MB Insights: Unlocking Business Potential with Data-Driven Insights

Insight

Posted on 23 April 2024

Across the commercial and retail landscape, information is collected, analysed, and utilised.

The more data that is collected, the more accurate the results. Or are they?

More than ever, companies are working to attain data in order to better understand their customers.
Their behaviours, their wants, and their needs.

The purpose? To translate this information into actionable practice.

The effectiveness of such a business strategy has created not only an opportunity, but also a skills gap within organisations, as they look to bridge the divide between raw data and strategic insights.

As international talent partners, we have observed, prepared, and are actively operating within this growth area, nurturing talented Business and Insights Analysts who can accurately and succinctly explain such large volumes of other otherwise incomprehensible information.

Although the use of data to inform decision-making is common practice in business, as with most digital-heavy functions, it’s evolution continues to take place with the emergence of new platforms, technologies, and legislation.

The question then becomes;

What do the most talented individuals look like?

An over-arching phrase that would seem to encapsulate the ideal profile is: ‘Stakeholder Data Translators’.

Combining analytical prowess with exceptional communication skills, these professionals serve as the vital link between raw data and strategic decision-making, enabling organisations to harness the power of analytics effectively.

“A lack of market insights can leave a brand slow to react, and by the time the realization has come, the consumer base has also moved on, potentially resulting in millions in lost revenue.”

Benjamin Welsh, Data & Tech Recruitment Consultant at MacGregor Black

The strongest candidates can gracefully switch between the technical and interpersonal realms, distilling complex concepts without oversimplifying.

They understand how to tailor messaging and data visualisations to resonate with each stakeholder, framing recommendations in terms of strategic goals and desired business outcomes. In this way, stakeholder data translators act as a bridge between technical teams and business leaders, enabling data-driven decision making through their ability to elucidate both the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of analytics.

Through the use of dashboards such as Tableau or Power BI, these skilled Analysts can visualise the necessary information and tell the story the data is trying to portray in a way that any stakeholder can understand. This creates an adaptive and fast-paced strategic environment in which marketing teams can quickly adapt to new trends or fluctuations within the consumer base.

Being able to process your data more accurately informs both longer term strategic decisions whilst also providing the platform to react to changing market forces, giving businesses the ability to be both proactive & reactive.

Without these key players in data analysis, the commercial ramifications for businesses can be detrimental. A lack of market insights can leave a brand slow to react, and by the time the realization has come, the consumer base has also moved on, potentially resulting in millions in lost revenue.

Conversely, if Business and Insights Analysts don’t correctly ascertain the trends the data shows, it can cost the business greatly in wasted marketing efforts.

In today’s competitive Data and Analytics landscape, Stakeholder Data Translation is more than just a buzzword—it’s a critical imperative.

As businesses strive to gain deeper insights into customer behaviours and market trends, the demand for adept individuals capable of deciphering complex data sets continues to soar. Stakeholder Data Translators serve as the catalyst for transforming raw data into actionable insights, driving business success to new heights.

If you’d like to learn how to optimise the structure of your Data & Analytics team, see what talent is available in the market, or discuss your own career path, get in touch with our dedicated consultants via hello@macgregorblack.com

Consumer, Drinks, Events, Hospitality, Industry, Insight, Sustainability, Technology

Posted on 17 October 2023

With worldwide revenue in the billions and roots that span millennia, today’s beer is an intriguing mix of passion, tradition, and innovation.

From charming microbreweries to sprawling industrial operations, the quest for brewing perfection has rapidly evolved this age-old craft into both an art form and a precise science.

While breweries from around the globe compete to create the ultimate ‘amber’, many are set to gather at the upcoming Brewers Congress in London.

With the prestigious event on the horizon, MacGregor Black sat down with industry expert Kieron Hall to delve into the ever-changing landscape of brewing, explore the latest cutting-edge techniques & technologies, and take a sneak peek at the brands that are set to cause a stir at this year’s Brewers Congress.

The Brewers Congress 2023

At its core, the Brewers Congress is a celebration of brewing excellence.

Hosted at the Business Design Centre in London, the event brings together some of the brightest minds in the industry, offering a unique platform for sharing knowledge, experiences, and innovations.

Brewers, both established and up-and-coming will unite under one roof to exchange ideas and push the boundaries of what’s possible in the world of beer. In its latest edition, the Congress will feature 30 guest speakers, 80 industry suppliers and over 300 breweries, bringing together not only some of the sharpest minds, but also the most tantalising flavours in the brewing world.

The climax of the Congress is undoubtedly the Brewer’s Choice Awards, which honours the finest accomplishments in brewing and recognises outstanding brewers, professionals, and innovations that have made a mark in the industry.

Previous victors have included the likes of Lost and Grounded Brewers, Derek Prentice, Lakes Brew Co, Lara Lopes, Moonwake, Rudi Ghequire, North Brewing, Abbeydale Brewery, and Colin Stronge.

With such impressive past winners, it’s anyone’s guess who will take home the coveted titles this year!

Brewing Evolution – The Latest Techniques & Technologies

Sustainable Brewing

In an age where environmental concerns weigh increasingly on consumers’ minds, breweries worldwide are wholeheartedly embracing sustainability as a core principle. It’s not just a trendy buzzword anymore; it’s a vital commitment to environmental stewardship, resource efficiency, and ethical practices.

Sustainable brewing entails a multifaceted approach, focusing on key areas that make a real impact:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Water conservation
  • Waste reduction
  • Responsible sourcing
  • Community engagement

When it comes to slashing energy consumption, breweries are turning to innovative solutions, such as investing in renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines. Simultaneously, many brands are also adopting energy-efficient equipment and practices, including optimising heating and cooling systems, implementing LED lighting, and recovering heat from the brewing process to preheat water.

Take, for instance, Signature Brew,” Comments drinks specialist, Kieron Hall.

They’re two-time winners of SIBA’s prestigious Brewery Of The Year Award and they’ve definitely made sustainability a cornerstone of their brewing philosophy,”

Thanks to their state-of-the-art steam boiler that maximises heat energy, Signature Brew’s brewhouse efficiency is something to be proud of. They recycle heat energy from one batch to the next, so cooling one batch of beer provides the necessary heat for the next brew.”

Packaging also plays a pivotal role in Signature Brew’s sustainability journey, with the brand opting for cans over glass bottles.

Kieron goes on to explain the reasons behind their decision, stating that it “Comes down to a few different factors,”

Cans are lighter, making them more eco-friendly during transport and they’re also easier to recycle. Their ‘stackability’ reduces storage space and energy use during transportation. Not to mention, cans chill faster, saving energy in the cooling process.”

At the 2023 Brewers Congress Awards, alongside Anspach & Hobday, North Brewing Co and Northern Monk, Signature Brew are proudly shortlisted for the 2023 Brewery of the Year Award.

Another concern amongst brewers is water usage. Water is a precious resource in brewing, and breweries in all corners of the world are making concerted efforts to reduce their water usage.

Adnams, a historic brewery hailing from Suffolk since its establishment in 1872, recently observed that their distillery produced a high temperature water waste stream, meaning a valuable resource was literally, going down the drain.

In response, a closed loop recovery system was developed to retain that resource. Now, the heat and water from Adnams’ beer and spirits production process is captured and reused, which has not only reduced water usage in their distillery but has also led to significant savings on their energy bills.

Remarkably, Adnams now recovers over 90% of the steam generated during their brewing process and converts it back into heat for the next batch.” Adds, Kieron.

Their forecasted water savings for this year alone is a whopping 2 million Litres. That’s a clear testament to the positive impact of sustainability-driven initiatives.”

Techniques such as closed-loop water systems are gaining popularity. Additionally, rainwater harvesting, and water-efficient equipment are also helping breweries minimise their water footprint.

Another aspect of sustainable brewing is crop cultivation.

Science and research have shown us that agriculture plays a significant role in climate issues, and breweries are now exploring regenerative farming techniques with the aim of reducing or eliminating the emissions associated with barley cultivation.

South-London based brewery; Gypsy Hill Brewery is claiming a world’s first with the release of their carbon negative beers, without the use of offsets. The brand’s new brews are based on two main technologies, regenerative barley, and recaptured hops. To achieve this impressive goal, Gypsy Hills has partnered exclusively with Wildfarmed, who work hand-in-hand with farmers to implement practices like intercropping, cover cropping, and reduced tillage.

Commenting on Gypsy Hill’s success, Kieron states, “Gypsy Hill’s practices have many far-reaching benefits.

They enhance soil health, curbing erosion, and perhaps most significantly, sequestering carbon. In simpler terms, the process of farming this regenerative barley locks away more carbon in the soil than it releases into the atmosphere.”

Brewing Technologies

Whilst brewing beer is steeped in tradition, there’s no denying that the industry has recognised the potential of technology to enhance the process and increase efficiency.

More and more breweries are adopting advanced brewing technologies, including automated brewing systems, data-driven analytics, and innovative packaging solutions.

When asked about automated brewing systems, industry expert Kieron comments that, “They control all aspects of the brewing process, from mashing to fermentation, right the way through to packaging. Basically, the more automated the brewing process, the lesser the chances of human errors and inconsistency, which in turn can save the brand money, time, and effort.”

American craft brewing company, Bell’s Brewery is another great example of a brand that has made significant advancements in the world of technological brewing, with their Comstock based facility adorning all the hallmarks of a modern industrial manufacturer. The facility boasts a centralised control room, automated systems, and advanced robotics. Including, automated filling stations and keg lifting and palletising robots.

Speaking to Automation Alley on the state-of-the-art facility, tour guide, Ray Bristol comments,

We have the robot arms that replaced the human power of having to move kegs. All of the things our automated systems do to prevent the repetition and wear and tear on the human body,” Bristol said. One robot arm flips kegs to the upright state after they are filled. The other neatly stacks pallets of beer set for shipping out across the country,”

Prior to this we were more limited in throughput because it required someone using human power to flip kegs. . .Obviously, this is really tough on the body, and nobody wanted to do this for a long period of time. So we didn’t run at the same rate we are able to run at today.” Bristol said.

Packaging is also an integral part of the brewing industry, serving multiple purposes such as, preserving the quality of the product, promoting brand awareness, and ensuring regulatory compliance.

New packaging technologies are helping brewers all over the world preserve the quality and flavour of many much-loved beers,” States Kieron.

Beavertown Brewery are a great example. They use cans with special linings that prevent oxygen from getting into the beer and contaminating its flavour.”

‘Brands to Watch’ at BC 2023

With 30 guest speakers, 80 industry suppliers and over 300 breweries attending the Brewers Congress this year, there’s bound to be many brands making a splash.

Industry expert Kieron Hall has listed the brands, alongside those mentioned throughout this article, that we should be watching out for at the brewers Congress 2023, and why.

SALT

Founded in 2018, SALT is a brewery that has successfully married traditional techniques with modern innovations, crossing styles, exploring new ingredients, and producing many award-winning craft beers along the way.

