latin to Gaelic, ‘aqua vitea’ became ‘uisge beatha’, which over the years, eventually evolved into the word ‘whisky’ that we know and love today.

 

Whisky Production & The Art of Distillation

Whisky, like all of its spirit counterparts, is made using distillation. A complex practice that dates back as far as the 1st century BC and research suggests originates from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, where early practitioners first used the process to create a mix of potent perfumes and aromas.

 

 

 

However, thanks to the global migration of knowledge and through the adaptation of ingredients & techniques, over time, alchemists refined and expanded distillation beyond perfumes to include medicines, poisons and of course, whisky.

One such factor that fanned the flames of mass whisky production took place in 1536, when Henry VIII broke ties with the Roman Church and disbanded many of the English monasteries. Prior to this point, distilling spirits remained largely a monastic and medical practice, but with so many unemployed Monks dispersed into the general population at the time, the art of distilling spirits quickly made its way into homes and farms, and the general production of whisky shifted into the hands of the people.

The increasing popularity of whisky would soon attract Scottish Parliament, where plans to profit from the growing industry, saw the introduction of the first taxes on whisky, in 1644. However, in protest, many Scots turned to illicit distilling in an attempt to avoid the high taxes. By the 1820s, as many as 14,000 illicit stills were being confiscated every year, and more than half the whisky consumed in Scotland was being enjoyed without the taxman taking his cut.

However, in 1823, the Excise Act was passed, which allowed Scots to distil whisky in return for a license fee of £10 and Illicit distilling and smuggling eventually died out.

With restrictions lifted for the import and export of commercial whisky, this incentivised people to grow barley and licensed distilleries began emerging in all corners of the Scottish lands. With a license now required, the process of distilling whisky became more refined and eventually upped the quality of the product. From here, whisky gradually gained worldwide popularity, becoming a talisman of heritage, craftmanship and cultural identity for the regions it was produced in.

In the early days of whisky production, the process was relatively simple. Grains were mashed, fermented using yeast, and the resulting liquid was then distilled. Following distillation, the liquid was aged in wooden casks for several years, providing it with the unique characteristics, colour, and flavours that whisky is known for today.

 

 

In the modern era, the fundamentals of whisky making remain largely unchanged. Grains are still mashed, fermented, and distilled, and whisky is still aged in wooden casks. However, over the centuries, advancements in innovation and technology, as well as the introduction of advanced aging and maturation processes have birthed a new age of whisky production.

In the 18th and 19th century, the industrial revolution brought significant advancements to the field. Namely, the invention of the column still in 1830, by Aneas Coffey, which revolutionised distillation and paved the way for large-scale whisky production. Today, distillation has transcended its traditional ties to spirits and is now a crucial process in various other industries including, the production of fuels, petroleum refining, essential oils, pharmaceuticals, and even water purification. Proving that distillation has played, and will continue to play, an essential role in the advancement of human society… not to mention good quality spirits.

 

 

Whisky or Whiskey…

The terms, whisky and whiskey are often used interchangeably, causing quite a bit of confusion amongst connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike. However, there are a number of distinct differences in their production methods, geographical origins, and their unique flavour profiles.

Whisky (without an e, and the starring spirit of this article) typically refers to whisky produced in Scotland and is often dubbed, Scotch whisky. Scottish distilling largely inspired the production of whisky in countries like Japan and Canada, explaining why both countries also use the ‘without an e’ spelling of whisky.

Scotch whisky has some pretty stern regulations when it comes to what can actually be labelled as a true Scotch Whisky. It must be made from malted barley, water, and yeast, and must be distilled in Scotland for at least three years. Scotch whisky is also well-known for its range of rich and smoky flavours, which can be attributed to the use of peat in the malting process.

 

 

However, recent research found that peat releases an excessive amount of stored carbon dioxide when harvested and is currently under some scrutiny for its potential contribution to climate change. The Scottish Government has since drawn plans to move away from using peat products in the future, thus protecting the environment, and ensuring no further damage to the peatlands.

Whiskey, on the other hand, is the preferred spelling of grain spirits that have been distilled in Ireland and the United States.

As Irish colonists began to arrive in America, they brought with them the process of distilling grain spirits and from that moment onwards, whiskey was born.

American whiskey encompasses various styles, including bourbon, rye whiskey and Tennessee whiskey, all of which are distilled in different ways, using different ingredients and under strict legal regulations specific to America. For example, similar to Scotch, for a bourbon whiskey to officially labelled as a bourbon whiskey, it must be distilled in America and at no higher than 160 proof, 80% alcohol-by-volume.

 

 

Brands to watch…

As the world of whisky continues to evolve, and an increasing number of individuals embrace the charm and cultural complexities of this cherished spirit, certain brands have emerged as rising stars in the industry. MacGregor Black caught up with award-winning mixologist and drinks practice operations consultant, Kieron Hall, to gauge which brands are gaining popularity and the reasons behind their rise.

Nc’nean Distillery

 

Nc’nean Distillery is a young, independent, organic whisky distillery perched above the Sound of Mull in the remote community of Drimnin on the west coast of Scotland. Declaring their main purpose to be “creating experimental spirits, and pioneering sustainable production”, Nc’nean Distillery aims to really get people thinking about Scotch.

“Nc’nean Distillery is a favourite brand of mine for a number of reasons, I think they’ve just hit the mark with everything a brand needs to be in today’s economy,” comments, Kieron.

“The brand is constantly looking at ways to shake-up the traditional Scotch market and improve their impact on the planet. Like, using organic Scottish barley at their distillery, which is powered by renewable energy, as well as recycling 99.97% of their waste, and making all of their bottles out of 100% recycled clear glass. Not to mention,

I think the quality of their product is brilliant, particularly their Organic Single Malt Whisky.

If you haven’t checked out Nc’nean yet, you definitely should!”

 

InchDairnie Distillery

 

InchDairnie Distillery, based in Fife, Scotland, pride themselves on their origins, whisky traditions, and their ability to take an innovative approach to flavour. Their distillery uses only barley that has been grown locally in Fife and they operate using two bespoke pieces of equipment; a Mash Filter and Lomond Hill Still, both used for experimentation and innovation.

Kieron Hall comments, “InchDairnie opened in 2015 and they literally built the whole distillery around their mash filter. Their bespoke methods to whisky production means that they can handle a variety of different grains and can extract more flavour and sugar during the process.

Every year, the brand clears two weeks in their calendar to distil something ‘out of the ordinary’ which most recently saw the distillery make their way to ‘the dark side’, being the first to distil a mash made from a majority of Dark Kilned Malted Spring Barley, which is usually used to brew dark beers.

A great drink and I suspect a great deal of innovation to come from InchDairnie in the near future.”

 

Ellers Farm Distillery

 

Based in North Yorkshire, Ellers Farm Distillery’s state-of-the-art production ranks as one of the largest distilleries in the country. The brand prides itself on being carbon neutral since day one of its operations, with further plans to achieve official B Corp certification. Ellers Farm Distillery has also partnered with Bristol based environmental organisation, Ecologi with the aim of planting one million trees.

“Ellers Farm is a classic,” says Kieron Hall.

“My colleague, Dana Bond and I recently visited the famous Ellers Farm Distillery and toured their site. After hearing some of their ambitious environmental goals and their plans for the future, we were pretty impressed.

Not only do they distil whisky, but they also produce vodka, gin and a range of small batch spirits that are only released in batches of 500 bottles. Ellers Farm will surely continue to lead the charge when it comes to sustainability, NPD and of course, great quality spirits.”

