In the past, the Food & Drink sector was quite static. The shelves were filled with heirloom brands, many of which date back decades, and very little has changed in terms of products, manufacturing methods, etc. No more. We are more and more used to seeing a constant stream of new brands, new technologies and new types of food and drink, which makes it a truly exciting industry for consumers, businesses and intellectual property lawyers. .
But these are not the only changes. It is no longer enough to have a product that looks and tastes good. These days, social responsibility and sustainability are key to a brand’s success – and authenticity is an absolute must.
So how do the disruptors in the Food & Drink industry see it themselves and what do they think the future holds? We decided to talk to some of the industry’s most innovative and passionate founders to find out.
Our first revolutionary
Annabel Thomas is not your traditional whiskey distiller; not all management consultants leave a lucrative career to follow a Scottish dream. Yet the young, independent, female-run Nc’nean still grows and has been one of the most exciting brands to come out of the whiskey industry for years. We caught up with Annabel, Founder and CEO of Nc’nean, to find out what drives her, why sustainability is so important to her and what sets Nc’nean apart in this very traditional and long-standing industry.
Q. You have already mentioned the “image problem of the whiskey industry”. Where do you think the problem lies?
There are some amazing things rooted in the traditions of whiskey making, but in general the industry is seen as a relatively old school and rather male-dominated (both in leadership and in the audience). . Speaking to many of my peers, whiskey is often referred to as “that thing my grandpa drinks” or “something my dad likes at the end of the night”. It’s just never really associated with women, although a lot of women like to drink whiskey. – and a lot of amazing women work in the industry too!
Q. So where do you see the future and what are the challenges?
It’s not just a question of who drinks it, but also how. Whiskey tends to have the image of being fairly rule-based. For example “you should only drink pure single malt”. At Nc’nean, it is very important to us that people feel free to drink whiskey as they wish, whether in our favorite service (A Whiskey Six with ice and soda), or in a cocktail, or simply with an ice cube. We hope that bringing a little more openness to the industry will only mean that more people will want to start enjoying this delicious spirit. One of the biggest challenges will be to keep the attention of the younger generations if the whiskey continues with too traditional an image. Fortunately, making the category feel more open isn’t too difficult – it just requires a little openness.
Q. How important is sustainability to your business? And how does that compare with the rest of the whiskey industry?
Sustainability is the reason we exist. First and foremost, we are here to be the pioneers of sustainable production; and only then to create experimental and delicious spirits. If we hadn’t been able to find a renewable energy source, or a way to save 80% of our water footprint, we wouldn’t have built the distillery in the first place. But luckily, after a lot of research, we were able to build a distillery that only uses a tenth of the carbon used by a similar sized distillery powered by fossil fuels. Combined with a small amount of offsetting, this means that our own operations’ carbon emissions have been verified to be net zero – a first for a whiskey distillery in the UK. This is obviously important for the health of the planet but also for our consumers, with 58% of our consumers actively seeking sustainable or eco-responsible brands (data taken from a survey we carried out in April). There are also other distilleries that do amazing things in terms of sustainability – Bruichladdich, Arbikie and Adelphi to name a few – but in general the whiskey industry is quite carbon intensive. As most distilleries are very old, uprooting infrastructure can be quite tricky and very expensive. This is no excuse for distilleries that do not prioritize sustainable development, but it is not always as easy as you think!
Q. We love your Nc’nean brand. As intellectual property lawyers, we must ask ourselves: where does this come from?
Our name, pronounced “Nc-nee-an”, is an abbreviation of Neachneohain, an ancient Gaelic goddess who was a hunter, protector and lover of all that is wild. She has never been afraid to go her own way and therefore we try to follow her philosophy in everything we do. Obviously Neachneohain is quite difficult to pronounce (harsher than Nc’nean!) From the firm as it means “daughter of” (the more familiar “Mc” means “son of”).
Q. Speaking of girls, what challenges, if any, have you faced as a woman in a traditionally male industry and how have you overcome them?
To be honest, not that much. I get a lot of consumer comments like ‘do you really like whiskey’ (FYI, I love it!), But in the industry I have found some incredibly supportive and perhaps more gender blind. than you might think.
So this is it. An innovative girl leading the way in the traditional whiskey industry, pursuing sustainability in everything she does and creating a pretty delicious and beautifully branded drink along the way. If that doesn’t make a Gaelic Goddess sing, we don’t know what will.