Brand portfolios: A cocktail of opportunity

Tim Ambler

Recession is not the time to trim brand portfolios, but to expand them, to take advantage of changing consumer behaviours, as Tim Ambler demonstrates with examples from the spirits sector.

Recessions bring more brands but less business. At the volume end of the business, retailers’ labels squeeze the smaller brands, driving them into the arms of the big players. The big players may not particularly want these brands but the acquisitions increase their control over facings, more market share and keep production lines rolling. As the top consolidates, space below opens for entrepreneurs to create new brands. Recession is the best time to introduce new brands as shrinking wallets cause consumers to look around and change their behaviours.

This article looks at recession with a big company perspective. Should they acquire these failing lesser brands and, if so, what should they do with them? Should they strategically reposition their entire portfolio of brands and, within that, the architecture of each brand? Or should they just add the new brands to their price list and continue business as usual. Brands certainly like to give the impression of an unchanging delivery of their heritage, but changing ownership disrupts continuity. Take Plymouth Gin, for example. Founded in 1793, by Coates & Co, and allegedly the first dry gin, the business passed through family hands for two centuries and was eventually sold in the 1950s to Seager Evans, whose best known brand was Seager's Gin. In 1956, Seager Evans was bought by the US drinks giant Schenley, which had emerged from prohibition and was the kind of firm you didn't mess with. Senior executives were escorted by large men with bulging jackets.