Kieron also comments about the “up and coming challenger brands” stating that:

“There are so many brands that deserved a mention, with many up-and-coming challenger brands also making big moves in the world of whisky right now, such as, Wolfburn, Milk & Honey, Mackmyra and Stauning Whisky to name a few.”

“It’s an exciting time to be a whisky lover as we have front row seats to watch a wave of new brands redefine the landscape of whisky.”

 

 

Whether it’s neat, on the rocks, or mixed into a complex cocktail, whisky clearly has a rich history of being beloved by many, throughout the centuries.  From the rolling hills of Scotland to the bourbon-soaked barrels of Kentucky, the production methods, legal regulations, and geographical influences have shaped the unique identity of whisky.

With each sip, we embark on a sensory journey of tradition, rebellion, and innovation, connecting us to a rich, yet murky, history of one of the world’s most beloved spirits.

So, if you’re a complete connoisseur, a beloved bourbon fan or an avid enthusiast, join us on World Whisky Day 2023 to appreciate the deep and remarkable world of whisky.

 

Case Study, Consumer, Industry, Insight, Retail, Technology

Posted on 24 April 2023

From a global pandemic to rising geopolitical tensions, the supply chain industry has faced numerous challenges, and as we edge further into 2023, the sector finds itself at a crossroads.

The need for speed, strategy, and resilience has rapidly fueled innovation, and more businesses are leveraging the latest in automation technology to make faster, smarter decisions with more accuracy than ever before.

But what exactly is Supply Chain automation? And where is it leading us?

MacGregor Black explores the latest advancements in supply chain automation, and which key technologies are reshaping the industry’s future.

What is Automation?

Over the years, the main goal of the supply chain industry has remained unchanged. To deliver products to the right place, at the right time. Yet, to thrive in today’s competitive economy, a business must ensure constant availability, rapid delivery time, and the mailability to overcome unexpected changes.

This is where automation steps in.

Automation describes the use of technology to complete tasks that would traditionally require physical human interaction. Processes that would usually cost a gross amount of time, money, and labour can now be completed quickly and effectively using a combination of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics.

From Human Hands to Robotic Arms

Evolving from their first appearance in sci-fi movies into today’s supply chains, the use of robotics in the warehouse has become increasingly popular in recent years. Businesses in all corners of the world are transforming the way they manage their supply chains by investing in advanced technologies such as autonomous mobile robots, collaborative robots and even drones, in the pursuit of efficiency.

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR)

Autonomous mobile robots (AMR) are self-guided machines that, using a combination of sensors and algorithms, navigate safely around the warehouse moving goods from one place to another, locate and retrieve items and even pick, pack, and ship products at ultra speed. As the demand for faster and more efficient supply chain processes grows, AMRs are becoming an increasingly attractive solution for businesses looking to scale up faster, increase their operational efficiency, and reduce labour costs in this post-pandemic economy (as after all, robots can’t catch a virus…).

According to this year’s Global Autonomous Mobile Robots Market Report, in 2022, the market for autonomous mobile robots totalled at $3.14 million US dollars. A figure that is predicted to rise as high as $10.97 million US dollars by 2030. By taking over potentially dangerous jobs from humans, AMRs allow for cheaper labour costs, greater workforce adaptability, improved safety standards, and reduced risks. Nestle, DHL and Walmart are among the many high-profile brands that are already investing in AMR’s, with all three companies having rolled out driverless forklifts across their warehouses in 2022.

However, while progress is being made, “there are still a number of natural factors at play,” States Mark Lancaster, MacGregor Black’s Supply Chain & Logistics specialist.

“Whilst AMRs are designed to operate autonomously, they do still pose a risk to human workers if not properly programmed or maintained. As well as investing in skilled automation specialists to safely maintain the equipment, employers may also need to consider re-training existing workers on how to interact with AMRs in order to avoid accidents and injuries.”

Collaborative Robots

Unlike AMRs, Collaborative Robots (also referred to as Cobots) work along-side humans, rather than replacing them. Designed to be safe, simple to use and adaptable to varied processes, Cobots assist humans in performing repetitive or dangerous tasks to speed up production and avoid potential risks. UK retailer, Curry’s recently revealed its plans to invest £250,000 in Cobots at its facility in Newark, which will fund a fleet of robotic exoskeletons designed to give employees at the retailer’s logistics partner, GXO, relief from at least ten tones of weight throughout a typical working shift.

Another example of a brand investing in Cobots is the multinational information technology company, HP. In 2017, the Silicon Valley based brand opened a robotics manufacturing facility in Singapore; the country ranked second in the world for the number of robots deployed for every 10,000 employees. The facility utilises intelligent robotic arms that precisely emulate a human hand’s intricate movements in order to make a core component in HP’s commercial printers. The arm’s dexterity allows it to take on complex tasks, with acute precision, for 24 hours a day. HP said, since installing its robotics manufacturing lines in Singapore, production costs have dropped by 20%. A quite staggering saving in a world currently grappling with the lingering effects of the pandemic, high inflation, and geopolitical tensions.

However, replicating HP’s harmonious relationship with robotics isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. A successful shift into automation requires an immense, up-front capital investment, not only in technology but in the skills of the workforce. At HP, they have invested heavily in upskilling their employees, who verify parts rejected by the robots on the manufacturing line to help teach the machine and perfect the algorithm. Singapore itself has also long identified advanced manufacturing as a priority, with the country even introducing incentives such as tax breaks for highly automated factories, research partnerships with universities and subsided programmes aimed at retraining and upskilling workers.

Drones

According to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, the average warehouse worker wastes nearly seven weeks per year in unnecessary motion, accounting for more than $4.3 billion US dollars in labour. A statistic that many businesses are now able to disregard following the introduction of intelligent autonomous drones into their supply chain.

Without the need for ladders or scaffolding, and in turn without the resulting risks, drones are used to track, transport and audit goods, with the data being stored digitally on a computer-based software programme. Drones are mainly used to help with inventory management and can be found flying around the warehouse scanning bar codes on products, auditing inventory levels, and comparing the data it collects with the data stored digitally. Swedish retail giant, IKEA is among the latest brands exploring technological solutions, revealing it has expanded its autonomous fleet of drones to 100 across 16 locations in Belgium, Croatia, Slovenia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Developed in partnership with Zurch-based startup, Verity, IKEA’s drones are deployed during non-operational hours, working to ensure stock levels are accurate, and offering real-time analytics. Introducing drones and other autonomous technologies in the warehouse may seem nerving for some, but “Introducing drones and other advanced tools — for example, robots for picking up goods — is a genuine win-win for everybody.” States, Tolga Öncu of Dutch IKEA holding company INGKA.

It improves our co-workers’ well-being, lowers operational costs and allows us to become more affordable and convenient for our customers.” 

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Typical supply chain management is labour intensive, time consuming and prone to human error, which is why many businesses are utilising artificial intelligence in their supply chains.

Artificial intelligence is used in supply chains to analyse data, track the flow of goods, and centralise information sharing with suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. The main goal being to streamline the entire end-to-end supply chain process and routinely look for ways to improve efficiency.

MacGregor Black’s Engineering & Operations specialist, Rob Blackburn explains that “AI tightly links together the business value chain, from manufacturing to the end consumer, and accurately forecasts customer demands to produce real-time analytics on a company’s entire supply chain performance.”

“The AI detects data patterns and recommends improvements such as, shorter walking times and smarter inventory positioning. Over time, the AI will even learn from its environment and perfect its own algorithm to ensure the warehouse is performing to maximum efficiency.”

