In late July, New Orleans, self-described “Home of the Cocktail,” hosts a weeklong event called Tales of the Cocktail, an annual trade conference, festival and gathering of cocktail and spirits industry professionals. It brings together some of the most creative minds in the world, and this year, an international panel shared sage wisdom on how anyone can begin to develop new offerings for customers.

“Creating a New Product: From Boosting Creativity to Market Reality” was moderated by Angelique Julienne, global marketing and communications director for Maison Ferrand and West Indies Rum Distillery. She began by asking how a producer creates a new product. Do they look at trends? Conduct consumer surveys? Do they just do what they want to do?

“If you see something that’s really you, pursue it. Don’t read too much into trends,” was the reply from Alexandre Gabriel, owner and master blender, Maison Ferrand and West Indies Rum Distillery. “We create new things and see what happens.”

For example, he said, he loved the smoky little pickles from a local farm in his native France in some charcuterie. He loved the flavor so much that he wanted to distill them. People thought it was a joke, but they did it – and then they launched Citadelle Vive le Cornichon on April 1. The pickle-based gin captured the flavors Gabriel wanted but not the brininess people associate with pickles.

(L – R) Panelists Jouni Ritola, Alexandre Gabriel, Robert Caldwell, Nico de Soto and Angelique Julienne talked about the creative process. Photo by Courtney Llewellyn

“You can play with how people perceive things,” he added. Producers of value-added foods can use that knowledge to their advantage when designing labels or demonstrating how to use a product.

Jouni Ritola, CEO of Kyrö Distillery Company in Finland, said his country is “covered in rye.” He started a rye distillery in 1995 after a distilling ban had been lifted in Finland. “We had the dream and the dare,” he said.

Today, Kyrö makes an alder wood-smoked rye whisky and a peat-smoked rye whisky. Ritola believes trying new flavors is important – within reason.

“It can be fun to create but remember that you also need to be able to commercialize a product,” he cautioned.

Julienne added that all marketing should be educational, inspirational and transparent.

Brand Ambassador for Teeling Whiskey Robert Caldwell agreed with Ritola’s statement about experimenting, though. He said traditional products represent an artistic and emotional medium – and how we express something can change. Some products are classic art inside a museum, carved from marble or with ornate golden frames. Some are graffiti spray-painted on the outside of the museum building.

The old rule for whiskey was that it had to be aged in either American oak or European oak barrels. But the team at Teeling has found there are different variables in oak for whiskey – and even different woods.

“Find a variety outside the museum,” Caldwell said of imagining something new. Teeling currently uses Chinkapin, Portuguese and Swedish oak.

These creative concepts can be applied to any agriculturalist trying to come up with new ways to use and sell their produce. “Nature has a lot to offer,” Gabriel said, “but whatever you use, the products need to be sustainable.”

Ultimately, the panel’s advice was distilled down to this: Don’t be afraid to gather inspiration from everywhere and don’t be afraid to play mad scientist – but also have a business plan for whatever you create.

by Courtney Llewellyn