The Yorkshire based beer’s branding draws inspiration from Sir Titus Salt, a pioneering industrialist who is best known for launching Salt’s textile mill and building the village of Saltaire in West Yorkshire, the brand’s homeland. With the aim of adding to the rich history and legacy that surrounds them, the SALT beer factory is proudly nestled within a Unesco World Heritage site, housed in a Grade 2 listed building that was previously used as a tram shed in 1904.

In 2022, the brand debuted their Double IPA, brewed with a ground breaking new form of hop from Yakima Chief Hops. Considered a much more reliable product than standard whole leaf hops, Yakima Chief Hops combines the concept of fresh frozen hops and the innovative technology of Cryo Hops®, which are pellets packed full of resins and aromas.

Late year, SALT also took steps towards brewing a brighter future, having teamed up with the world’s first plastic-offsetting service and ocean clean-up organisation – Seven Clean Seas to launch the hazy craft pale ale.

SALT’s Head Brewer, Colin Stronge, winner of the Brewer of the Year award at the 2022 Brewers Choice Awards, will be speaking at the Brewers Congress this year, dishing out advice, support, and encouragement to new and existing brewers. With an impressive career in brewing spanning over two decades, and five exciting years dedicated to SALT, Colin’s extensive industry experience ensures his speech at the Brewers Congress will undoubtedly, one to watch.

Mash Gang

Mash Gang, a name that’s been making waves among beer aficionados, is known for its innovative approach to brewing. Founded on the principles of quality, creativity, and sustainability, this brewery has steadily carved out a niche for itself in the competitive market, now and low craft beers.

Stemming from a dedication to inclusivity and a commitment to sustainable brewing practices, one of Mash Gang’s defining moments arrived with the introduction of their vegan beer. Mash Gang’s vegan beer is crafted without the use of any animal-based additives. This means no honey, no lactose, and no gelatine in the brewing process, right down to the glue used on their labels. Instead, they rely on innovative techniques and plant-based ingredients to achieve the same depth of flavour and quality that beer enthusiasts have come to expect from the brand.

Mash Gang’s commitment to vegan beer is not an isolated endeavour. It aligns with their broader commitment to sustainability. The brewery has implemented a range of eco-conscious practices, from energy-efficient brewing equipment to waste reduction initiatives, ensuring that their commitment to ethical brewing extends beyond just ingredients.

Mash Gang will be exhibiting their range of exciting craft beers at the Brewers Congress this year, with their very own Founder & Chief Product Officer, Jordan Childs has been shortlisted for the 2023 Brewer of the Year Award.

BigDrop Brewing Co

Non-alcoholic beer, once a marginalised category, is now taking centre stage, and Big Drop Brewing Co has solidified itself as a name worth knowing in the industry.

Their range of non-alcoholic beers includes a stunning array of styles, from stouts and IPAs to pale ales and lagers. These aren’t mere imitations; they’re fully realized, delicious brews that deliver a world of taste without the alcohol. Not to mention, they brew all their beers with carefully selected brewing partners, so their beer comes without the nasty taste of an unnecessary carbon footprint.

The process of creating Big Drop’s non-alcoholic beer is unique in that it starts as regular beer. After brewing, the alcohol is gently removed, allowing the flavours to remain intact. This is in contrast to many non-alcoholic beers that are essentially diluted versions of their alcoholic counterparts.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Big Drop Brewing Co’s commitment to quality has been recognised with numerous awards and accolades, including World Beer Awards and the International Beer Challenge.


Most recently, in May of this year, Big Drop Brewing Co initiated a licensing agreement with In Good Company, the proprietor of Fourpure Brewing and Magic Rock Brewing. This strategic move is a pivotal part of Big Drop’s overarching strategy to significantly expand its operations and support its global growth aspirations.

The core idea behind this move is to create seamless collaboration with brewing partners in three pivotal markets: the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia.

Building on their already successful history of contract brewing at Fourpure in Bermondsey, Big Drop views this new partnership as a natural progression of its decentralized business model. This model enables them to produce fresh 0.5% ABV beer locally and ethically, all while keeping the carbon footprint to a minimum.

This collaboration also benefits In Good Company by diversifying its portfolio to meet the evolving preferences of craft beer enthusiasts. According to the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, the compound annual growth rate for the alcohol-free beer market in the UK is projected to reach an impressive +12% until 2026.

Amongst SALT, Mash Gang and Big Drop Brewing Co, industry specialist Kieron Hall recommends checking out Northern Monk, who’s very own Quality Control Manager, Tanya Kondratyuk will be speaking at the Brewers Congress.

Over the past two years at Monk, Tanya has displayed her remarkable prowess by spearheading the design and supervision of the brand-new Quality Control (QC) laboratory. In addition, she masterminded the launch of Monk’s current analytical and microbiological sampling programs, established a comprehensive yeast propagation plan, organised sensory panels, and diligently managed the barrel aging program.

Her contributions extend beyond the laboratory, as she also played an integral role in production planning and the development of new and exciting recipes.

Northern Monk has the potential to collect multiple accolades at the Brewers Congress this year, with the brand being shortlist for the Brewery of the Year Award, their Faith beer making the shortlist for the 2023 Beer of the Year Award, and their Brewery Manager, Pietro Maltini, who has been shortlisted for the 2023 Young Brewer of the Year Award.


In an industry where every drop of creativity matters, the Brewers Congress 2023 is gearing up to be a grand celebration of diversity, sustainability, and innovation – the driving forces shaping the world of brewing.

With trailblazing brands like SALT, Northern Monk, Big Drop Brewing Co, Mash Gang, and Signature Brew leading the way, we’re on the path to a future that’s not only more sustainable but also more inclusive and technologically advanced.

Here’s to raising a toast to that exciting journey! Cheers!

Consumer, Industry, Insight, Nursery, Retail, Technology

Posted on 27 September 2023

One Small Step for Babies, One Giant leap for Brands

Gone are the days when baby products were solely functional. Today, parents seek more than just basic utility; they demand products that seamlessly integrate into their busy lives, products that simplify the daily tasks associated with raising a child.

However, the pursuit of convenience has not come at the expense of safety, and fortunately, leading baby brands are on a mission to make parents’ lives easier by developing products that prioritise convenience, without cutting corners when it comes to safety.

Below, Industry Specialist, Emily showcases some of her preferred brands that are at the forefront of prioritising baby safety.

Stokke

Stokke, a renowned Norwegian company, has been a global leader in crafting best-in-class solutions for children for over four decades.

Stokke’s guiding principle is always the best interest of the child, with all their products designed to promote child development and nurture stronger family connections. Everything the brand manufactures, from highchairs to cribs, strollers, and carriers, as a testament to their dedication to safety and well-being, with all of their products being ethically made and free from harmful substances.

What truly sets them apart is their Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) certification – an independent seal of approval that speaks volumes about their safety testing.

Before Stokke’s team of experts dive into creating a new product, they take the time to understand children and families, learning more about how their creations will be used and addressing any unique challenges that may arise.

To ensure this, they collaborate with a roster of experts in child development, from developmental psychologists to paediatricians, all working in unison to keep babies and kids safe.

Stokke has also set a remarkable standard for safety with its YoYo pushchair, a product that stands out for its contemporary design that seamlessly marries form and function. The YoYo pushchair’s user-friendly features, such as easy folding and compact storage, reflect Stokke’s dedication to enhancing the parenting experience.

While the YoYo pushchair’s design is undeniably appealing, what truly sets it apart is its commitment to safety. Stokke recognises that style should never come at the expense of a child’s well-being, and they have taken extensive testing measures to ensure that the YoYo pushchair meets and exceeds the global standards for child safety in baby products.

BeSafe

BeSafe, a family-owned Norwegian company, has an interesting history that dates back over 100 years. Originally known for crafting horse saddles since 1919 and car interiors since 1959, BeSafe shifted its focus to child safety in 1963.

A true pioneer, BeSafe introduced the concept of rear-facing car seats in 1989, advocating for children’s safety even when it faced scepticism. Today, rear-facing travel is recognised as five times safer than forward-facing.

BeSafe’s commitment to child safety is evident in its long history of innovations, from pregnancy belts to reclining baby seats, and its collaboration with premium stroller brands like Stokke.

This year, BeSafe’s Stretch B car seat earned a perfect 5-star safety rating in an international car seat test, with high praise from the German automotive association ADAC. The official ADAC tests compile the results of crash, usability, ergonomics, chemical, and cleaning assessments to give a product score. The lower the figure, the better the product has performed. ADAC highlights the Stretch B as a “Very safe child seat, in which children up to about 7 years of age are secured purely rear facing.”

BeSafe’s Stretch B, along with the Stretch model, has consistently performed well in various tests, earning titles like “Test winner” in Norway and Sweden by “Best-i-test.nu,” passing the rigorous Swedish Plus Test, and securing the “Best Car Seat for Safety” award from IndyBest in the UK. Notably, BeSafe’s commitment to sustainability also earned the Stretch B the Baby Innovation GREEN AWARD 2023, cementing its position as a leader in child safety and innovation.

Cybex

CYBEX offers a diverse range of baby essentials, from car seats and baby carriers to kids’ furniture and pushchairs, and their hallmark is safety that seamlessly blends with urban lifestyles.

At the heart of CYBEX’s brand philosophy is the CYBEX D.S.F. Innovation Principle, a triple-threat strategy that encompasses unique Design, unbeatable Safety, and top-notch Functionality. This approach has not only given rise to award-winning car seats like the rear-facing Sirona but has also earned them an impressive fifteen Red Dot Design Awards. Overall, the brand has received over 500 awards for design, safety, and innovation.

In early 2014, CYBEX joined forces with the German company Goodbaby International Holdings Limited. Goodbaby, headquartered in China, boasts a remarkable legacy of over 25 years in research, development, design, and rigorous testing, backed by their state-of-the-art production facilities. They have set global benchmarks for safety, innovation, design, and manufacturing, making this partnership a match made in heaven for those seeking the very best in safe baby products.

Silver Cross

Silver Cross, a British nursery brand, is celebrated worldwide for its safe and aesthetically pleasing baby products. With a legacy spanning over 140 years, the brand has remained committed to upholding the highest standards of safety and craftsmanship, ensuring that infants receive the finest start in life.

Silver Cross takes pride in ensuring the safety and comfort of infants and toddlers by adhering to rigorous safety standards and conducting thorough testing to meet and exceed industry regulations. In 2020, the Silver Cross Dream infant carrier achieved ADAC’s highest ever score when put through their rigorous testing programme.

Silver Cross products adhere to stringent safety regulations, not just in one country but across various global markets. They understand that safety knows no borders, and their compliance with international standards ensures that children worldwide can enjoy their products securely.


In the realm of the baby products industry, a steadfast commitment to safety should not merely serve as a marketing strategy for brands; it should be the very bedrock upon which they build their foundations.