One of the most beneficial features of AI is its ability to trigger automated responses to pre-defined scenarios. By communicating with the various internal data systems, AMRs and Cobots deployed at the warehouse, the AI can automatically respond to situations like a depletion in stock, a rise in market prices or a shift in consumer demand. For example, should the business run out of stock, their AI can automatically order more. Or should the market value of a product or raw material change, the AI can produce a detailed report advising the business on future procurement strategies.

This level of data-driven supply chain management reduces costs, mitigates risks, improves quality control, increases operational efficiency, and allows businesses to make informed analytical decisions, which in turn, improves the experience for the end customer.

It’s clear to see that automation has the potential to revolutionise the way warehouses operate. The latest developments in supply chain technology are creating exciting opportunities for businesses all over the world, which has raised a question in many of our minds, where does that leave humans? According to a report led by Oxford Economics, if the current rate of automation continues, 11.20 million manufacturing jobs will be lost to automation by 2030. Undeniably, certain occupations will become extinct in the battle between automation and tradition, however humans haven’t been totally eliminated from the race just yet. A report by the BBC suggested that the rise in automation will also boost the economy, predicting that 7.2 million specialist jobs will be created by 2037.

Automation is unarguably transforming the way businesses manage their supply chains. And as these technologies continue to evolve, the companies that will thrive will be those that are embracing the change. By taking full advantage of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics like drones, Cobots and AMRs, employers are able to maximise efficiency, improve safety and cut overall costs. However, automation technology requires immense planning and consideration, and if we’ve learned anything from sci-fi movie culture, this isn’t always the case…

If you’d like to speak with our dedicated team of Engineering & Supply Chain consultants, get in touch today via hello@macgregorblack.com or via +44 (0)191 691 1949.

Consumer, Events, Gifting, Industry, Interview, Toy Industry

Posted on 13 April 2023

With global revenue primed to break the $300billion mark for the first time this year and near double digit growth forecasted, the Toy industry is bursting with potential. Potential that many brands, old and new, are looking to build upon.

One such company, a LEGO licensed product distributor rooted in over thirty years of toy distribution, is currently navigating this highly competitive market. Most recently they have made a bold move, birthing their second distribution brand in four years.

MacGregor Black caught up with CEO & Founder of YAMANN, and the newly formed Bablu, Dominik Piotrowski to discuss the ins and outs of the global toy distribution industry. Including, licensing agreements, partnerships and what it takes to launch a successful brand in this fast-paced, billion dollar market.

MacGregor Black: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today, Dominik.

Let’s kick things off with a simple one, what exactly does licensing involve?

So, when it comes to licensing, firstly you’ve got the brand owner…you could say for example, LEGO, Disney, or Nickelodeon.

At some point, this brand owner decides that they don’t just want to create their own products anymore, they’re big enough that they can allow other manufacturers to create and sell products using their intellectual property. Such as, their branding, patents, and trademarks. Which is great for the manufacturers because they get to use globally recognised branding. But it’s also beneficial for the brand owner, as they get to expand their experience for their customers.

Usually, for the end customer, there’s no distinguishable difference. All they see is their favourite movie or game characters and assume the product was created by the brand themselves. More often than not, it was manufactured by a completely different company.

Now here’s where it can get slightly confusing. Many people confuse licensing with partnerships…

Licensing is essentially one company renting out their branding to another company, whereas a brand partnership will see the two companies come together with a collaborative approach. Usually, resulting in a range of products using both companies’ branding. LEGO have quite a few brand partnerships with the likes of Adidas, Nintendo, and Moleskin, that you’ve probably seen before.

MacGregor Black: Can you tell us more about what YAMANN does?  

Absolutely! YAMANN is a LEGO licensed product distributor in Poland. So, we work with the manufacturers to distribute their licensed products to retailers.

As soon as the LEGO licensed products are with YAMANN, we manage the entire process from that point onwards. So, YAMANN manages the relationships with buyers, the product placement on shelves, right through to territory marketing. We’re responsible for pretty much the entire customer experience.

YAMANN was founded almost four years ago, but we’re a company rooted in family tradition, with more than thirty years of LEGO distribution running through our veins. We’re a monobrand, and we have most of the LEGO licensed products under our portfolio. Which is so unique, and I think, gives us our biggest competitive advantage.

YAMANN’s relationship with LEGO is a legacy and a huge part of our brand purpose. It’s really important that we stick to that. But we do still want to grow and explore different opportunities, which is why we’ve just officially launched our daughter brand, Bablu!

MacGregor Black: Congratulations on the launch! So, can you tell us more about what Bablu does?  

Only cool stuff…

MacGregor Black: Is that the company tag line? ‘Only Cool Stuff’…

Haha, you guessed it!

Bablu is a distributor of top brands and sought-after licenses! The company has been in the works for a while now, but we officially launched at the International Kids’ Time Toy Fair in Kielce. It was fantastic!

MacGregor Black: Tell us more about Bablu? Why did you decide to launch the brand?

Like I said, YAMANN’s core identity is LEGO. Introducing non-LEGO products into YAMANN’s portfolio just didn’t fit with our identity. This is where Bablu comes in.

Launching Bablu meant that we could build a separate brand with a diverse catalogue of cool products and suppliers. Over the last two years, everyone at Bablu has been scouting Europe for brands we’d like to add into our portfolio. So far, Bablu is working with several strong licenses, with the likes of Hot Wheels, Pokémon, Chupa-Chups and Gabby’s Dollhouse, and we’re also working with some really cool independent brands like Waboba, Wild Planet and Mitama.

Sourcing the coolest, rarest, most exciting products on the market is Bablu’s number one goal. We visited numerous industry trade shows like, Distoy, The Toy Fair, KIDS’ TIME, and Nuremberg, to find the best partners. I definitely owe your consultant, Abbie Richardson a dinner! She recommended a few of those shows and they really paid off.

MacGregor Black: We’ll make sure to let her know! It sounds like you’re working with some really interesting brands, what are the factors in your decision making when sourcing new products?

Well, I’m very much a ‘gut feeling’ driven person. One of my personal mottos is, follow your gut, look for goosebumps. But, aside from that, it’s going to trade shows, speaking with people in the industry, keeping your eyes open for products that are unique and rare on the market.

Before I go to any tradeshow, I ask my team to run through the agenda so I can get a few different perspectives about what’s happening in the market. That helps the process massively because they might send me to see something different, or speak to someone I might not have spotted on my own. Teamwork is a huge part of what we do.  

Another big part of the process is also, of course, market research. We speak with buyers in Poland to get their opinions and feedback on our ideas. They’re the experts and they have so much experience.

We have strong personal relationships with our buyers, something that many of the bigger wholesalers can’t offer buyers because they just don’t have the time. I think cultivating personal relationships is how both companies get the most out of the interaction, it’s honest, it’s friendly and it’s fun. This is something we’re really proud of at YAMANN and definitely an element we want to carry over into Bablu. You know, I met a buyer last week and it was just like meeting an old friend, that’s something I love about my job.

MacGregor Black: What are you expecting to see in the licensing and distribution industry in 2023, and where does Bablu fit into this?

Well, the industry titans like LEGO, Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig, Harry Potter, and Minecraft will remain strong in 2023. All of those brands are regularly releasing new licensed products and partnerships. But what we have noticed is, there’s a few new kids on the block looking for a slice of the market share too, like Gabby’s Dollhouse. They’re growing rapidly at the moment!

What we’ve also noticed is a rising consumer interest in Anime. As a result, Pokémon has seen a huge revival and we’re seeing more demand from titles like, Naruto, Jujutsu Kaisen and My Hero Academia. 

