Wine branding: Drinks by design

DRN gets the lowdown on how wine branding has changed over the years from expert Abigail Barlow.

Award-winning drinks design agency BD Creative has been renamed Barlow & Co as it celebrates its 21st birthday. Abigail Barlow set up the firm back in 1998 and it has since worked with leading retailers including Asda and Spar, large global brands such as McGuigan and boutique producers like Jenkyn Place in Hampshire. We caught up with Barlow to find out her reflections on the past 21 years, her vision for the future and her advice for retailers bidding to create an exciting and visibly appealing wine range.

Why did you change the name and refresh the branding?

In our ever-evolving industry, any brand that does not move with the times risks becoming irrelevant and getting left behind. We recognised the need for an identity that better communicated exactly who we are and what we do. I bring 30-plus years of wine and drinks trade experience to my company, but it’s not just about me. Everything we do is a collaboration, both within our team and, more importantly, with our clients. Going beyond the label really is our USP. Barlow & Co – think of it as “co” for collaboration and “co” for our company teamwork.

How has wine design evolved over the past 21 years?

Back in 1998 it was the beginning of exclusive labels, which were created in the UK specifically for UK customers – namely the grocers – with tailored design for the trade and buyers. It allowed scope for creativity and exploration away from brands, which were more traditional in style. It also created the right environment for us to create the successful Pendulum [the chrome-sprayed bottle], which sold more than 1 million units at its peak through Western Wines.

In terms of design style, 21 years ago we were looking to move away from traditional labels – vineyard scenes, lots of text, script fonts, seals, etc. Everyone wanted modern, simple and fresh. Now of course we are seeing a big push back to craft, and this is expressed through reconnecting with the producers, provenance and history, although this time we are doing it with a contemporary twist. So we are connecting with our roots and reworking it for the 21st century.

What are the challenges in trying to gain shelf standout for wine?

The curve of the bottle, how the light hits the shelves, reading the brand name, communicating quickly what the wine is, looking different to competitors, what is memorable for consumers – it’s the one with the kangaroo, yellow label etc – and also the need to think about fridges for whites and ensuring the paper isn’t affected by moisture.

How does it compare to other drinks categories such as beer and spirits, which seem to have more scope to innovate with bottle shapes and sizes?

There are some constraints with wine and that’s why you don’t see as much innovation with bottle shapes and sizes. Wine is a low-margin product and doesn’t have the budget of spirits to commission new bottle shapes, which are very expensive at the outset. Quite a lot of mainstream wine is bottled in the UK by two or three main bottlers and they only offer a limited range of shapes and colours. Then there’s size. We can only sell wine in certain sizes by law and this creates a constraint in itself.

Would you like to see more innovation?

Yes, of course. But I do think that wine outside of entry level is the ultimate craft product and while we need innovation it doesn’t mean innovation for innovation’s sake.

What I would like to see is more authenticity and diversity in design and shape. I’d like to see the walls of similar-looking bottles in supermarkets broken up and appealing to different consumer groups, like we did with Wine Atlas at Asda. There are opportunities for engagement with different sizes and formats but these also need shelf space and to be reassuring to consumers as they still find wine complex. There is so much choice and the fear of buying the wrong thing is still very much a concern.

Do you have any tips for retailers to put together a range that looks exciting and stylish?

Allow your wines to be designed differently, so you allow different consumers to engage. Don’t design by gender, design by story, look and feel. Let the wines tell their stories and let them be visually different.

Why should the trade commission you to design their drinks? We are based in a country that is widely regarded as the world wine shop. We buy wines from all over the world so don’t have preconceptions and we have a massive understanding of different wines.

Why is design important?

People buy with their eye. More so now than ever. Think about the power of social media. Instagram is key here. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder though, so it is important to design for different people. There is no one-size-fits- all. We live in a fragmented marketplace where disrupter brands are creating new adorers.

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