The responsibility to set the gold standard in safety lies firmly on the shoulders of industry leaders such as Stokke, BeSafe, Cybex, and Silver Cross. Whether it involves mitigating potential hazards like choking risks, safeguarding against sharp edges, eliminating the use of any potentially harmful materials, or steering clear of designs that could pose tipping risks, baby brands must leave no stone unturned in ensuring the safety and well-being of your precious little ones.

Consumer, DIY, Housewares, Insight, Retail

Posted on 13 September 2023

With the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic redefining the ways we inhabit our living spaces—combining work, leisure, and every-day life —global revenue in the DIY & home improvements sector has surged. This growth, amounting to 4.5% compared to previous years, has prompted experts to envision this industry’s potential to reach an astonishing $1.1 trillion.

Yet, as the Covid-19 dust settles and research indicates a gradual return to pre-pandemic growth rates, it prompts a compelling question: What lies ahead for the DIY & Housewares industry?

MacGregor Black sat down with Specialist DIY & Housewares Recruitment Consultant, Lewis Millican, to delve beneath the surface of the DIY & Housewares landscape and discuss the trends that are re-shaping the industry, the brands that are dominating the space, and what the future could hold for this ever-evolving category.

Unpacking the Trends

As the allure of home improvement experiences a slight ebb, brands in the sector are being encouraged to employ innovative strategies to maintain momentum amidst changing consumer behaviours and market dynamics.

So how are brands keeping up with the shifting tides?

Consumer-Centric Innovation

Whilst sustaining appeal and desirability within the consumer market has long been a fundamental objective for a business. In today’s unpredictable economy, this pursuit takes on even greater significance.

Consumer-centric innovation is an opportunity for brands to remain relevant and has quickly become a crucial element within the DIY and housewares sector. It empowers brands to create products and experiences precisely attuned to the evolving behaviours of consumers. An exemplary case of consumer-centric innovation can be seen by Etsy, the global online marketplace.

Recognising a growing desire among their customers to support small businesses, Etsy recently embarked on a series of initiatives. The “Etsy Uplift Initiative” was a standout, designed to highlight and elevate local and small-scale sellers, simplifying the process for customers to actively support these businesses.

USA, Louisiana, Baton Rouge. Pottery by Osa. Osa Atoe. Home studio.

Moreover, as Etsy also noted more of their consumers embracing sustainable and eco-conscious practices, the American eCommerce brand expressed its commitment to social responsibility through the “Afghan Refugees Collective.” This initiative encompasses over 20 shops owned by Afghan refugees in the United States, collectively generating over $800,000 in sales.

Not only do these moves resonate with the current consumer sentiment,” Lewis comments.

They also solidify Etsy’s reputation as a platform that listens to its audience and connects buyers with unique and authentic products.

A Personalised Approach

The significance of offering personalised and customisable products has emerged as a driving force behind sustained sales in the DIY & Housewares sector. Companies are no longer simply providing products; they’re empowering customers to become co-creators.

Tylko, a digital-first company specialising in customisable furniture, is a standout example of how harnessing a personalised approach can drive sales and foster brand loyalty in this post-pandemic era.

Tylko’s commitment to offering a personalised approach to furniture design, from adjustable shelving to bespoke tables, led to a whopping 132% increase in sales following Covid-19, in comparison to pre-pandemic years. A clear indicator that personalisation can enhance the emotional connection consumers have with their products, increasing their willingness to spend and ultimately bolstering brand loyalty.

Another approach that many brands can take to personalisation, is offering tailored recommendations to their customers shopping online.

Lowe’s, an American retail company specialising in home improvements, recently leveraged data from their loyalty program and customer interactions to create personalised offers and recommendations to customers shopping online. They used purchase history and browsing behaviour to send targeted promotions, discounts, and product recommendations to customers, which in turn, improved customer engagement and boosted post-pandemic sales.

Sustainability & Ethics

In a landscape where consumers’ focus on ethical consumption remains steadfast, embracing a sustainable and eco-friendly approach has become somewhat of a non-negotiable in not only the DIY & Housewares sector, but across various other industries.

IKEA, the Scandinavian ready-to-assemble furniture chain, is a prime example of this transformation. Previously plagued by controversy, IKEA has recently made significant strides towards becoming an eco-conscious company.

IKEA plans on achieving its ambitious goals by reducing plastics, utilising more sustainable materials, reducing packaging waste and continuing their campaign that allows customers to donate old furniture to make new pieces.

In February this year, the brand also released its sustainability and climate report detailing its plans to reduce its climate footprint and significantly increase the use of renewable energy. The Swedish retailer says it will address emissions across its supply chain and operations, from factories to transport, and target the impact of its roughly 460 stores. The company plans to increase the share of renewable energy in its supply chain, targeting 100% renewable energy in its production by the end of the decade.

Lewis Millican highlights that, “By investing in these initiatives, IKEA has not simply relied on a strategy of convenience and cost-efficiency, it has also successfully aligned itself with the current values of conscious consumers. The brand’s commitment to sustainability not only drives sales but does a good job at positioning IKEA as a brand that stands for more than just function.

Partnerships & Collaborations

In the wake of the pandemic, various brands in the DIY and homewares sector have recognised the value of strategic collaborations to fuel sales and elevate their market presence. The result? A wave of partnerships that bring together innovation, expertise, and consumer appeal, driving a new era of growth in the industry.

On the 16th of August, George at Asda announced it has signed a new, exclusive collaboration with English singer and TV personality, Stacey Solomon. With an impressive following of over 5.7 million on Instagram, with whom she keenly shares her DIY and home improvement tips with, Stacey Solomon is in an ideal position to influence George Home’s target audience and affirm the brand as a key destination in the home interiors market.

When asked his thoughts on partnerships and collaborations in the industry, Lewis commented that, “influencer partnerships like the George x Stacey Solomon partnership have become increasingly popular within the DIY and Homewares sector. Influencers, celebrity or not, have the ability to showcase real life applications of DIY and home improvement products, and this really resonates with a niche target audience.

According to a report conducted by The Social Shepherd in July this year, 61% of consumers trust influencer’s recommendations, meanwhile only 38% trusted branded social media content. Within this, working with influencers is simply unparalleled among younger consumers, as when looking for design inspiration in the planning of a room, nearly half of consumers aged 16 to 34 years old look to social media as the top source of influence for this age band.

With the above in mind, the partnership between George at Asda and Stacey could open the doors to new audiences, increase the brand visibility, and attract customers who may not have been previously exposed to the brand prior to the pandemic.

Another brand that has harnessed the power of partnerships is The Home Depot. The multi-national home improvements retailer has recently partnered with business intelligence company, Morning Consult to complete a survey which sampled recent homeowners or potential homebuyers born between 1981 and 2005.

The survey found that 53% of the millennials asked reported worries about purchasing their first home. In response, The Home Depot has launched the ‘New Homeowners Hub’, which aims to equip the next generation of current and future first-time homeowners with valuable resources including DIY guides, product recommendations, design inspiration and more.

Commenting on The Home Depot’s latest venture, Lewis states that “By recognising the specific hurdles millennials are up against, The Home Depot isn’t just demonstrating its dedication to keeping customers content; it’s also putting its brand on the same wavelength as a generation venturing into homeownership during these challenging post-pandemic times.

Who’s Dominating and who’s Challenging?

As the DIY & Housewares industry undergoes transformation, it’s crucial to acknowledge the legacy brands that have played pivotal roles in shaping its trajectory. Giants like Kingfisher, IKEA, Wayfair, The Home Depot, and Lowe’s – to name a few – have helped set industry standards and inspire new players.

Below, Lewis highlights some of the brands that are making big waves in the industry right now.

Lick Paint

Lick Paint is a London-based paint company founded in 2019 by Lucas London and Sam Bradley.

Launched with a fresh perspective, Lick Paint aims to disrupt the traditional paint-buying experience by offering a curated collection of paint colours and an online platform that simplifies the process of selecting and purchasing paint. Also, at a time when sustainability is paramount, the B-Corp certified brand’s paint is water-based, low in volatile organic compounds and their packaging is bio-degradable.

In 2021, Lick’s success prompted expansion beyond the UK into the United States, marking a significant milestone in their growth journey and making quality paint accessible to a global audience.

Lick Paint recently made headlines with an exciting collaboration, joining forces with The Kraft Heinz Company’s iconic Tomato Ketchup to introduce a ‘world-first’ opportunity. The Lick x Heinz partnership allows decorators and ketchup superfans alike to paint their homes in the vibrant ketchup red, aptly named Red HTK 57.

The limited-edition paint shade is exclusively available for a short time, with only 570 tins made-to-order via Lick’s website. This innovative partnership between Lick and Heinz brings together two passionate and distinct fan bases, poised to generate significant interest, elevate Lick’s brand visibility, and potentially drive increased sales.

Simba Mattresses

Sleep tech firm, Simba Mattresses, a prominent player in the DIY & Housewares industry has been steadily climbing the ladder at a time in which many of their competitors have found increasingly challenging.

Even after consumer confidence fell in March 2022, Simba doubled their 2019 sales, demonstrating just how robust their business model and trading performance is. Last year, the brand also introduced the GO (Green Organic) mattress, as part of their drive for more sustainable sleep.

Commenting on the importance of sustainability at Simba, Co-founder and CEO Steve Reid told Furniture News, “Our ‘Health, People, Planet’ pillars put health, sustainability, and people at the centre of everything we do, and sustainability is a key pillar – not because it’s popular, but because we have a moral responsibility to uphold it.”

That said, more consumers are making an informed choice with their sleep purchase. So, our mattresses are made in the UK, 100% recyclable, and we have a zero-to-landfill policy – all considerations at the point of purchase.”

Simba has also committed to making a conscious effort to offer more affordable and accessible price points for customers, as the cost-of-living crisis forces many to ditch their tool belt to tighten their financial belt. The retailer has extended their payment options from 12 months to 48, and now offer responsible lending in partnership with Novuna Consumer Finance.

Gorilla Glue

Gorilla Glue is another brand that has been steadily ascending in the industry in recent years. Founded in the US, Gorilla Glue has quickly gained a solid reputation for its high-performance adhesives that can be used on virtually any material (although we don’t recommend using it as hair gel…).

At the core of Gorilla Glue’s success is its commitment to product quality. Recently, Gorilla Glue placed number one in a test titled ‘The Best Wood Glues Tested in 2023’, conducted by DIY enthusiast Bob Vila. And in January 2023, the brand released three new products designed to appeal to customers who are passionate about DIY but favour easy application. Their Gorilla Grab Adhesive can be used without the need for a cartridge gun, making it an ideal product for those tackling large DIY projects who may be overwhelmed by using a gun.

As consumers seek convenient solutions for their DIY endeavours, Gorilla Glue’s offerings simplify the process, making it more accessible and less intimidating for both experienced DIY enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

In doing so, the brand has not only secured its place in the post-pandemic DIY landscape, but also contributed to the wave of home improvement enthusiasts looking to transform their living spaces.

What Does the Future Hold for the Industry?