At Bablu, we’re staying up to date with the latest trends to guarantee we’re seeing the most rare and exciting products on the market, and there’s some independent brands out there that are making some really cool, well-designed, surprising products. Bablu brings the best of these two worlds together. We have some really strong licensed products in our portfolio, but we’re also courageous enough to introduce new brands to the market.

We have something for each of our customers to love.

MacGregor Black: Thanks for sharing your time with us and we look forward to seeing YAMANN & Bablu’s success in 2023 and beyond.

Consumer, Cosmetics, Health & Beauty, Industry, Insight, Retail, Social Media, Sustainability, Technology

Posted on 20 February 2023

Currently valued at over $571billion, the beauty industry is a global superpower. A superpower not just growing, but also in the midst of a momentous change.

As consumer behaviour continues to evolve, technology, social media, and the Covid-19 pandemic are sculpting the industry’s evolution. Now more than ever, customers favour convenience over tradition, with many moving toward DIY, and away from salon treatments.

But what alternatives are out there? Are they effective? And are they here to stay?

MacGregor Black takes a closer look at the evolution of the global beauty industry, why consumers are opting for at-home alternatives, and which brands are delivering the best salon-quality products, right to your sofa.

Are Salons Set to Recover?

Nail, hair, and beauty salons we’re among the worst hit during the recent Covid-19 pandemic. Turnover fell by an average of 45%, social distancing limited footfall, and as a result full-time employment in the industry plunged a whopping 21%.

But with any change… comes opportunity.

The sudden starvation from years of habitual beauty routines, coupled with a severe drop in revenue, spurred on a burst of innovation across the industry. In 2021 alone, the beauty tech revenue rocketed to $3.8 billion, with a range of new and exciting products available. This new formed bond between beauty and technology opened up a world of opportunity for customer and creator alike. Modern self-applied beauty treatments have evolved far beyond at-home facials and DIY pedicures. Utilising a mixture of light emitting diode (LED), microcurrent technology and even augmented reality (AR), brands are now looking to rival salons with the launch of their own high-tech equipment, for at-home use.

Light Emitting Diode – LED

First discovered by NASA in the 90’s, LED lights were used to observe effects on plant growth in space. Noting it’s interesting healing abilities, the technology has since shown great promise, quickly gaining interest among health and beauty manufacturers.

LED light therapy exposes the skin to varied wavelengths of light such as, red, near infrared, yellow, green, and blue light. According to research, the red light stimulates collagen growth, while blue light targets bacteria that causes acne, green light can alter pigmentation, and yellow light can have strong healing qualities.

Research also suggests that LED treatments can prove effective when it comes to reducing the symptoms of aging or sun-damaged skin, as well as treating certain skin conditions such as acne and rosacea. When administered by a salon professional, the equipment they operate is usually significantly more powerful, with treatments often priced between £80-£100 per session.

In an effort to replicate the same results at home, health, and beauty brand, CurrentBody, have launched what they’ve dub the ‘Skin LED Light Therapy Mask’, a substantial looking piece of equipment that combines both red and near infrared light wavelengths to ‘kickstart your skin’s collagen production’. And it doesn’t stop there. CurrentBody have also incorporated the same LED technology in their ‘Skin LED Hair Regrowth Device’, which the beauty brand proudly declares will “penetrate deep under the skin’s surface for instant and long-lasting results”.

Therabody, MZ Skin and Dr Dennis Gross Skincare are brands that have also released LED light therapy devices, all of which featured in a recent edition of British Vogue, labelled ‘The Best LED Face Masks’. At a cost ranging from £100 to £600, depending on the manufacturer, those planning on reaping the benefits of LED Light therapy can have the potential to save both time and money. A growing focus across much of the NPD within the Consumer and Retail industries.

Microcurrent Technology

Hoping to wipe surgical facelifts off the map, microcurrent technology applies weak currents of electricity directly to the face in order to stimulate and tighten the muscles. The whole idea behind microcurrent technology is that it can be used to improve blood circulation and stimulate collagen production to give the face a youthful glow.

Kriisti Atherton, MacGregor Black’s Health & Beauty Specialist sat down with Hrvoje Sarac, Chief Operating Officer at wellness brand, Foreo, to learn more about their use of microcurrent technology in their range of increasingly popular products. The creators of the well-known ‘Foreo Bear’ and ‘Foreo Bear Mini’ pride themselves on ‘making self-care simple, easy, and enjoyable‘ with their range of effective, clinically tested devices.

Microcurrent technology is something that’s been around in science for years,” Said Sarac.

We haven’t invented this technology. All we’ve done is simply adapt it to fit in both your hand and your budget. The Bear and The Bear Mini are our best-selling products, and how they work is, the microcurrent and T Sonic massage feature boosts microcirculation and lymphatic drainage, which feeds nutrients to the skin cells and eliminates toxins.

Before we launched the products, tons of research went into ensuring we used the right frequency to really get the right results, and paired with our jelly serum that acts as a conductor, our customers now have everything they need to get that professional face-lifting result at home. So many people say that they can feel the difference even after just one use, but if you really want the best results then we definitely recommend using it daily. It’s like going to the gym, if you go once a week, you probably won’t see much of a difference, but going to the gym every day, you’re going to see the results.

One of the most frequently asked questions consumers ask about microcurrent devices is, are they safe? Kriisti highlights this topic in her conversation with Foreo’s Hrvoje Sarac, who mentions the potential risks of using devices incorrectly and emphasises the need for safety.

Customers should always read the instructions before using these products, as with some of them on the market right now, there is actually a risk of burning your skin if the devices are either made, or used incorrectly. What makes our products truly unique is our highly advanced Anti-Shock System that actually scans and measures the customer’s skin’s resistance to electricity, and automatically adjusts the microcurrent’s intensity to ensure it’s not too intense. The Bear in particular is the most effective, safe-to-use, microcurrent facial device available, and that’s clinically tested.

Also on the list of beauty brands currently investing in microcurrent technology is, MyoLift, NuFace and Magnitone, having also released their own range of products designed for at home use.

Augmented Reality

No longer a futuristic feature in sci-fi movies, augmented reality has crept its way off the big screen and into our everyday lives.

In the world of health & beauty, it can allow customers the ability to virtually experiment with different looks in real time. AR has, in short, revolutionised the way many of us interact with our favourite brands and has personalised the way we experience their products. These advanced tools use facial recognition and AR technology to analyse customer’s skin tone, facial structure, and features to recommend cosmetics and skincare products in real-time. However, one AR feature proving widely popular amongst the younger generation has recently come under scrutiny…filters.

When first launched in 2015, filters (or ‘lenses’ as they were first referred to as) were primarily used for entertainment. Fast forward to today and social media platforms provide filters as an alternative to more permanent and costly alternatives. With options including enhancing their lips, lift their brows, change skin pigmentation, bone structure, eyes, lips, and the list goes on. All with just the click of a button. The numbers on the other hand suggest the opposite. Many plastic surgeons are reporting an increase in plastic surgery treatments, directly attributed the use of social media filters, giving a potential glimpse at a new you. Professionals have dubbed this social media surgery craze ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’, declaring that it could soon be an overwhelming problem amongst younger social media users.

As an expansive range of new at-home devices are being launched, beauty brands may perhaps look to combat this growing concern in a sustainable and ethical manner, guiding their customers down the path to safer alternatives.

With this task in mind, many beauty technology companies have strategically partnered with influencers and celebrities in a bid to aid the switch from salon to sofa. Through engaging posts, reels & stories, influencers, and celebrities aim to showcase the brand’s latest high-tech products to their followers, demonstrating that you don’t need a salon appointment to see salon-quality results.

