Posted: 16 May 2019 05 min. read

A cocktail for success – innovation in the alcohol industry

Understand why. Not why you want to innovate, why people would want your innovation.

Stu Marsh has worked on some of the world’s largest alcohol brands, including Stella Artois, Jim Beam and Yellow Tail. After 24 years in the industry, Stu’s built a wealth of unique insight into what determines success in this industry – and now works as an innovation specialist at Casella Family Brands.

Deloitte had the pleasure of hosting Stu at a recent Innovating with Impact event where he shared stories from his life an innovator in the alcohol industry. Following the session, we interviewed Stu to capture some of his wisdom. Read our Q&A below:

1. Is it important, or even possible to create ideas that are truly original?

The first time a person sees anything it’s original. Watch an old Disney movie with a kid for the first time and it’s fresh to their eyes, so no I don’t think being truly original is important, rather it’s about having your own take on something and being able to delight drinkers with something they haven’t tried before. We also forget that your average drinker in the street doesn’t know that someone in Italy once made a wine like that 10 years ago that sold in 10 stores in Sicily – they don’t obsess about our category like we do!

2. How important is it to observe the actions of your competitors, and how do you seek differentiation?

It’s really hard to be truly unique. In the US alone, there are around 7,000 craft breweries1 and 10,000 wineries2. In Australia, there are 120 distilleries3 and this number is growing. They are all making multiple products and trying to capture the consumer’s attention so it’s very hard to have a truly unique product. What you can do is have a unique brand and hopefully a unique story that is compelling and interesting.

It’s important to have your finger on the pulse of the market and see what your consumers are seeing, so in this sense, it’s vital to know what your close competitors are doing. But if Barefoot did something in America that we were planning on doing, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it – it probably means that it’s a great idea and there is plenty of market share there to be had. The key way to differentiate is in the strength of your brand and standing for something relevant to your drinkers.

3. How do you balance the need for speed and the need for certainty?

Different people through the organisation would all have a different point of view on this one! There is no doubt that being first to market confers advantages and if you look at the tech industry, they are happy to release a V1.0 that is imperfect and roll out updates. That’s not a concept that FMCG has really grabbed hold of, but I think we need to work out what that means for us. You can never compromise on the quality of your product, but you can easily roll out design updates, new styles etc. I’ve become more of a test it and see kind of person – research can only tell you so much – it’s what happens in the real world when people have to spend their hard-earned cash that matters.

4. What are your top 3 messages for those wanting to add innovation into their working lives?
  • Practice. You can innovate anything, you don’t have to dream up a new invention all the time. Innovate with the way you run a meeting, write an email, approach a colleague or have lunch. The more you innovate the better you will get at it.

  • Be kind to yourself. No one has good ideas all day every day, it’s okay to have some dogs in there if you stumble across a gem every now and then. Celebrate the wins, learn from the mistakes but don’t let them make you give up

  • Understand why. Not why you want to innovate, why people would want your innovation. If you can understand what people need then you can give them a solution. But go deep. When you get the answer to your first why question, ask why your answer is true. Keep asking why and you’ll find that you unearth a deep need that may be completely different to the answer you were going to give people when you first thought of it. People tend to design solutions for the problems they see, not the problems people actually have!




Meet our author

Anna Lindberg

Anna Lindberg

Manager, Innovation

Anna Lindberg is a manager within Deloitte’s innovation team. She is passionate about finding new and interesting ways to deliver value to Deloitte’s clients through innovative solutions. Anna is responsible for inspiring, educating and driving growth in Deloitte’s innovation community.