As consumer behaviours undergo continuous evolution, it’s evident that the brands taking proactive steps to transform, adapt, and embrace innovation will likely emerge as the industry’s future leaders.

Among the most remarkable catalysts of this transformation is technology, and its influence extends even to the DIY sector.

Brands in the DIY & Housewares sector are increasingly focusing on their digital offering. They’re enhancing their websites, optimising for mobile devices, and utilising e-commerce platforms to make it easy for customers to browse and purchase products online. However, it doesn’t stop there…

As our featured industry expert rightly puts it “The integration of smart home technology has become a hallmark of the modern DIY & Housewares sector,

Think smart thermostats, lighting systems, security cameras, and voice-activated assistants. It’s all about efficiency and convenience. Artificial intelligence and automation will also play a more significant role in the industry, with more brands utilising AI-powered tools to provide personalised project recommendations and automation to ultimately achieve more efficient and precise manufacturing processes.” comments, Lewis.

Lewis also added that customers may also see more brands utilising Augmented Reality in the future. Apps and platforms like IKEA Place already allow its users to visualise how furniture and décor items will look in their space before making a purchase. Features like these not only replicate the in-store experience but they also empower customers to make informed purchase decisions from the comfort of their homes, contributing to sustained sales even as growth rates stabilise.

Not to mention, as environmental concerns continue to grow, technology will also play a vital role in promoting sustainability in the DIY & Housewares sectors.” Lewis observes.

Which could even go beyond the development of eco-friendly materials, energy-efficient products, and apps that calculate the environmental impact of home improvement projects.

So, as the initial surge in home improvement starts to level off, it’s clear to see that the industry faces a new landscape where innovation is the key to maintaining momentum. Consumer-centric innovation has taken centre stage, the importance of personalisation and customisability has surged, sustainability and ethics have become non-negotiable in the industry, and partnerships and collaborations have also played a significant role in driving industry growth. Today, the DIY & Housewares industry remains vibrant and full of opportunities for brands that are willing to adapt, innovate, and prioritise the needs of their customers.

If you’d like to speak with our dedicated team of specialist DIY & Housewares consultants, get in touch today via hello@macgregorblack.com or via +44 (0)191 691 1949.

Consumer, Drink, Drinks, Hospitality, Industry, Insight, Retail, Technology

Posted on 19 May 2023

Evolving from small medieval distilleries into the colossal $88 billion dollar industry that it is today, the story of whisky is one founded on tradition, revolution, and a thirst for innovation.

So, in honor of World Whisky Day, MacGregor Black explores the murky origins of whisky, the art of distilling, and the factors that fueled the rise of one of the world’s most popular spirits.

 

Where Did Whisky Come From?

Whisky’s history dates back hundreds of years. Which means, unfortunately, there are a number of theories as to where exactly the fiery golden liquid originates from.

Some academics argue that the ancestor to modern whisky was first discovered by Irish, Scottish, and English farmers, who began distilling spirits from their surplus grains. Although, a more favoured theory suggests that missionary monks brought the art of distillation over to the UK over a thousand years ago having mastered the practice on their travels across the Mediterranean, the Middle East and mainland Europe.

If we turn to the pages of history, we find the first ever written evidence of whisky appears as early as 1405, in the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise. Here it was documented that the head of a clan died from ‘taking a surfeit of ‘aqua vitea’. However, the earliest historical reference to whisky appears a little later down the line, in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls of 1494 where an entry refers to King James IV of Scotland granting ‘eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae’.

Aqua vitea, a term historically used to describe distilled spirits, is a Latin term meaning ‘water of life’. When translated from Latin to Gaelic, ‘aqua vitea’ became ‘uisge beatha’, which over the years, eventually evolved into the word ‘whisky’ that we know and love today.

 

Whisky Production & The Art of Distillation

Whisky, like all of its spirit counterparts, is made using distillation. A complex practice that dates back as far as the 1st century BC and research suggests originates from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, where early practitioners first used the process to create a mix of potent perfumes and aromas.

 

 

 

However, thanks to the global migration of knowledge and through the adaptation of ingredients & techniques, over time, alchemists refined and expanded distillation beyond perfumes to include medicines, poisons and of course, whisky.

One such factor that fanned the flames of mass whisky production took place in 1536, when Henry VIII broke ties with the Roman Church and disbanded many of the English monasteries. Prior to this point, distilling spirits remained largely a monastic and medical practice, but with so many unemployed Monks dispersed into the general population at the time, the art of distilling spirits quickly made its way into homes and farms, and the general production of whisky shifted into the hands of the people.

The increasing popularity of whisky would soon attract Scottish Parliament, where plans to profit from the growing industry, saw the introduction of the first taxes on whisky, in 1644. However, in protest, many Scots turned to illicit distilling in an attempt to avoid the high taxes. By the 1820s, as many as 14,000 illicit stills were being confiscated every year, and more than half the whisky consumed in Scotland was being enjoyed without the taxman taking his cut.

However, in 1823, the Excise Act was passed, which allowed Scots to distil whisky in return for a license fee of £10 and Illicit distilling and smuggling eventually died out.

With restrictions lifted for the import and export of commercial whisky, this incentivised people to grow barley and licensed distilleries began emerging in all corners of the Scottish lands. With a license now required, the process of distilling whisky became more refined and eventually upped the quality of the product. From here, whisky gradually gained worldwide popularity, becoming a talisman of heritage, craftmanship and cultural identity for the regions it was produced in.

In the early days of whisky production, the process was relatively simple. Grains were mashed, fermented using yeast, and the resulting liquid was then distilled. Following distillation, the liquid was aged in wooden casks for several years, providing it with the unique characteristics, colour, and flavours that whisky is known for today.

 

 

In the modern era, the fundamentals of whisky making remain largely unchanged. Grains are still mashed, fermented, and distilled, and whisky is still aged in wooden casks. However, over the centuries, advancements in innovation and technology, as well as the introduction of advanced aging and maturation processes have birthed a new age of whisky production.

In the 18th and 19th century, the industrial revolution brought significant advancements to the field. Namely, the invention of the column still in 1830, by Aneas Coffey, which revolutionised distillation and paved the way for large-scale whisky production. Today, distillation has transcended its traditional ties to spirits and is now a crucial process in various other industries including, the production of fuels, petroleum refining, essential oils, pharmaceuticals, and even water purification. Proving that distillation has played, and will continue to play, an essential role in the advancement of human society… not to mention good quality spirits.

 

 

Whisky or Whiskey…

The terms, whisky and whiskey are often used interchangeably, causing quite a bit of confusion amongst connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike. However, there are a number of distinct differences in their production methods, geographical origins, and their unique flavour profiles.

Whisky (without an e, and the starring spirit of this article) typically refers to whisky produced in Scotland and is often dubbed, Scotch whisky. Scottish distilling largely inspired the production of whisky in countries like Japan and Canada, explaining why both countries also use the ‘without an e’ spelling of whisky.

Scotch whisky has some pretty stern regulations when it comes to what can actually be labelled as a true Scotch Whisky. It must be made from malted barley, water, and yeast, and must be distilled in Scotland for at least three years. Scotch whisky is also well-known for its range of rich and smoky flavours, which can be attributed to the use of peat in the malting process.

 

 

However, recent research found that peat releases an excessive amount of stored carbon dioxide when harvested and is currently under some scrutiny for its potential contribution to climate change. The Scottish Government has since drawn plans to move away from using peat products in the future, thus protecting the environment, and ensuring no further damage to the peatlands.

Whiskey, on the other hand, is the preferred spelling of grain spirits that have been distilled in Ireland and the United States.

As Irish colonists began to arrive in America, they brought with them the process of distilling grain spirits and from that moment onwards, whiskey was born.

American whiskey encompasses various styles, including bourbon, rye whiskey and Tennessee whiskey, all of which are distilled in different ways, using different ingredients and under strict legal regulations specific to America. For example, similar to Scotch, for a bourbon whiskey to officially labelled as a bourbon whiskey, it must be distilled in America and at no higher than 160 proof, 80% alcohol-by-volume.

 

 

Brands to watch…

As the world of whisky continues to evolve, and an increasing number of individuals embrace the charm and cultural complexities of this cherished spirit, certain brands have emerged as rising stars in the industry. MacGregor Black caught up with award-winning mixologist and drinks practice operations consultant, Kieron Hall, to gauge which brands are gaining popularity and the reasons behind their rise.

Nc’nean Distillery

 

Nc’nean Distillery is a young, independent, organic whisky distillery perched above the Sound of Mull in the remote community of Drimnin on the west coast of Scotland. Declaring their main purpose to be “creating experimental spirits, and pioneering sustainable production”, Nc’nean Distillery aims to really get people thinking about Scotch.

“Nc’nean Distillery is a favourite brand of mine for a number of reasons, I think they’ve just hit the mark with everything a brand needs to be in today’s economy,” comments, Kieron.

“The brand is constantly looking at ways to shake-up the traditional Scotch market and improve their impact on the planet. Like, using organic Scottish barley at their distillery, which is powered by renewable energy, as well as recycling 99.97% of their waste, and making all of their bottles out of 100% recycled clear glass. Not to mention,

I think the quality of their product is brilliant, particularly their Organic Single Malt Whisky.

If you haven’t checked out Nc’nean yet, you definitely should!”

 

InchDairnie Distillery

 

InchDairnie Distillery, based in Fife, Scotland, pride themselves on their origins, whisky traditions, and their ability to take an innovative approach to flavour. Their distillery uses only barley that has been grown locally in Fife and they operate using two bespoke pieces of equipment; a Mash Filter and Lomond Hill Still, both used for experimentation and innovation.

Kieron Hall comments, “InchDairnie opened in 2015 and they literally built the whole distillery around their mash filter. Their bespoke methods to whisky production means that they can handle a variety of different grains and can extract more flavour and sugar during the process.

Every year, the brand clears two weeks in their calendar to distil something ‘out of the ordinary’ which most recently saw the distillery make their way to ‘the dark side’, being the first to distil a mash made from a majority of Dark Kilned Malted Spring Barley, which is usually used to brew dark beers.

A great drink and I suspect a great deal of innovation to come from InchDairnie in the near future.”

 

Ellers Farm Distillery

 

Based in North Yorkshire, Ellers Farm Distillery’s state-of-the-art production ranks as one of the largest distilleries in the country. The brand prides itself on being carbon neutral since day one of its operations, with further plans to achieve official B Corp certification. Ellers Farm Distillery has also partnered with Bristol based environmental organisation, Ecologi with the aim of planting one million trees.

“Ellers Farm is a classic,” says Kieron Hall.

“My colleague, Dana Bond and I recently visited the famous Ellers Farm Distillery and toured their site. After hearing some of their ambitious environmental goals and their plans for the future, we were pretty impressed.

Not only do they distil whisky, but they also produce vodka, gin and a range of small batch spirits that are only released in batches of 500 bottles. Ellers Farm will surely continue to lead the charge when it comes to sustainability, NPD and of course, great quality spirits.”