As we can see, technology, social media, and a shift in consumer thinking have all left a significant imprint on the beauty industry’s exciting evolution. Whilst a global pandemic has transformed our collective focus, advancements In technology have all but accelerated innovation, resulting in a plethora of inventive, state-of-the-art beauty technology.

So, whilst there is little sign of us eliminating salons altogether, the rapidly growing amount of advanced at-home products have, without a doubt, birthed a new approach to beauty. Today, it’s LED light masks and microcurrent facial massagers, tomorrow, it’s endless possibilities…

If you’d like to speak to a specialist in our dedicated Health & Beauty practice, get in touch today via 0191 691 1949 or email us at hello@macgregorblack.com

Case Study, Consumer, Industry, Insight

Posted on 19 January 2023

With record numbers of companies entering administration, unseen since the 2008 financial crisis, coupled with government intervention in the form of furlough schemes and business support grants, how and why did some companies experience record levels of growth during Covid-19? And what can we expect to see next?

As many business leaders can attest, the key to a successful and sustainable model is a solid set of foundations; with recent events testing one such foundation above all else…the ability to adapt to change.

When the global pandemic first surfaced, very few could have predicted the scale, duration, and lasting impact it would leave on us. Many lost livelihoods, businesses we’re starved of cash, and new health & safety procedures we’re being designed around the clock.

Now, three years on, some could argue the economy is beginning to settle into the ‘new normal’. Brands are once again evolving to accommodate the latest wave of consumer expectations, confidence is on the up, and the dust is beginning to settle in the battle between e-tail and retail.

But what exactly are consumers expecting from brands? Why did some thrive during the pandemic? And what does the ‘new normal’ even look like?

MacGregor Black takes a closer look at how companies have successfully adapted their business models and are continuing to do so in a post-pandemic economy.

From Surviving to Thriving

Conscious Consumerism  

At the height of the pandemic, communities worldwide rallied together, key workers we’re celebrated as national heroes, and in true wartime fashion, companies in all corners of the globe rapidly converted their operations in a bid to cover us head to toe in PPE.

Today, although the dust may well have settled and we no longer find ourselves staring down the barrel of a global epidemic, the value of acting with an increased level of consciousness has not been lost on the every-day consumer…

Studies show that one such pre-pandemic trend is once again blossoming. Consumers are once again favouring brands that are conscious of their social, environmental, and economic impact. Research conducted by global professional services company, Accenture, found that a whopping 72% of shoppers are focusing more on limiting food waste, 68% are shopping more health-consciously and 66% of people are actively making more sustainable choices when purchasing, and will continue to do so.

Looking to stay ahead of this sudden moral shift in consumer behaviour, many brands have re-assed how their products are made, packaged, marketed, distributed, and discarded of. With the aim of reducing any negative impacts at each stage of the process. Such change has directly led to organisations making wholesale changes such as, sourcing more energy efficient suppliers, reducing non-recyclable materials throughout their product lifestyle, investing in renewable energy sources, partnering with charitable causes, and setting ambitious sustainability targets that will no doubt, pave the way for numerous additional changes in the future.

MacGregor Black’s Specialist Operations Consultant, Rob Blackburn, comments:

“The negative impact that brands have on the planet has been a priority for most businesses since covid, particularly in the food industry, and I’d say there’s definitely been an organisational shift in many companies to accommodate that.

‘In the past, Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) was often grouped together into the same job function, but now, with there being such a huge focus on sustainability, I’m supporting more and more businesses with splitting ‘Environmental’ into its own separate function; and I’m souring more specialist talent, with specific knowledge into environmentally focused practices.

The same can be said for the Beauty industry, Comments, Kriisti Atherton, MacGregor Black’s Health & Beauty Specialist.

“As consumers demand more from the brands they love, we see more campaigns like the ‘Clean Label Movement’ pop up. In response, companies are looking to make major environmental, sustainable, and ethical changes to their products, and they need the skills to back it up! Right now, I’m working with various beauty clients to source passionate well-networked candidates who have experience sourcing clean ingredients, working within B Corp Certified businesses, and who have experience building relationships with global ethical partners.”

Health & Safety

Executing health and safety measures has long been a priority in the workplace. Yet, the pandemic unarguably forced companies to act with a level of urgency unlike any other. For some businesses, the pandemic unmasked a number of underlying flaws in their existing practices; acting as a catalyst for change and forcing companies to re-think their future business models.

Important topics around mental health & wellbeing, hybrid working, the need for effective childcare, sufficient sick pay, and reasonable adjustments have all been widely spotlighted by employees since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jack Dennerlein, PhD, adjunct professor of Ergonomics and Safety at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health commented, “The pandemic has brought topics like well-being to the forefront of the conversation. Now, all of a sudden, people realise the impact work has on mental health, and other aspects of well-being, through impacts like reliance on childcare and disparities in work. The conversation has changed.” 

Having noted the appreciation from staff and in some cases, an uplift in productivity, many businesses have chosen to stick with their ‘pandemic’ benefits; opting to continue offering additional support such as, hybrid working, free 1-2-1 counselling sessions, regular manager well-being calls, revised sick pay policies and regular occupational health training. Chevron, one of the world’s leading energy companies, has continued to run what they refer to as, The Employee Assistance and WorkLife Services Program, which offers their employees free sessions with licensed counsellors to help cope with any challenges they may face in the workplace, or at home. This is something Chevron will continue to offer staff now, and in the future.

Some businesses hoped to reduce stress and anxiety by offering their employees benefits such as, mental health webinars or free subscriptions to health and wellness apps. Whilst this may be useful and even greatly appreciated by some, it could also come across as slightly dismissive. If employees’ workloads are too excessive, management is lacking in compassion, or they’re unable to support a work-life balance, how effective will a mandatory mental health webinar really be? Perhaps an opportunity has been missed here to really address the underlying issues? More than just raising awareness and promoting an understanding culture, the organisations that are flourishing in today’s post-pandemic world are those that are ensuring line managers are fully trained, are listening to their employees, and have a thorough understanding of what good mental health support looks like, on a case-by-case basis.


“According to a survey of 1,001 Americans, when asked ‘Have you ever bought a product or service online that you found out about from an influencer?’, over a whopping 52% said yes! “

– Digital Marketing Specialists, Fractl and BuzzStream,

Diving Deep into Digital

Without a doubt, the post-pandemic world is a digital one.

As retailers closed their doors and physical interaction was kept to a ‘Castaway like’ minimum, the digital world proved to be not just a lifeline for many businesses, but a license to succeed. Brands that not only embraced but adapted and invested in this digital transformation thrived. Even after retailers opened their doors, mass vaccinations were introduced and the world began to re-settle into a somewhat ‘normal’ existence, the digital boom has showed no signs of slowing down. In fact, it’s estimated that digital media accounted for 59% of all global ad spend in 2020.

Similar to the Health and Safety sector, the push towards digital transformation forced many organisations to pay closer attention to their digital and technology investments. In a pre-pandemic world, digital campaigns were often mere brand marketing tools, used simply to bolster impressions and raise overall awareness. Whereas today, after a period of relying solely on tech to engage with customers, many digital campaigns now feed customers directly into specially designed sales and ecommerce mechanisms; through an integrated and cohesive sales funnel that allows companies to closely measure their ROI. For example, in 2021, Shopify began using QR codes dubbed, ‘Shopcodes’ that when scanned with their phones, directed customers to specific products, tracked conversions, and allowed them to retarget customers for future sales in an entirely digital environment.

MacGregor Black’s Specialist Ecommerce Consultant, Qasim Khan, comments:

“With digital campaigns now driving an increased share of sales since the pandemic, the need to track, measure and tailor these campaigns has become an absolute necessity. In my market, I’m seeing more of my Fashion & Luxury clients invest in UX/UI and Performance Marketing roles as a result.

