We have become used over the last year to have just about anything delivered to our doors. But a carefully crafted classic cocktail made by a top Italian mixologist? Well, why not thanks to the team behind NIO Cocktails that are not only pushing premium drinks through our letter box but have come up with unique packaging that makes it possible. Richard Siddle finds out how from founder Luca Quagliano
The idea of drinking a classic cocktail out of cardboard sachet does not sound too enticing, but here’s how NIO Cocktails makes it work.
What is your background and how did you get into the drinks industry?
I never thought I would end up in the spirits business but for as long as I can remember, I have been a spirits lover so the passion was always there. At university, I split my time between London and Italy studying law and fashion before becoming a retail director for brands including Levi’s and Vodafone.
It was in 2017, after hosting many dinner parties, that the idea of having premium ready-to-drink cocktails at home came to me. With my business partner, Alessandro, we launched NIO Cocktails and the rest is history.
How did you come up with the idea for NIO Cocktails?
Nio Cocktails actually came from a lifestyle change after having two daughters. Prior to this, I loved going out and enjoying nice food and drink but this was happening less and less. Instead, we found ourselves regularly entertaining friends and family at home and that was when I thought what a great idea it would be to have a restaurant-quality cocktail you can enjoy at home.
In Italy, after dinner, we drink coffee and then limoncello, amaro, grappa and I asked myself why? Is this what we really want?
We would love to drink a high-quality cocktail but you need ingredients, equipment and knowledge which not everyone has access to. Even then, there’s no guarantee your cocktail will turn out good. It really is an art.
Having the idea is one thing – how did you go about getting the quality of the drinks right and then fit that into the packaging and execution?
There was a lot of trial and error, in the beginning, to get the flavours right. The team experimented with acids in place of citrus and other ingredients that could retain the soul of the drink. At NIO, we never use preservatives or chemicals so creating a premium drink that could be proudly displayed in people’s homes and without the risk of ‘it going off’ was a challenge.
We guarantee quality thanks to three things: our head mixologist and renowned bartender, Patrick Pistolesi’s, use of premium spirits only and packaging that ensures the cocktails tastes as good when opened as when originally prepared.
You are working with mixologist Patrick Pistolesi – how did that connection come about and what sort of brief did you give to him in terms of the drinks you wanted him to make?
Patrick was a friend of mine and I wanted his blessing before starting the business. He loved the idea of creating bar-quality ready-to-drink cocktails and understood our goal was not to replace cocktails bars and mixologists but to spread the cocktail culture and to make high-quality cocktails available where mixologists cannot be.
The only task we gave him was to create cocktails that would taste exactly the same as if we were enjoying them at Drink Kong, Patricks’s Bar (and the 45th Best Bar in the World); suffice to say, Patrick has delivered on that, as evidenced by our growth, consumer feedback and awards we’re winning.
How have the sales gone and what has been the most effective sales route?
We’ve been very well received since we launched in 2017 in Italy and 2019 in the UK, not only from consumers but also retail, hospitality and other channels. We were in a fortunate position during Covid-19 that we were able to continue to prepare and deliver our cocktails to consumers and our growth accelerated during this time. What’s been really warming is the feedback and engagement from our consumers; they don’t view NIO Cocktails as the secondary option whilst bars and restaurants were closed, rather an increasingly core part of their repertoire of drinks to enjoy at home, with friends and family
How have you developed e-commerce sales during the last year and built up your distribution and customer list?
We’ve long felt that there is greater value in activating brand marketing and communication across multiple channels than limiting to a single channel, as this allows a total number of touchpoints and impressions to build with the same consistent message. With that in mind, we’ve leveraged a combination of performance marketing, PR and SEO to raise brand awareness and drive custom. However, we also made a big decision to activate TV in Christmas 2020 in both the UK and Italy, though two different approaches to best suit the market.
In Italy, we signed ourselves to specific TV programmes, in the UK we targeted specific audiences and impressions were served to these audiences irrespective of what they were watching.
It was incredibly exciting, in particular as we saw the value of all marketing plans working in unison and the benefits of that approach.
What sort of digital advertising and promotion works best?
It’s not an easy question to answer. We felt it was important to have a robust SEO plan, in particular in the UK where the focus is on D2C, but this normally takes some time to see the results of the work. That said, I’m really happy with the performance and the SERP positions achieved by us in the UK.
We don’t really promote in the sense of price reductions. Our goal is to serve fantastic cocktails and as our consumers and writers profess, ‘…the quality is superb. Close your eyes and you could be propping up Claridge’s Bar’. But you don’t expect or ask for a discount at brilliant bars, it’s devaluing the experience.
What sort of customers do you have and how do you go about acquiring them?
Again, it’s interesting to note that our consumer bases in Italy and the UK differ from one another. In Italy, we weighted more towards men, in the UK it’s women.
We ‘acquire’ them by sparking their interest, their curiosity and allow our website to do the rest. Cocktail from CDs is a phrase we’ve heard many times, but people love the concept, love the packaging overall and the touch and feel of it, love that it is recyclable…and that’s to say nothing of the cocktails themselves. So presenting ourselves in a manner that piques someone’s curiosity whilst also making sure they know they can curate their own, personal, at-home bar through NIO Cocktails, is our focus.
What have been the most popular cocktails and recipes?
Cosmopolitan, Tommy’s Margarita and Daiquiri, but what’s really interesting is that we now have 20 cocktails on our menu and no ‘tail’. People love being able to build their own bar of the favourites but also explore new cocktails
Do you keep changing them with the seasons – or by customer request?
We recently introduced our Espresso Martini at the request of our patrons; we think it’s incredibly important to listen to them so that we can develop new cocktails and propositions that are valued by them. We have a daily full pipeline of activity for the summer and are already planning Christmas, so it’s definitely an exciting time
What do you expect to happen to demand once the on-trade is fully open?
You know, we are not a Covid product, we are creating a new culture and people are starting to enjoy cocktails at home, in the park or wherever they want.
People do not go out every night. There are plenty of occasions to enjoy a cocktail at home. The reopening of the on-trade opens NIO Cocktails to other business opportunities. We are all very much looking forward to the time when we can once again enjoy a cocktail in an establishment.
NIO is valued by consumers and customers alike. We are to be found in retail, hospitality and entertainment as well as peoples’ homes. And as people are able to entertain more, we expect to grow across both areas and continue to drive the understanding that you can have ready-to-savour cocktails that with a lot of hard work, taste as good as the best bars in the world.
Any lessons you have learnt over the last year for other businesses looking to do e-commerce and home delivery?
We think about every moment of truth, from marketing and comms to the pouring and enjoyment of the cocktail, with all the steps in between. We place huge thought on these areas as it only takes one bad element to detract from the overall experience.
- If you would like to find out more about NIO Cocktails go to its website here.