Kieron also comments about the “up and coming challenger brands” stating that:

“There are so many brands that deserved a mention, with many up-and-coming challenger brands also making big moves in the world of whisky right now, such as, Wolfburn, Milk & Honey, Mackmyra and Stauning Whisky to name a few.”

“It’s an exciting time to be a whisky lover as we have front row seats to watch a wave of new brands redefine the landscape of whisky.”

 

 

Whether it’s neat, on the rocks, or mixed into a complex cocktail, whisky clearly has a rich history of being beloved by many, throughout the centuries.  From the rolling hills of Scotland to the bourbon-soaked barrels of Kentucky, the production methods, legal regulations, and geographical influences have shaped the unique identity of whisky.

With each sip, we embark on a sensory journey of tradition, rebellion, and innovation, connecting us to a rich, yet murky, history of one of the world’s most beloved spirits.

So, if you’re a complete connoisseur, a beloved bourbon fan or an avid enthusiast, join us on World Whisky Day 2023 to appreciate the deep and remarkable world of whisky.

 

Consumer, Drink, Drinks, Events, Hospitality, Industry, Insight

Posted on 30 January 2023

In the wake of new year celebrations, from Sydney to San José, one particular trend has steadily gained popularity worldwide.

A valued tradition in human history for over 4,000 years, from exercise goals, to ‘going green’, billions of people across the globe mark the beginning of the solar calendar with promises of new year’s resolutions.

Yet, one such resolution is pouring into society with ease, leaving many of us asking ourselves the question… to dry or not to dry.

MacGregor Black takes a closer look at why so many are committing to Dry January, what impact the movement is having on the global Drinks industry, and the no and low brands that are toasting to its success.

The History…

Dry January, as we know it today, is a relatively new concept. Established by British charity, Alcohol Change, the ‘Dry January’ campaign was launched with the ambitious aim of encouraging sobriety throughout Britain during the month of January. The Alcohol Change UK trademarked the name ‘Dry January in 2014’, however the practice of abstaining from alcohol during the first month of the year can be dated all the way back to 1942; when the Finnish Government launched their ‘Sober January’ campaign as part of their war efforts against the Soviet Union. Although, you guessed it… the campaign was rather short-lived, and the following January saw alcohol welcomed back with open arms.

The Stats…

In 2014, 17,000 Brits signed up to Alcohol Change’s debut campaign. In 2022, more than 130,000 people registered, it’s most successful year to date. And in 2023, although official numbers have dwindled slightly, statistics may suggest that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing…

The decrease seen in 2023’s Dry January participation is not for a lack of consciousness but is most likely accredited to there simply being fewer ‘drinkers’ out there. A survey conducted by business intelligence company, Morning Consult, revealed that the proportion of Millennials that said they drink alcohol has reduced by 10%, from December 2021 to December 2022. Not only that, but a study conducted by the University of Sussex found that 4% of people were who previously participated, were able to stay abstinent even after Dry January, another factor that could also account for fewer participants during future campaigns.

Despite the slight dip in interest, it’s important to note the number of repeat participants in 2023’s official Dry January campaign. Among those who have previously participated, an impressive 72% said they were planning on participating again.

The Impact…

While there are many reasons one might dive headfirst into Dry January, the desire to make healthier choices remaining the no.1 influencer, what exactly are the impacts of starting the year sober? How does this benefit those participating? And what effect does this have on the Drinks industry?

Although often thought of as a sheer test of willpower, studies show that those who participate in Dry January experience a range of long-lasting benefits. Published in Psychology & Health, a 2020 study of 4,323 adults who participated in Dry January reported that 63% saved money, 56% experienced improved sleep, 52% had more energy, and 50% reported better overall health. Successful participants also found that the challenge brought about a significant increase in well-being and positive self-belief.

Whist Dry January is a great way to spread awareness and encourage healthier choices, since the campaign’s debut in 2014, it has spread rapidly, and proves to be far more than just a month-long trend. As a result, no and low product innovation has flourished, and the fast-moving nature of the ‘alcohol-free’ category has birthed a range of new products.

New findings from the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis revealed that the UK no-and-low category rose by 9% in 2022, and the sector is predicted to grow by a compound annual growth rate of 7% between 2023-2026. In 2020, no and low alcohol beers represented 5% of the overall beer market, with many mainstream beer brands like Heineken, Peroni, Coors and Budweiser launching their own now-and-low product ranges, which has resulted in no-and-low beer options seeing a 6% growth in the UK. When we compare this to the wider beer market, which is actually predicted to flatline, or even decline slightly this year, the shift in not only consumption, but also production, is clear to see.

“The recent explosion in no-and-low beverages could possibly lay the foundations for higher numbers of participants in future Dry Jan Campaigns,” comments Annie Cairns, Specialist Drinks Consultant at MacGregor Black.

“Non-alcoholic spirits volume climbed by 38% last year in the UK alone, with agave alternatives more than doubling! So, it stands to reason that, if people have a wider range of alternative options, they’re more likely to stick with the challenge. Not to mention that the recent rise in health-conscious consumerism will, no doubt, also play a part in influencing the success of this year’s Dry January campaign, as transparency around nutrition and ingredients continues to empower more people to make healthier choices.”

While the health benefits are clear to see, one important factor remains somewhat unchanged. As many low and no alcohol products often cost equally as much as their alcoholic counterparts, those participating to save money may find their alcohol-free options much less attractive.

Based on the overall aim of Dry January, you’d be right to assume that alcohol brands, bars, pubs, and restaurants usually suffer a dip in revenue. However, with a change in demand, comes evolution. In an attempt to stay ahead of the alcohol curve and join in on the Dry January trend, many businesses opt for executing strategic plans ahead of the campaign. For example, increasing the marketing spend allocated to their non-alcoholic product ranges, or launching new tactical partnerships with retailers prior to the New Year, with the aim of better positioning their product to draw in those that are participating. Furthermore, many brands are choosing to offer limited-time promotions on their alcoholic products (along-side their no and low offerings) in an effort to avoid a drop in overall sales.

‘The Ones to watch’…

Whether you’re jumping on the Dry January trend, cutting out alcohol completely, or just looking to try something new, there are exciting new alcohol-free products hitting the shelves daily. Deriving from a subtle blend of plants and passion, these alcohol alternatives promise to be equally as triumphant in flavour as their liquor laden brothers and sisters.

Lucky Saint

Dry January aside, the no and low sector is continuing to grow at a brisk pace and alcohol-free beer brand, Lucky Saint is definitely along for the ride. Now the UK’s #1 alcohol-free beer, Lucky Saint is the love child of great tasting flavour and high-quality German brewing. Only a few weeks ago, the brand secured over US$12.2 million in investment during a series A funding round, led by venture capital companies, Beringea and Jam Jar Investments. The funding round marks a record level of investment for a non-alcohol beer brand in Europe!

“This latest investment will ensure further success for the company in the UK and help us build a globally recognized alcohol-free brand,” says Lucky Saint’s Founder & CEO, Luke Boase. “We’ve just scratched the surface of this opportunity.”

Most recently, Lucky Saint has run with its religious theme having launched a series of out of home ads encouraging people to switch to their 0.5% lager during the month of Dry January. Using slogans like ‘Lead me not into temptation’ and ‘Thou shalt not, not drink’, the disruptive campaign has featured across 6-sheets and cross track 48-sheets on the London Underground. The transcendent campaign imagery was captured by iconic photographer, Rankin and also featured still-life photography from Susan Lee.

Lucky Saint’s Managing Director, Emma Heal also announced on LinkedIn last week that the growing alcohol-free beer brand is planning to open a ‘Pub for our times’ this March. The multifaceted hospitality venue will serve the brand’s range of non-alcoholic drinks, as well as a vast portfolio of alcoholic drinks, enjoyed inside or outside under their stunning new awnings. The venue will also offer customers, food, a sneak peek at the podcast studio, events, mental health training and mindful drinking courses held by global sobriety movement, Club Soda.

Thomas & Scott Noughty Alcohol Free

Looking to lead the global shift to alcohol-free drinking, Thomas & Scott recently launched the game-changing brand, Noughty, a range of delicious ‘dealcoholized’ alternatives to Champagne and fine wines.

Launched in 2019, Noughty is the first top quality alcohol free, organic, sustainable, vegan, halal, low-sugar sparkling beverage, and if that wasn’t enough to seal the deal, the brand is also officially B Corp certified! Voted one of ‘Business Insider’s Coolest People in Food & Drink 2019’, Founder & CEO of Thompson & Scott, Amanda Thompson, is a driving force behind the need for greater transparency in wine production labelling and aims to educate consumers on what’s in their bottles. Noughty’s range of high-class, non-alcoholic beverages can be found in some of the coolest bars, clubs, restaurants, and hotels across key locations in Europe, Australia & North America.

Everleaf

‘Grown from adventure’ Everleaf pride themselves on creating the world’s most complex non-alcoholic aperitifs, with taste that ‘transports you to the natural world’. Launched by Conservation Biologist and bar owner, Paul Matthew, who spent over a year researching plants, sustainable sourcing, dehydrating samples, macerating, and extracting, all to find the perfect blend of complimentary flavours.

As part of their 2023 Dry January campaign, Everleaf have teamed up with Pale Fox Wines to offer their customers a limited-edition Mountain Spritz Kit. Made increasingly popular during Dry Jan’s sister month, ‘Sober October’, Everleaf and Pale Fox Wines decided to extend the offering until January, promising that Everleaf’s vibrant blend of botanicals in their Mountain Aperitif, coupled with Pale Fox Wines’ Alcohol Free will produce a delicious, aromatic fresh spritz.

Days Lager

Born and Brewed in the luscious Lammermuir hills in Scotland, Days Lager in an award-winning 0.0% abv lager that is committed to using only the finest local plant-based ingredients. Launched during lockdown 2.0, Founders Mike Gammell and Duncan Keith spent a whole year researching, innovating, and testing, before landing on their unique brewing process, specifically designed to never produce alcohol.

In 2022, the brand partnered with The Wave Project, as part of their ongoing commitment to progressive mental health practices, pledging to support and fund the training of up to 1,000 new surf mentors across the UK. Not only that, but Days Lager prides itself on being B-Corp Certified.

As part of their Dry January campaign, the ‘100% beer 0% Alcohol’ brand also offered their customers 30% off their first order using the code ‘BEERME’.

The Conclusion

As we draw the curtains on Dry January 2023, despite the campaigns limited duration, it’s clear to see how and why the no-and-low sector will continue to flourish.

With an honest and transparent approach to health & wellness dominating consumer expectations, Dry January is an opportunity for people to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol, improve their health, re-assess how they spend their time and of course, save money. And for brands? A rare opportunity to engage with a unique and emerging audience, experiment with exciting marketing initiatives, and launch limited edition products.

Which leads us back to the big question. January 2024 – To dry or not to dry?