There’s also been a large increase in the number of brands launching and developing their marketplace presence. Which is another accelerant for the need to hire experienced, analytically minded, and results orientated professionals, with specific skillsets such as Zalando or Amazon.”

Another digital strategy that many businesses saw exponential growth through is affiliate marketing. With millions confined to their homes, unable to work, travel, or socialise. Many turned to, you guessed it… social media. The undisputed home of affiliate marketing. And an environment that provided both brands and affiliates with the perfect recipe for growth.

Many brands recognised this increase in social media activity, and when coupled with an eCommerce boom, developed purpose-built strategies to capitalise, financially rewarding customer to customer interactions, UGC production, web traffic, and sales. When we add to that the emergence of ‘at home’ products such as high-end coffee machines, air fryers, and pizza ovens, customers are continually searching for an elevated experience without ever leaving the house. And who better to influence them, than… the influencers.

Brands have now not only fine-tuned the quality of their social campaigns, but have also increased their partnerships with influencers, and micro-influencers, that are able to offer them a direct route to their target audience. According to a survey of 1,001 Americans, conducted by digital marketing specialists, Fractl and BuzzStream, when asked ‘Have you ever bought a product or service online that you found out about from an influencer?’, over a whopping 52% said yes! Companies can work with influencers to promote all sorts of products, from clothes & makeup, to cleaning products & home organisation accessories. By simply clicking a link on their favourite influencer’s page, customers are sent straight to the product purchase page, where they can often buy it using a discount code from the influencer, who usually receives a small sponsorship payment each time someone purchases the product using their link.

The biggest downfall to online shopping is of course, the inability to physically interact the item. Making it difficult to get a sense of whether or not it’s the right product. This is one of the key opportunities for Augmented Reality to act as a reliable substitute for testing out and trying on items in the store. For example, social media brand Snapchat has partnered with various fashion and retail companies to offer their users AR creations that allow customers to try on products via their app. Their most recent partnership will see thousands of Amazon’s top-selling eyewear virtually don the faces of Snapchat users across the world. If looking to purchase any of the glasses, users will then be directed to the ‘Amazon Fashion’ store directly form the Snapchat app.

Snapchat explained:

“More customers are turning to mobile shopping – in the past year, Amazon Fashion customers ordered more than one billion fashion items on mobile devices. The growing Snapchat community of 363M daily active users now have access to Amazon’s popular eyewear brands, including Maui Jim, Persol, Oakley, and Costa Del Mar, among others.”

However, on the flip side to the fashion coin, resale platforms like Depop, Preworn and Preloved, that sell second-hand clothes have also prospered since the Covid-19 pandemic, as a result of the spike in conscious consumerism mentioned earlier.

Bricks and Mortuary?

Despite the unarguable window of opportunity that digital devices have presented businesses with since covid-19, some of the world’s most popular global brands like Apple, Macy’s and Walmart are still continuing to advocate for Bricks & Mortar retail. But, if stores want to engage with their customers on a physical level, does shopping needs to evolve with the times?

Today, if a customer visits a store, they expect an experience that outperforms the convenience of shopping online. And so, the ‘Experiential boom’ begins.

Whilst not all concepts are brand new, shop-in-shop for example (where a brand or retailer opens its own smaller retail space inside another retailer’s store) is certainly on the rise. In many cases, with shop-in-shop partnerships, there will be a general cross over between the customer base of the two brands involved.

In February 2021, just as the pandemic was beginning to settle, and stores we’re attempting to lure us through their doors once again, US retailer Target unveiled the first ‘Apple at Target shop-in-shop’. The partnership provided the tech giant with a new route to market, as well as elevating Target’s status as a prime destination for electronics and accessories. A win-win. Target have also extended their existing shop-in-shop partnership with UltaBeauty, adding 250 of the beauty brand’s pop-up stores in national Target locations.

Another company embracing beauty concessions is, Kohl’s, who have announced a huge shop-in-shop programme with beauty retailer, Sephora, which will see 850 mini-Sephora stores in Kohl’s stores this year. Furthermore, Walmart introduced their own shop-in-shop concept, having partnered with Claire’s in 2018, which saw the retailer’s accessories and jewellery stocked in more than 250,00 Walmart stores. Not to mention, a strategic partnership ahead of the recent holiday period also saw high-end US department store, Macy’s, partner with WHP Global to bring Toy’s R Us stores to every US Macy’s location throughout the months of July- October 2022; making things much easier for exhausted parents to shop for both quality clothes and noisy toys all in one place.

In the hopes of also reinventing their customer’s retail experience, some brands have invested further in alternative experiential marketing methods. Similar to ‘shop-in-shop’ and sometimes referred to as event marketing, or engagement marketing, experiential marketing is a way for brands to physically interact with their customers through a specific experience. For example, Lululemon not only sells trendy yoga attire, but also offers customers free, drop-in yoga and fitness classes in almost every store. Luxury department store, Nordstrom even introduced a Tonal exercise machine in their stores in 2021, which customers can use for free with a full demo included.

As each example above demonstrates, the world is a multifaceted, reactive place, moulded only by the ever-evolving economy. The margin for success and failure is often razor thin, and after facing almost three years of uncertainty and the ability to conduct business as usual, brands in all corners of the globe have put their malleability to the test; making radical changes in the hopes of catering to a list of post-pandemic demands. From revised working from home policies to detailed and integrated digital campaigns, the businesses that were able to make the necessary changes not only survived… but thrived.

If you’d like to speak to our team of management and executive talent partners, get in touch today via hello@macgregorblack.com or +191 691 1949

Drinks, Hospitality, Industry, Insight, Interview

Posted on 10 January 2023

From a humble beginning selling beer into London’s bustling pubs, to masterminding the rebrand of what would become the UK’s bestselling premium lager, and most recently, leading a small South London Brewery to a £120m acquisition by SAB Miller Brands…

Drinks industry stalwart, Nick Miller has hopped up the ranks of the ever-evolving beer sector, amassing over 35 years’ experience and shaping a range of world-class brands along the way.

MacGregor Black recently sat down with the current Non-Exec Director at Young’s PLC, and author of ‘In The Meantime: Lessons and Learning from a Career in Beer’, to discuss all things drinks and what it takes to brew a successful career in such a competitive industry.

MacGregor Black: So, Nick, you’ve certainly had an interesting career in the beer industry. For those of us who are yet to read your debut book, ‘In The Meantime’, tell us where it all began.

Nick: I left school when I was 18 after failing all my A-levels, and ended up working  down a mine for around 6 months as a Laborer. That was a real education… I wasn’t very career focused then, but that experience did teach me what I didn’t want to do with my life!

After that, I spent some time as a shoe shop manager before I joined Bass in 1986 as a Free-Trade Salesman, selling their beer into pubs, working men’s clubs, bingo halls and restaurants; anywhere that had an alcohol license, really. That was my first step into the drinks industry. Three years after that, when I was 24, Bass asked me to manage 18 of their North London pubs.

The change from selling beer to retailing in pubs was a great learning experience as it facilitated seeing both sides of the coin.

When I was a free-trade salesman, my perspective was of representing a branded company selling its products to someone who is planning to sell it on to someone else, so it was very much business to business sales. When I became the receiver of the product and I managed an actual outlet, I got a much greater understanding of what the consumer wanted as I was actually experiencing their needs and requirements in a face-to-face ‘relationship’. These experiences shaped my future selling perspective, I knew that when selling a product or service I had to ensure that both consumer and customer needs were fulfilled.

