Breaking Through Cultural Barriers, One Sip at a Time

Meg Asaro, Head of Strategy, and Leigh Chandler, Partner & Creative Director
Vibrant illustration featuring different fruit and flaor ingredients from around the world

Meg Asaro, Head of Strategy, and Leigh Chandler, Partner & Creative Director

For decades, global beverage brands have capitalized on the collective desire to explore something new, using their size and scale to quickly penetrate global products into diverse, local markets. But with today’s consumer leaning into new, local, and culturally authentic beverage options, how does this shift inform strategies for brand growth and innovation?

In this article, we explore how traditionally local flavors and offerings are taking on new momentum, breaking through to the global stage and informing innovation pipelines for larger beverage brands. Moreover, through the lens of Vault49’s own Back Alley Insights® process, we’ll look at how brands actually accomplish this without losing authenticity.

Local brands’ most powerful tool is owning and leveraging their unique culture to carve out a deeper relationship with those that swim in similar cultural waters. It’s very hard for global brands to leverage this intangible form of authenticity without local boots on the ground. So how can your brand find success in new markets, or import culturally significant flavors and formats into a current market, to amplify your innovation pipeline?

Expanding Cultural Boundaries & Cracking Codes

To drive innovation and keep up with consumers’ thirst for the next new thing in the world of drinks, elevating regional beverages and exploring local fruits and flavor profiles can be a rich place to build a new product platform. These offerings often represent deep-rooted traditions and stories primed to be amplified by passionate people who can’t wait to share their culture and creations with new audiences.

At Vault49, our Back Alley Insights® approach is engineered to help brands looking to expand into new markets. We believe that it’s important to take our research on the ground; to be fully immersed in local culture at street level, to get up close and personal in order to gain honest and authentic cultural insights from real people. These insights shine a bright light on the people that matter and help to educate brands on who they are, what makes them tick, and what matters to them. We work with clients to define what steps need to be made to ensure a successful brand extension or launch, one that isn’t a fast follow but is instead founded in authentic cultural truths and semiotics.

Local Flavor Permeates a Global Stage

Smirnoff was one of the first mainstream global drinks brands to break through cultural barriers in different markets by leveraging local flavors and design cues. We worked closely with the client team in Mexico on a NPD designed specifically for the local market. The result was Smirnoff X1 Spicy Tamarind, a limited edition Vodka flavored with a familiar local ingredient, and branding that celebrated the Day of the Dead in a way that connected authentically with locals.

Using our Back Alley Insights® approach, we immersed ourselves in Mexican culture, heritage and visual themes. With an ethnographic lens, we explored ways to bring the Day of the Dead to life in an authentic and contemporary way. Through a series of consumer interviews, true cultural immersion and participation in local Day of the Dead celebrations, we identified unique insights that lead to an incredibly successful, strategy-lead, design concept.

Originally released as a Mexico-only LTO, this uniquely flavored spirit and new brand design language proved so popular that it has since become a permanent portfolio fixture, and has launched in other markets, including North America. That authentic taste of Mexican culture is now firmly placed on a mainstream global platform.

The Explosion of Kombucha & Beyond

Originally formulated in China, the fermented non-alcoholic drink Kombucha has taken the wellness industry by storm with its natural health benefits. Recent reports estimate that the global Kombucha tea market generated $2.3B in 2020 and is predicted to hit $4.5B by 2028 (Allied Market Research via World Tea News). From mainstream grocery chains to independent health food stores, Kombucha is everywhere. Including in our studio.

We recently launched a redesign for Big Easy Kombucha to help the brand embark on its next phase of growth, shifting from a local to national (and potentially international) brand.

The kombucha range is Big Easy’s best-seller right now, and the brand also recently launched a line of Tepache drinks, riffing on both the ancient fermentation techniques true to Mexican culture, and indigenous ingredients like pineapple, mango, and prickly pear. These taste so good, we wonder, could Tepache be the next Kombucha?

Getting Ahead of the Next Big Thing

Fun fact: Baijiu is the world’s most consumed spirit. Ever heard of it? Despite outselling Whisky, Vodka, Gin, Rum, and Tequila combined (yes, the market for Baijiu is THAT big), this colorless liquor is little known outside of China. For now.

A handful of bartenders are starting to see the allure and experimental possibilities of working with such a flexible liquid like Baijiu. In the US, it’s appearing more frequently on cocktail menus, and the social rituals around drinking Baijiu have inspired some bars to offer up tasting flights for curious drinkers looking for new drinking experiences (Source: Eater). In Boston, for example, you can join the waitlist for a popular pop-up Baijiu bar to learn more about it.

Are we at the tipping point, about to see the explosion of Baijiu outside of China? How will Baiju be integrated into Western drinks culture successfully? A culturally resonant, consumer-centric approach is imperative.

Authentic Connections

As consumers continue to use their palates to explore the world from the comfort of their own communities and homes, we expect to see more local flavor, tradition and inspiration breaking through the beverage space, and more global brands finding ways to authentically connect with consumers locally.

If you’re looking for a strategic creative partner to help launch or expand your beverage brand into new markets, let’s talk.

Meg Asaro, Head of Strategy, and Leigh Chandler, Partner & Creative Director