If you’d like to speak to a specialist in our dedicated Drinks practice, get in touch today via 0191 691 1949 or email us at hello@macgregorblack.com

Case Study, Consumer, Cosmetics, Health & Beauty, Industry, Insight, Sustainability

Posted on 7 October 2022

For thousands of years, skincare has played a vital role in many of our daily routines.

As early as 4000 BCE, our ancestors have experimented with creative and resourceful ways to enhance their physical appearance. Now, one modern trend looks to reshape the multi-billion-dollar global industry.

MacGregor Black takes a closer look at the cosmetics industry and its latest development, ‘Clean Beauty’.

The Cosmetic Industry

The ancient Greeks lathered their faces with honey and the early Egyptians exfoliated their skin with salts extracted from the Dead Sea. Our historic desire for the perfect complexion has echoed throughout the ages, giving birth to a £395.7billion industry we know today as, the cosmetics industry.

An industry where, in more recent years, many brands have drifted away from traditional techniques and ingredients forged in nature, instead turning to science in the search for success. Whilst such techniques may well have resulted in cheaper, more convenient, and (admittedly) in many cases more effective products. There is a newfound spotlight shining brightly on the long-term effects of pursuing perfection.

Fast forward to present day and an increasing amount of consumers are beginning to pay close attention to the products they consume. Labels are used to educate rather than attract, ingredients are analysed and understood, and brand are now held to account for the impact they have on not only our skin, but the world around us.

The result?

Cosmetics companies from across the globe are beginning to ditch the new for the old… all in the name of the ‘Clean Beauty Movement’.

What is Clean Beauty?

At its core, clean beauty refers to cosmetic products that are free of hormone disrupters, carcinogens and other harmful chemicals or ingredients such as, petrolatum, parabens, oxybenzone, phthalates or artificial fragrances, to name but a few.

Led by a rise in conscious consumerism, clean beauty products are flooding the cosmetics industry. And are we really surprised? According to data collected by Statista Research, almost half of 13–19-year-olds are interested in trying clean beauty and personal care products. In fact, in today’s market, clean beauty products generate around £350 million per year, with forecasts expecting 600% growth by 2024, totaling to a whopping £20 billion worldwide.

Clean beauty products are not only defined by their use of safe, non-toxic ingredients but are also bolstered by their transparency. There is a conscious movement towards tearing down the wall of secrecy that has previously surrounded many well-known brands, as modern consumers seek to educate themselves to better the decisions they make. So much so, that according to a recent survey conducted by Statista Research, 66% of 13-39-year-olds are more likely to buy a personal care or beauty product that has a ‘clean’ label on it.

Long gone are the days when consumers shopped solely for designer names or fancy packaging alone. Ingredients are now firmly under the microscope, with favour falling heavily to transparent beauty brands that clearly list not only exactly what is in their products, but also omits ingredients that can potentially harm.

Now to some, the conversation may end there. After all, a ‘clean’ label must mean it’s clean, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In truth, there is no legal or official definition for clean beauty at this moment in time. And in the absence of clearly defined rules bring ambiguity. Ambiguity that many brands have taken advantage of, seeking to define clean beauty according to their own agendas. Not only that, but the cosmetics industry sadly isn’t as regulated as we’d all like it to be and as a result, some brands have the ability to mislead their customers. For example, ‘fragrance’ is not an ingredient but due to the lack of detailed regulation, companies can hide toxic ingredients in their products under the banner term ‘Fragrance’.

This is precisely what Clean Beauty aims to correct.

What Else Could Be Considered ‘Clean Beauty?’

Fuelled by a sudden boom in the health and wellness sector, many brands have opted to launch products that are not only labelled as ‘clean’, but also ‘organic’, ‘cruelty-free’, ‘green’ or ‘natural’. We’ve broken down those terms for you below.

Organic

For a product to be dubbed ‘organic’, it must be composing of at least 95% organic materials, formulated using organic farming, handled and manufactured in coordination with specific laws, free of genetically modified ingredients and must be officially certified as ‘organic’. Unlike the food & drink industry, the term ‘organic’ in cosmetics has little regulation and unless a product has gone through an extensive testing process to become officially certified, it’s difficult to guarantee it contains truly organic ingredients. However, one thing to bear in mind is, in the United States the USDA organic certification isn’t cheap and therefore some smaller health and beauty companies operating out of the US can’t always afford to display the official USDA organic certification seal, despite their products being truly organic. So, it’s best to do your research!

According to data collected by Mordor Intelligence, the organic skincare market is expected to grow by 8.5% per year through to 2026. Currently, the market is primarily dominated by a select group of large cosmetics companies, however as more and more beauty brands reap the benefits of producing organic products, we expect to see a surge of new contributors entering into this space.

Cruelty-Free

With the same passion shown for their own health, many consumers are pushing for the cosmetics industry to also be more conscious of the effect they have on animals.

Unfortunately, the cosmetics industry has a long and ugly history of testing on animals. Thankfully, and in large part due to consumer backlash, this is slowly changing, and many beloved brands are now opting to test their products using other methods of research instead. For example, cosmetics companies can utilise vitro testing (the practice of testing on human cells and tissue), silico testing (testing using computer modelling techniques) and are also able to test their products with the help of human volunteers.

As cruelty-free brands become more popular, there’s a common misconception that these products are also ‘vegan’. Whilst cruelty-free products share the same sentiment as vegan products and aim to protect animals as much as possible, cruelty-free products can still contain ingredients derived from an animal, despite them not being sourced in ways that could prove harmful to the animal. For example, a product that contains honey could be considered cruelty-free, as extracting honey from the hive doesn’t harm to the bees, however, the product is not vegan as it still contains animal ingredients.

If you’d like to know which products are cruelty-free, keep your eyes peeled for official cruelty-free logos and certifications.

Green

Easily confused with ‘clean’ beauty, ‘green’ beauty refers to products that cause no harm to the environment. From its manufacturing to its ingredients, all elements of a green beauty product will have little to no impact on the planet.

One of the most talked about topics within green beauty right now is, sustainable packaging. According to a study conducted by specialist health & beauty agency, The Pull Agency, nine out of ten shoppers (88%; rising to 93% of Generation Z) look for sustainability credentials in their beauty and personal care purchases and a third (32%) have deliberately chosen a sustainable brand in the past.

However, despite the swelling demand from consumers, the cosmetics industry is one of the top contributors to plastic pollution, producing more than 120 billion units of packaging waste every year. This is because, sadly, much of the packaging used in the health and beauty sector is comprised of a mixture of materials that are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recycle.

Natural

As reported by Nielsen, 40.2% of consumers say they look for natural ingredients when making a purchase. However, buzzwords like ‘natural’ are tricky to define.

In a nutshell, if a product is claiming to contain ‘natural’ ingredients, it’s more than likely referring to the essential oils inside the product. An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile chemical compounds derived from plants, and depending on how concentrated the oils are, this could drastically change their effects on your health. Whilst they are natural, if they’re not formulated correctly, essential oils could damage the protective barrier across the skin, which is why when racing to grab the latest ‘natural’ products from the shelves, consumers should still always be conscious of the ingredients inside them. However, more often than not, essential oils incorporated within manufactured products go through a degree of regulation and are usually pretty safe to use.

How Much Damage Can Products Really Do?

Since there are little regulations around keeping harmful ingredients out of cosmetics, the clean beauty movement must be led by health-conscious-consumers and companies alike. Being aware of the effects that certain ingredients in products can have on both our safety and the planet is the first step down the path to true clean beauty.

Preservatives such as parabens, used by brands to increase the shelf life of their products, have been known to cause skin irritations, allergic reactions, and in some cases, have even been known to disrupt the hormones in our bodies, causing fertility issues and increasing the risk of cancer. And that’s just one ingredient!

Similar to parabens, phthalates, which are used to bind a product with a fragrance, can also cause allergic reactions, hormone disruptions and irritate our skin.

As you can see, some (not all) of the ingredients used in health and beauty products can have long lasting, harmful effects on our health, but did you know that some of them can also do just as much damage to the planet?

Oxybenzone is an ingredient most commonly found in sunscreens, used to protect our skin from the harsh UV rays. Although used in over 3500 sunscreens worldwide, this popular ingredient offers far less protection than we might think…Not only does oxybenzone act as a human hormone blocker, but it has also been known to bleach and cause serious damage to coral reefs. Many consumers aren’t aware of this, nor are they aware that there are many suncream brands out there that opt to use zinc-oxide or titanium oxide instead of oxybenzone, both of which are kinder on our skin and the planet.

We can understand why products using synthetic ingredients can often get a bad rep (especially after reading the above!) and whilst we might assume that natural ingredients are superior to lab-created synthetic ingredients, this isn’t always the case. In fact, after years of detailed research and development, many skincare brands have been able to create safe synthetic chemicals as a method of maintaining the purity of their products and increasing their shelf life. Which in turn, means less packaging waste and a smaller carbon footprint!

Brands to Watch

As the demand for clean beauty soars and an abundance of new products pop up in stores across the globe, it can be tricky to pin down which brands are truly clean.

MacGregor Black spoke with Health & Beauty sector specialist, Kriisti Atherton, to review her top clean beauty brands and why they made the cut.

The Ordinary

A common question many people have about clean beauty brands is, are the products worth the money? It seems that the cleaner the label, the steeper the cost and many consumers say they shy away from clean beauty products simply because of their extortionate price. This is where The Ordinary comes in.

It’s no surprise that bloggers, influencers and consumers are going mad for The Ordinary’s products. This brand aims to make skincare accessible. Most of the brand’s products cost less than £20, with some of their serums, creams and solutions costing as little as £5. Each of The Ordinary’s skincare formulations are simple, easy to understand and are free of additives, fillers, fragrances and dyes. Their packaging is minimal and straight-forward and their product labels explain exactly what’s inside them.

Kriisti Atherton comments:

“The Ordinary products are ideal for those who want to get straight to the point when it comes to their skincare. My favourite product from this range is their chia-seed oil, which personally I feel is massively underrated! It helps me with pretty much all of my skincare concerns (and even keeps my hair smooth and shiny!), from breakouts, to fine lines, to split ends. For me it’s magic.

I also really like their products in particular because they’re packed with evidence-based ingredients like retinol, salicylic acid and hyaluronic acid, without the market leading prices people might usually be expected to pay.”

UpCircle Beauty

Founded in 2016 by siblings Anna and William Brightman, UpCircle is a brand that aims to make the most of the hundreds of prime cosmetic ingredients that end up in landfill each year. This affordable organic beauty brand has built themselves a credible reputation for fighting waste by for sourcing and re-using natural ingredients discarded by the food & drinks industries. In their products, you’ll find ingredients like coffee grounds, olive stones, kiwi juice, maple bark and apricot stones.