I also learned a lot from the people around me, people who had really lived life. I was a country lad, living just outside Burton on Trent so I was pretty ‘green’. When it came to working in London, it was a totally different world and I had to grow up pretty quickly. The whole experience made me more streetwise…

MacGregor Black: During your successful career with Bass, you were headhunted by our CEO & Founder, Jon McNeish, with an exciting opportunity to join SAB Miller Brands UK. Can you tell us a little about the challenge of steering the little known beer brand, Peroni, onto the path to becoming the fastest growing beer brand the industry during the late 80’s ?

Nick: Well, the first step was creating a brand position that people could connect to both emotionally and from a needs basis. Where you position your brand is key, a product has got to give the customer reasons to believe in it and the attributes of that product will determine how the customer feels about it. We started with the brand name, calling it Peroni, instead of ‘Nastro Azzurro’ because it was easier to say at the bar and it rolled off the tongue better. That was quite fundamental to re-positioning our brand.

Then, because the aim was to create a premium product, we built the whole brand around a high-end Italian proposition, which was crucial because Italian products are often perceived as premium. As you know, there’s many Italian iconic brands covering all sorts of consumer categories – luxury Italian fashion, quality leather products and world-famous chefs, so Peroni being an Italian brand actually gave us a fantastic starting position to creating a premium brand.

After that, lots of research was commissioned to find out if the customer and consumer would actually buy the product. We were always measuring the desirability of the brand and were constantly hosting consumer feedback groups. There’s a handy scale you can use to measure how your brand is doing that I’ve included in the book. there was a lot of ‘marketing science’ that was employed to ensure we built a brand that resonated with both direct customer (the retailer) and the consumer.

 “I’m a big believer in ‘you’re only as good as those around you’, and I couldn’t have done it all without the amazing, highly skilled people that I got the pleasure of working with.”

MacGregor Black: Successfully shifting an existing brand into the premium category certainly comes with its own unique challenges. One of those being the balance a marketer must strike between maintaining a product’s exclusivity and managing its perception, in line with increasing consumption and sales.

Nick: Yes, that’s exactly it. You have got to be really careful how you market a premium product because if you make it too available, you can dilute your exclusivity. We marketed our product on a word-of-mouth basis. We targeted the main UK cities including, London, Newcastle, Glasgow, Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Edinburgh, and focused our marketing activity there. After that, we would let our customers do the rest, as most of our ‘opinion formers’ would invariably travel into those cities for nights out and they’d then talk about the brand when they got back home.

We also focused on convincing retailers that we weren’t going to discount the product in the off trade. This meant they could keep a premium price point on the product. We avoided the ‘big box discount’ route that other premium lagers had followed and tried to ensure that demand stayed ahead of availability.

MacGregor Black: All of which clearly worked given Peroni’s success!

Nick: It was a total team effort. I’m a big believer in ‘you’re only as good as those around you’, and I couldn’t’ have done it all without the amazing, highly skilled people that I got the pleasure of working with. That was a big reason for wanting to put together the book, to shoutout and thank all those who had helped me along in my career. We wouldn’t have had the success we did at Peroni, or Meantime, without the people who passionately worked together to make it a success. I was the lucky one to lead them.

MacGregor Black: You mentioned your time at Meantime Brewing Company, a totally different environment from Peroni… What were the most notable differences you found moving from a large corporate setting, into a small start-up environment?

Nick: There was a massive cultural difference. You operate in a ‘glamorous ‘bubble’ in a big PLC company like Peroni. There are people to bring you coffee, chauffeurs, assistants, analysts, and most notably a treasury department to look after your banking needs. Meantime was like working in a shed compared to that! It was freezing, my laptop was ancient, and I used a decorating table as my desk for a while before we got things going. There were no secretaries, so I had to revisit a lot of the work I’d forgotten over the last 30 years. As you grow in your career, you start passing on a lot of responsibilities to others, so when I started at Meantime, I understood how to run a business, but I didn’t realise how much I’d have to re-learn. That was a big challenge.

MacGregor Black: And what would you say are the biggest personal challenges that the CEO of an SME will face?

Nick: Just don’t get ahead of yourself…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m passionate, fun, and I try to never take myself too seriously. If you do that you can get ahead of yourself. I get excited, of course, but not over excited, which was a big part of staying grounded at Meantime. I also never got despondent, and I tried to operate within an emotional framework that didn’t go to the extremes. When something went badly, (which they did, and I certainly ballsed things up a few times over the years), whilst it upset me at the time, those moments became good learning experiences that I could fall back on. If you ‘get ahead of yourself’ you often miss learning experiences.

Basically, you want to avoid flat lining, you should absolutely get excited, or even upset, you’ve got to have some passion in life, but you mustn’t let it overspill. Sometimes life is two steps forward and one step back, it’s about trying to navigate that perspective.

MacGregor Black: It’s fantastic that you have been able to carve out such a successful career for yourself, if you hadn’t been approached by our CEO for the role with SAB Miller, where do you think your career would’ve taken you?

Nick: that’s a really good question! I’ve not thought about that much… but I loved my time at SAB Miller. I would have stayed for a while longer, maybe even moved abroad if it wasn’t for the opportunity with Meantime. I’d love to know if I could have had the same success in a different country.

I’ve also always had an appetite for risk, so I’d also like to think that I still would have taken the entrepreneurial plunge in another small company.

If I was to rewind back and start again, I’d look at working in finance or tech. Those industries just keep growing and growing. However, if I’m honest, I don’t think I have the personality for those types of businesses. I like people focused companies so would probably still ended up with working with some sort of consumer brand.

MacGregor Black: In just a few short years, we’ve seen UK & European drinking culture evolve drastically. We find one of the biggest catalysts for change has been the recent shift in conscious consumerism, with more people focusing on the products they consume, what’s in them, how sustainable they are etc. which all feeds back to the positioning of a brand in the market.

Nick: Absolutely, in 2022 we noticed a decrease in alcohol consumption within the 18-24 age group, which the sudden boom in health-conscious consumerism has definitely influenced.

MacGregor Black: As the recent Gin boom begins to level out, our dedicated Drinks practice have been increasingly busy supporting several of our Rum and Craft Beer producing clients, following the increased consumer demand during the past year. What has caught your eyes most in the Drinks Industry during 2022?

Nick: Hmm, there’s been quite a few actually…

Craft beer has seen some serious innovation, with brands like, BrewDog and Beavertown dominating the off and on-trade respectively. This was also the first year that flavored gin overtook normal gin sales, which was unusual, and both sparkling wine and champagne have also done really well recently. Oh, and watch out for English sparkling wines – they’re very good!

All in all, 2022 was a pretty hard year for everyone. Covid, the cost-of-living crisis, rail strikes and inflation have all impacted the hospitality industry.  I’m hopeful that 2023 will be more productive.

MacGregor Black: And looking ahead to 2023 there seems to be a blend of hesitation and excitement in the market, as often comes with economic uncertainty. What are your predictions for this year?

Nick: I think it will all depend on how the cost-of-living crisis pans out, but I’m hoping we see more innovation in the industry. I believe the shift in health-conscious consumerism we discussed will continue and we’ll definitely see a surge in more health drinks this year. More people are trying seltzers recently, I think we’ll see some seltzer brands break into the mainstream in 2023.

MacGregor Black: And finally, Nick, following a glittering career and the release of your debut book, ‘In The Meantime: Lessons and Learning from a Career in Beer’ what does the next chapter hold for you?