Health & beauty specialist, Kriisti Atherton commented in a statement:

“UpCircle beauty products hold a special place on my shelf. I’m actually using their body scrub made with tangerine and repurposed coffee grounds and the results have been amazing. The circular economy sits at the foundation of their brand, as they aim to reduce as much waste as possible through upcycling (hence the name UpCircle) and taking advantage of the many perfectly usable ingredients that end up in landfill each year. And to top it off, their products are palm oil free, vegan, cruelty-free, natural and sustainable. Plus, their packaging is 100% recyclable.”

Biossance

In 2003, Biossance patented a life-changing technology that allowed them to create an accessible cure for malaria. Today, the sustainable brand has turned to beauty, developing over 120 million skin-loving treatments, thanks to this technology. The ingredient most commonly found in their products is squalene, an oil Biossance produce entirely from sugarcane (rather than it’s typical source. Yep, you guessed it… shark livers!).

The brand prides themselves on their continued efforts in shark conservation, saving over 2 million of these ocean dwellers lives with their renewable squalene creations. Not only that, but their packaging is fully recyclable and in partnership with CarbonFund.org., they also plant trees and fund large restoration projects offshore each year.

Kriisti Atherton gives her insight:

“What I love about Biossance is their undying commitment to the environment! The company ships carbon neutral, is cruelty-free and has a green lab certification, meaning the brand meets the non-profit’s laboratory standards for energy consumption and usage. The company has also taken it upon themselves to personally ban over 2,000 harmful ingredients (like parabens and phthalates) from their products, further proving their passion for preserving the planet, as well as the safety of their customers.”

Monday Haircare

MONDAY is a dermatologically tested haircare brand that currently has people across the internet raving about its results. Their shampoo and conditioner formulations are free from SLS, parabens and are certified under the Leaping Bunny programme by animal protection and advocacy agency, Cruelty Free. Whilst also being recognised by PETA as a brand that has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to testing on animals.

MacGregor Black’s beauty expert, Kriisti Atherton notes:

“I wanted to include a haircare brand in this round-up because the clean beauty movement isn’t just focusing on skincare or cosmetics, it extends to pretty much any personal care product out there.

With a focus on using natural ingredients, MONDAY is all about making luxury products more affordable for the average person. They don’t believe you should pay more for quality ingredients or fancy packaging, which still looks amazing and is 100% recyclable.”

In short, the Clean Beauty Movement encourages us to challenge the norm and push for what we feel is right. While cutting through the hype and investing your time into finding out which brands are truly ‘clean’ can be difficult, it’s worth remembering that the Clean Beauty Movement began out of a genuine need for transparency and higher-quality ingredients in the products we consume. Thanks to this demand, the industry is evolving, and more brands are tackling problems like the misuse of harmful ingredients, unethical practices, and misleading marketing.

By reframing the focus on the ingredients in our skincare and pushing for cleaner, natural, better-quality products, the Clean Beauty Movement holds the power to re-shape a multi-billion-dollar industry.

If you’d like to speak to our Global Health & Beauty Practice, get in touch today via hello@macgregorblack.com or +44 (0)191 691 1949

Consumer, Events, Food, Hospitality, Industry, Insight, Outdoor

Posted on 27 May 2022

To many of us, bees are simply seen as striped honey-making machines, that buzz around our gardens during the summer. However, our airborne accomplices actually play a much more important role in maintaining the planet than we may initially think.

Bees are the pollinators of crops, producers of honey, and pioneers in digital advancement, with some engineers even attempting to emulate their impressive swarm intelligence in today’s technology.

In light of ‘World Bee Day’, MacGregor Black dives deeper into the busy life of the beloved bee, exploring their enormous impact on the world around us.

Let the Truth Bee Told…

With the two most well-known species of honeybee and bumblebee often stealing the limelight, it’s easy to overlook the fact that there are actually over 25,000 different types of bees (which just so happens to be the same number of bee-related puns we’ve worked into this article…)! All of which belong to the insect or Super-Family ‘Apoidea’, which also includes Wasps, from which bees are believed to be descended from… but we don’t hold that against them.

The fact is bees contribute to our eco system in many amazing ways. With one of their most important contributions being, pollination. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, approximately 80% of all flowering plants are pollinated mostly by insects, with birds, bats and bees being ranked as extra important due to their ability to pollinate on such a large scale.

But what makes bees in particular such good mass pollinators? The answer to this question lies in a set of physical features that, in comparison to other animals and insects, gives our fuzzy friends an unexpected edge.

Firstly, they have tiny strands of hair all over their bodies, legs and even eyes, which the plant pollen sticks to and as a result, is shuttled around from flower to flower. These millions of little hairs are extremely important to bees, as they also help with regulating their temperature and detecting vibrations in the atmosphere. Isn’t that the bee’s knees! Secondly, the shape and size of their bodies plays a vital role in pollination, as they’re able to squish inside even the tiniest and most delicate of flowers.

Another factor in the bee’s brilliant ability to mass pollinate is the fact their lives actually depend on it. Honey made from plant pollen and nectar is the main source of protein that bees consume, and they need a strong amount of it in their systems to cope with the rearing of broods and the continued development of their sophisticated colonies.

It’s not just the bee-autiful flowers in our gardens that benefit from bees, many of our favourite fruits and vegetables like, broccoli, asparagus, cucumber, and strawberries, also rely on the pollination of bees, and since cultivated plants like these are an extremely important income to farmers, some are even partnering with beekeepers for support with targeted crop pollination. In fact, about one third of everything we eat globally has been pollinated by bees or other animals, and it’s even been recorded that some bees have been seen to travel a whopping 5-6 miles a day in the process! It’s also interesting to note that, in recent years, with more and more people are opting for a plant-based diet, what we eat being pollinated mainly by bees begins to hold a lot more significance.

These hard-working furry invertebrates have been around for millions of years, not only leading the way in the pollination of flowers, fruit, and vegetables, but also producing the delicious golden delicacy that we all know and love, honey.

“Honey, I’m home!”

As you read this, billions of bees all around the world are busy gathering precious nectar, flying it back to their colonies, and turning it into sweet, sticky honey to see them through the winter. But how does this popular sugary treat make it from their hives to our homes?

Once the flower nectar is gathered, it’s broken down into simple sugars and stored carefully inside the honeycomb. The design and shape of the honeycomb, accompanied by the constant fanning of tiny bees’ wings, causes evaporation inside the hive, resulting in the thick gooey liquid delight that is honey. Luckily for us, bees usually produce more honey than necessary for their hive, meaning beekeepers can harvest and bottle it without impacting the colonies overall food supply. It’s said that on average, a hive will produce a whopping 55 pounds of surplus honey each year!

When ready, beekeepers will harvest the honey by collecting the honeycomb frames, removing the protective wax cap that bees make to seal off the honey, and placing the frames into an extractor. The extractor then rapidly spins the honeycomb, forcing out all the honey in the process. After it’s extracted, the honey is strained to remove any remaining wax or particles.

After straining, it’s then time for the honey to be bottled, labelled, placed on shop shelves, and spread straight across our morning slice of toast. If the honey is pure, not one single additional ingredient is added from bee, to hive, to bottle. It’s also fascinating to note that the taste and look of honey all depends on the type of nectar the bees are collecting. For example, honey made from orange blossom nectar has a zesty kick and can even be lighter in colour, whereas honey from avocado or wildflower nectar can have a darker, more amber colouring to it.

To Bee or Not to Bee?

Beekeeping by nature, surprisingly, doesn’t need a huge investment, large amounts of land or even a complicated technical knowledge. Yet like most other livestock sectors, beekeeping still comes with its fair share of challenges.

One of the largest threats to the beekeeping industry is unfortunately, species decline. When researchers analysed bee records collated by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility from museums, universities, and citizen scientists, they found that there’s been a steep decline in bee species recorded since 1990. In fact, there were approximately 25% fewer species reported between 2006 and 2015 than before the 1990’s. Beekeepers also face a range of other constraints that can contribute to species decline, such as bee pests and predators, the misuse of pesticides and herbicides, bee diseases, colony absconding and a shortage of resources.

However, despite the many challenges that beekeepers have to overcome, the honey industry is currently buzzing. Research from a study conducted by the University of California Agriculture found that in the US alone, the honey industry is responsible for over 22,000 jobs and in 2020, the global honey market was estimated to be valued at just over $8 billion US dollars, which is expected to rise to over $10 billion US dollars by 2026.

Beauty is in the eye of the Bee-holder

Cleopatra, a woman highly renowned for her mesmerising beauty, was known to regularly bathe in milk and honey, helping her maintain her youthful glow. Throughout history, ancient Greek women lathered their faces in honey and olive oil to keep their skin looking as radiant as the infamous Helen of Troy. Queen Elizabeth the 1st, a beauty icon to Elizabethan women, used honey, lemon juice and rosewater as an effective remedy for spots and blemishes. As far back as the days of Tudor England, mythical Greece, and even ancient Egypt, the beauty enhancing qualities of honey have been documented and well utilised by some of history’s most famous faces.

Although we’re far from the days of bathing in milk and honey, today, honey can still be found in most of our much-loved modern-day cosmetics. According to a study conducted by Mintel, a huge 75% of us are likely to use cosmetics containing honey in our every-day lives. From glossy hair conditioners to silky face creams, this natural ingredient has remained a firm fan favourite throughout the decades.

To some, such uses of honey may be surprising, however it’s remained so popular in the cosmetics and healthcare industries because honey and its extracts, like royal jelly, are high in antioxidants and nutrients. Some honey variants, like Manuka honey, have even been proven to contain high levels of antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties.

To learn more about the mystical range of qualities possessed by Manuka honey, MacGregor Black sat down with Darren Robinson, Commercial Director at Steens Honey, New Zealand’s leading producer of high-grade, raw, unpasteurised Manuka honey.

“What can you tell us about Steens?”

Steens was started by Paul and Sheryl Steens because they wanted to pursue their passion for bringing a better-quality Manuka honey to the market. Both Paul and Sheryl have been beekeeping for over 34 years, so they know a thing or two about honey, and Steens itself currently manages over 10,000 hives across some of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand.

To sum it up, what we do is produce and sell some of the finest raw and unpasteurised Manuka honey, straight from New Zealand.

“What makes Manuka honey so special?”

Manuka honey is truly a unique product and one of the most incredible things that nature provides. It’s made from bees who have fed only from the Manuka bush, which is unique to New Zealand’s rich native forests and is the vital ingredient in taking honey from a natural sweetener, to so much more. The Manuka plant only flowers for six days a year at the height of summer and it takes 12 bees to make a single teaspoon of honey in their lifetime, so it’s all hands-on deck as soon as the plant is ready. We have land teams on standby that notify us when the plant flowers, and we move in as quickly as possible to harvest the pure Manuka honey, sometimes even using a helicopter for efficiency.

We position our hives in some of the most remote parts of New Zealand to make sure the honey isn’t congested with any other type of flower nectar, and to also support the natural economy of the area. When it’s harvesting time, we’ll leave enough honey in the hives, or replace it with a different honey to keep the bees happy and healthy.

“How do you determine that your Manuka Honey is actually Manuka Honey?”

Good quality Manuka honey isn’t just made in New Zealand, it’s also tested there before it leaves the country to confirm its genuine and pure quality Manuka honey. When testing, what we’re looking for is the presence of key signature markers like MGO, Leptosperin and NPA, which are only found in high-quality Manuka honey from New Zealand. All of the Manuka honey made by Steens is UMF Certified, meaning it’s been through the complete advanced testing procedure, and each one of our jars can actually be traced with a code to ensure its authenticity.

“Is it true that Manuka honey has ‘magical’ qualities?”

Well, yes. You could say that!

Manuka honey is probably most renowned for its wound-healing capabilities. Similar to Savlon, it’s been approved in children’s hospitals because of its anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. It also holds special value to me because I use it to combat the symptoms of my diverticulosis. Which is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about working with Steens. I can truly say our product is out in the world, making a difference.

Well, there you have it!

Beyond its sweet, sticky deliciousness, honey has a whole host of beneficial properties, and as more and more people play closer attention to the ingredients in their products, the demand for this natural resource is only set to rise.

All of which can be accredited to one very small, but mighty friend of ours… the bee.

If you’d like to talk talent with our team of industry experts, or take the next step in your career, get in touch via hello@www.macgregorblack.com or via +44(0)191 691 1949

If you’re interested in trying some of Steen’s award-winning Manuka Honey, in celebration of World Bee Day, they’re offering a 50% off sale on their website for today only!

Advertising, Consumer, Drink, Events, Food, Hospitality, Industry, Insight, Sustainability, Technology

Posted on

Once dubbed, ‘the juice of the gods’ and given its own official deity, wine has been a well-enjoyed beverage for thousands of years. From the range of alcoholic drinks in circulation today, arguably none have impacted society in quite the same way. The history books show that this much-cherished drink has bridged the gap between ancient cultures, opened up channels for philosophical ideas to spread across Europe and even played a key role in the evolution of worship.

And so… in celebration of Wine Day 2022, MacGregor Black explores the rich history of wine. From how it’s produced, to the popular variations we know today, and how they could be changing for modern wine-lovers all over the world.

Where Does Wine Come From?

Unfortunately, no one can be 100% certain about the exact origins of wine. As with any new innovation, as it journeyed across cities, countries and continents, the birthplace slowly became more story than substance. Fast forward to today and there equally as many new theories as old as to where this beloved beverage began its journey.

If we were to turn to Greek mythology, it’s said that Dionysus, the son of Zeus and ‘God of Wine’, invented wine whilst living among ancient mythological creatures called Nymphs. As much as we’d like to close the age-old case of ‘who did it first’, it’s likely that grape culture, or viticulture, outdates Greek civilisation itself.

If we turn to archaeology, recent discoveries suggest that the earliest known ancient wine production evidence dates between 6,000 BC and 4,000 BC during the Neolithic era, with winery sites, grape residue or clay jars being discovered in Georgia, Iran, and Egypt. However, some researchers argue that the earliest evidence of a non-grape-based drink, often compared to wine, was found in ancient China as far back as 7000 BC and was made from fermented rice, honey, and fruit.

Many people believe that wine is central to civilisation as we know it in the west. We use it as a medicine, a means of celebration, a social lubricant, a religious symbol, and last but certainly not least, to unwind after a long day at work. Whilst we can’t say exactly where it originated, we do know that we have sea-fairing civilisations such as the ancient Phoenicians to thank for spreading wine throughout much of the Mediterranean, along with olive oil, the alphabet and glass! The Phoenicians shared their understanding of viticulture and winemaking to several world-renowned wine-producing nations such as, Spain, France, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Portugal to name a few. Not only that, but the Phoenicians also had a direct influence on the expanding winemaking cultures of the ancient Greeks and Romans, which would later spread their understanding of viticulture across the rest of Europe.

Although we can’t say with certainty where wine began, one thing we can be certain of is that we all owe our well-deserved appreciation for wine to one single plant. The grape vine.

As there are many different variations of wine, you’ve probably guessed that there are also many different variations of grape. In fact, there are over 10,000 different species in existence today, with the majority of the world’s wine stemming from just one. Vitis Vinifera Sylvestris. Over the course of its ancient existence, and as early humans spread the desire for high-quality wine to varied climates across the globe, the Vitis Vinifera Sylvestris grape vine mutated and evolved to adapt to small variations in its new home. All culminating in the rich variety of grapes we know today, and hence why we’re lucky to have so many different delicious wines! Unfortunately, in more recent years, such high demand for particular wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, has led to a decrease in the world’s natural grape diversity. As many regions join the race to produce in line with demand, many vineyards have begun digging out their niche, native vines in favour of more mainstream varieties.

How Was Ancient Wine Made?

Whether it be a thousand years ago or this very evening to celebrate US National Wine Day, the process of turning grapes into wine is as impressive as ever. With modern-day technology playing its part in providing us with a smoother and safer drinking experience.

For ancient cultures to produce wine, workers would spend long, exhausting hours harvesting ripened grapes. Followed by pouring them into a large open top vat, with some opting to leave the grapes to dry in the sun beforehand in order to concentrate their flavour. Then comes the part many of us have seen and heard about. They would use their bare feet to repeatedly crush the grapes, producing enough pressure to both release tannins throughout the wine and break the skin encasing the grape. Yet, just enough pressure to preserve the seed inside, as breaking this would leave the wine tasting bitter.

After hitting their step count for the day, the liquid was then left to settle for a period of time while native yeasts converted the sugars in the grapes into alcohol, leading to the fermentation process, with some cultures then adding a variety of spices to sweeten the taste. Over the ages, many civilisations have fine-tuned their methods. The ancient Greeks invented a winepress to crush the grapes, followed by the Romans later using barrels and other techniques that helped them produce greater volumes at a quicker pace and lower cost.

With a limited drinks on the menu at the time, often including fruit juice, goats’ milk, or stagnant water, it should come as no surprise that some ancient cultures even chose to sweeten their foul-tasting water with wine. In fact, wine provided not only flavour but a safer and more sanitary drinking option for many. Although even our ancestors had to learn to pace themselves, with excess consumption leading to… well you know the rest. And so, it was common to also add water to wine thus avoiding over intoxication. So much so, that in some cultures drinking undiluted wine was considered scandalous and some Jewish Rabbis would even refuse to bless ceremonial wine if it hadn’t been first mixed with water.

Wine & Religion

Throughout time, wine has played an integral role in the course of human history as we know it, with religion being no exception. Where some religions, such as Islam, forbid the drinking of alcohol, others like Christianity and Judaism have been known to use wine as a ceremonial symbol. In fact, the Christian church may well be the ones to thank for improving the tase of ancient wine, as it’s recorded that around the sixth century, priests, monks and nuns cultivated vineyards in areas that weren’t as familiar with every-day wine drinking, which largely increased production and ultimately improved wine knowledge.  

From the Old World to the New

Following its unrivalled popularity, grape culture and winemaking was quickly transported from the Old World to the New and unsurprisingly many different cultures have since attempted to perfect the process.

Fast forward to today and you’ll be pleased to learn that the wine we drink now differs largely from the wine shared amongst our ancestors. For example, in comparison to today, ancient wines certainly packed a little extra punch. Converting them into today’s metrics, they were likely as high as 15% or even 20% ABV. Hence the rather wise desire to water them down. However, the most notable difference between ancient and modern-day wines are the preservation efforts. The modern bottles we use today help in protecting and preserving the quality of wine for many years to come, whereas many ancient wines we’re quickly spoiled by regular exposure to Oxygen. Thus, forcing Vintners to preserve them with resin, which unfortunately often compromised the wine inside, making it thick and sticky.  

Now they say not to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of wine, there’s a lot to be said for the bottle labels…

When ancient Egyptians dominated the wine trade, even sending King Tutankhamen to the afterlife with over 26 bottles of the stuff! an issue began to arise around how to determine a bottle of wine’s origin. And so, the wine label was born. Appearing to date back as far as 1550 BC, or maybe even further, seals and etchings were placed on bottles as a way to simplify trade, but also to signify the date, type, and quality of wine.

By the 18th century, the wine trade was booming, and etched labels had become a thing of the past, replaced with bottle labels that were printed on parchment and tied to bottlenecks with string, much like the hanging tags we sometimes still see today. Fast forward to 1798 and thanks to the invention of the lithograph, bottle labels could now be printed in mass. This in turn brought with it new innovations in in design bringing bright colours and an emphasis on artistic design to the forefront. Today, this same practice has reached far and wide from the simple wine bottle, now extending to print media as we know it.


In the 20th century, far from the days of clay jars and oak barrels, an Australian winemaker called Thomas Angove filed a patent in 1965 for what would later be known as bag-in-box-wine. The design was actually based off a very similar product already on the market, which was a bag in a box used by mechanics to transfer battery acid. With Angove’s new design, consumers were required to cut the corner of the bag, pour out the wine and seal it with a special peg. In 2010, the Scandinavian state institutions, Systembolaget and Vinmonopolet analysed the environmental impact of various wines, finding that bag-in-box packaging generated up to 90% less carbon than bottled wine. Not to mention the fact that, since the wine is removed from the flexible bag without adding much air to fill the remining space, it greatly reduces oxidation, ultimately keeping your wine fresh for longer!

It’s clear to see why the method is very much being carried on today by companies like Laylo, manufacturers of Premium boxed Wines.

Co-Founder of Laylo, Laura Riches, commented:

“The reason we chose to box our wine, rather than bottle it, comes down to three factors. One, the wine stays fresher for longer, and as I’m a personal fan of the odd glass of wine whilst cooking, it meant that I could open a box and keep it for up to 6 weeks after. Secondly, sustainability. As you’ve mentioned, boxed wine generates up to 90% less carbon and our product can actually be 100% recycled through our ‘return by post’ scheme. Lastly, here at Laylo we love telling stories and people love to know more about the history of the wine they’re drinking, and since there’s 6 faces on the box, that gives us plenty of freedom to do that.”

We asked Laura, how is it that boxed wine generates less carbon than bottled wine?

“When making wine bottles, there’s actually a huge amount of energy that goes into that process, not to mention the amount of energy it takes to transport wine bottles. If you were to weigh a bottle of wine, the bottle itself actually accounts for a large portion of that quantity and their awkward shape often means they’re packed using lots of plastic to keep them safe during transport. At Laylo, we actually ship our product to the UK in large containers, then package it from there to reduce the amount of transport required, ultimately reducing emissions.”

Whether you’re a history buff, a wine connoisseur, or just brushing up ahead of your next vineyard visit, knowing how various cultures have produced and used wine since it began will without doubt enhance your appreciation for the brilliant beverage. From the first flowering grape vine to the beautiful boxes by Laylo, wine is far more than just fermented grapes, it’s a journey through history that you can savour with every sip.

If you would like to speak with our specialist team of Drinks experts, call us on 0191 691 1949 or email us at hello@www.macgregorblack.com