Nick: Well, I’m currently working with Youngs PLC as a non-exec Director and I’ll probably continue to dabble in certain things from afar (on the advisory side that is).To be honest, moving from operating to advising has been challenging… Whilst I don’t really have the appetite to do 70 hours a week anymore, I sometimes find it hard being a consultant because I just want to go and do it, you know, “get stuck in! “

If you would like to speak with our specialist team of Drinks Consultants, contact us on 0191 691 1949 or email us at hello@macgregorblack.com

Consumer, Drink, Events, Hospitality, Industry, Insight, Interview, Retail

Posted on 15 November 2022

As a wave of drinks brands look to innovate and evolve in a post-Covid world, consumers are often left wading through an overwhelming number of choices that currently flood the shelves of bars, restaurants, and supermarkets alike.

This sudden burst of quality spirits has birthed a highly competitive market, with one such brand, launching on the cusp of the global pandemic, having embraced the highs and lows of the unpredictable, yet exciting drinks industry.

Born out of a deep love for the Caribbean and a desire to shake up the rum category, this unique brand has gone above and beyond, voyaging across the oceans to bring us a range of quality, craft rums… with a twist.

MacGregor Black talks with Cleo Farman, Managing Director of award-winning drinks company, Diablesse Rum, about ‘savouring over sessioning’, breaking the sailor mold, and what the future holds for this ambitious brand.

MacGregor Black: So, Cleo, to someone who’s never come across Diablesse Rum before, how would you introduce the brand?

Cleo: Gosh, where do I start? First of all, I’m proud to say it’s the first female-owned rum brand in the UK (Yay!). Diablesse was born out of a HUGE appreciation for quality Caribbean rums, where people have distilled rum since the early 17th century and is where I think the best rums come from! The figurehead of the brand, the beautiful woman on the label, is La Diablesse, a mythical female enchantress character from Caribbean folklore. The purpose of the brand is to change people’s outdated perception of rum which still seems to be that it’s mega strong and quite samey flavours, if you know what I mean?

MacGregor Black: And why did you choose La Diablesse to represent the brand?

Cleo: Some of the best master distillers out there are women but unfortunately, you wouldn’t always know that. I wanted to get a bit more female representation in the industry, and I was lucky enough to come across Diablesse. She was a temptress that also stood for female empowerment and she’s of Caribbean descent so represents the heritage of the beautiful rums in the blends (and it would be a travesty to put anyone else on the label in my opinion), But, yeah, I thought her character sat well with the brand and what we stand for, which is that: Diablesse rum is a female forward inclusive rum brand, is flavour lead and is here to show people that there’s more to rum than they might think.

MacGregor Black: With so many spirits out there to work with, why did you choose to launch a rum brand?

Cleo: Basically, I used to be a gin drinker but, to be honest, I got a bit bored. And since I used to own four bars in Manchester, that gave me a really good platform to explore distinct categories of spirits and I discovered that I quite liked rum.

So, I went off to the Caribbean and looked at the distilleries there, met with loads of impressive people that knew a lot about rum and I really loved it. Ok, I’m going to be a nerd now, but my Diablesse Golden Rum is a blend of an eight-year-old double distilled rum from Barbados, a four-year-old copper pot still rum from Jamaica and a three-year-old rum that’s made in the only wooden column still in the whole world! It’s been really exciting working with all these lovely flavours and pairing them up to see what fits.

MacGregor Black: So, what exciting things do you have going on now at Diablesse Rum?

Cleo: Oh my gosh. Loads of things! So, right now I’m going through a major fundraise. There’s so much money involved in launching a spirit brand. I’ve put a lot of my own money into the brand because I believe in Diablesse and now that I’ve demonstrated, through a good sales record, that people like it and want to buy it, I’m now looking for investors to join me!

I’ve also got a new Marketing person starting with me soon who is working with me to put together quite an ambitious marketing plan. If we raise the money, we’ll be doing activations across the UK, attending festivals, and just working hard to get the brand message out there, really. Which is nerve-wracking but also super exciting!

Diablesse Rum is also going to be making an appearance at the Manchester Christmas markets this year, which is 41 days solid of talking about rum! I’ve put a team together and we’ll be there to spread the message and speak with anyone who’s interested in knowing more (and to give everyone a taste!)  I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve got a stall at St Anne’s Square, and we’ll be there from the 10th of November, so come and see us!

MacGregor Black: What would you say your most ambitious goal is for the Diablesse Brand?

Cleo: I’d love to open a little distillery under the Diablesse brand, where I could experiment with creating more of my own small batch limited addition rums. I’d like to have a brand home at some point in the near future, where people can learn about the company, visit our in-house bar, and really get a feel for the complete Diablesse experience. And I’d also love to see Diablesse launch into the US and China, but not just yet. 

But, having said all that, I’d say my most ambitious goal for the brand is, like I say, to change people’s opinion about rum entirely. In the UK, a lot of people still associate rum with the Navy and it’s seen as quite a male drink. You know, you’ve got many rums brands such as, Neptune Rum, Captain Morgan, or Sailor Jerry, but I wanted to do something a bit different. Bring a new light in and really shake up people’s perception of rum to see it as something that can be savoured, rather than chucked back with a coke mixer. ’Savour, not session’ is what I’m going for!

After building Diablesse here and abroad, one of my most ambitious personal goals is to launch into different spirits, but not under the Diablesse brand. Diablesse is so personal to rum and the Caribbean, so I don’t think another spirit would sit under that brand. I would probably look to get into white spirits, but not gin. There you go, there’s a clue… yeah, Gin is brilliant, it’s doing really well but not gin ….  I’d like to keep away from that.

MacGregor Black: Having been there and done it, what advice would you offer someone looking to launch their own brand-new rum brand?

Cleo: Well, firstly I’d say do your homework! It takes a lot to get off the ground, there’s so many hoops you have to jump through for instance getting your licenses from HMRC. I even had people check my home to make sure I wasn’t some sort of dodgy rum dealer! For Diablesse, I store a lot of the rum under bond, which basically means I stored my rum in HMRC-operated warehouses and am only required to pay the Alcohol tax once I’ve taken a bottle out of the warehouse, rather than paying it all in one go. That has helped with cashflow immensely, but you have to get special government licenses to be able to do it and it can be quite difficult.

Secondly, I’d say be honest with your forecasting. It costs a lot more money than you’d ever think to get going, I learned that the hard way.

Another thing is, you’ve got to build your distribution. Once you’ve made your rum, how are people actually going to buy it? It’s not often that you can just walk into a bar and say, here, I have a rum, do you want to sell it? You need to work with wholesalers, which can be hard and takes a lot of time. I started out doing markets to push Diablesse out there and that’s how I met my wholesaler. I now have a distributor that sells to wholesalers, so I’ve gone about it that way.

Lastly, build a brand that means something. Don’t just think, ok, I want to make a rum because I want to make lots of money because people see right through that. people want to know who you are, what you’re about, what drives you and what drives the brand. For me, I really like rum and I’ve built the brand around a story that resonates with what I’m trying to achieve.

MacGregor Black: And finally, to round things off, which Diablesse drink would you recommend to newcomers?

Cleo: I’m sorry, but I love them all!

Well, I guess you could say my personal favourite is our Golden Rum with a ginger and lime mixer, but that’s not always to everyone’s taste, is it? So, I’d recommend trying the Clementine Spice Rum, paired with a Fever Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale mixer, or at this time of year, hot apple juice! I also really love the Diablesse Coconut & Hibiscus Flower Rum with Franklin’s Pineapple and Almond mixer. All of those are delicious and I drink them at home.

If you would like to speak with our specialist team of Drinks Consultants, or would like to discuss featuring in our next MB Talks, contact us on 0191 691 1949 or email us at hello@macgregorblack.com