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Driving a reappraisal of what vodka can mean to consumers

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The new Idle Hour Vodka is the result of extensive market research and experimentation designed to bring a new type of spirit to the Australian market.   

The three founders behind one of Australia’s latest vodkas, Idle Hour, set themselves lofty goals after entering the market with handmade rye vodka.  

Co-founder and spokesman for the company, Ewen Petitt, one of the minds behind the development of White Claw seltzer, said the market had stagnated in recent years and was ripe for something innovative, like handmade filtered and unfiltered rye vodka. 

Petitt said his time on the White Claw development team had given him critical insight into the buying and drinking behaviours of consumers and how that related to vodka, specifically the uber popular Tito’s Handmade Vodka.  

vodka
Idle Hour brings a new handmade rye vodka to the Australian market.

“My observation at the time was it had basically positioned itself as a bourbon that happened to be a vodka,” said Petitt. 

“The brand had walked away from the traditional, conventional codes of what vodka was. Which is a lot of purity and the distillation process and a focus more on the provenance rather than what was in the bottle.” 

This was the start of a path towards what would become Idle Hour Vodka.  

In 2018 Petitt met his first co-founder, Lachlan Goldsworthy, who had experience working as a brand designer and creative thinker.  

The following year the third member of the co-founding team, Matt Kowal, was brought on board.  

“Matt had worked with the liked of Red Bull and Monster. His resume is important, with his marketing and operation experience and being the CEO of a Brisbane based drink,” said Petitt.  

“I approached him to run the commercial side of the business for us because he has much more experience in distribution and alike.” 

Together the three-man team found itself well equipped to launch Idle Hour Vodka. 

“Collectively we brought everything we needed to the table to get us from zero to one,” said Petitt.  

“I do think there is an incredibly significant commonality between the three of us which is we worked in brands that had a connection beyond product.” 

This was a critical element to the development of the product and brand, recognising the best way to engage with consumers based on their buying habits. 

The team studied Petitt’s previous market research and conducted their own while also looking at what helped White Claw become a huge success in the US market.  

They concluded that a number of brands found success with mediocre liquids because they had created iconic branding that consumers identified with.  

The team knew early on they didn’t want to rely only on branding, but also on creating a quality liquid that would generate word of mouth among those that knew spirits best – bartenders.  

“We spoke to a lot of bartenders who were saying the same thing, that vodka is very valuable but not very valued, and that was because gin and whiskey brands were all building more than the liquid,” said Petitt. 

“The liquid is important but so is the role of building cultural relevance and connecting in a more meaningful way. And vodka has essentially evolved like that. 

“We knew vodka was still one of the biggest spirits sold in the country yet when we spoke to consumers about what they were drinking they had no real affinity for the brand, they didn’t really care.” 

Further market research into what consumers thought about vodka brands uncovered what Petitt called an ‘outdated model’, something that could we capitalised on with the right brand awareness.   

“They didn’t have any new options,” he said. 

“Our observation was we need to borrow a little bit from the world of gin, in terms of how they communicate and build brands, and borrow a little bit from whiskey and bourbon in terms of what’s inside the bottle.” 

To achieve a new vodka brand that differed from the rest, Petitt and the Idle Hour Vodka team relied on the market research results which told them the consumer was ready for something new and rewarding. 

vodka
The company wants to create a reappraisal of what vodka meant to the consumer.

The company wanted to create a reappraisal of what vodka represented to the consumer base. 

“We are blessed in Australia that we are allowed to accentuate the flavour of the grain. The conventions when it comes to vodka flavour is to distil it eight or nine times and then call that premium,” said Petitt.  

“What we wanted to do was based on what people were tasting and preferring in spirits, they want flavour, they want character, depth and locally sourced. So, we opted to use rye which would allow us to really maintain the integrity of that grain, and we only distil it once.  

“From there you have a very interesting vodka ‘version two’, which is ultimately what we wanted to build. We say it jokingly, but it is our goal, to be Australia’s favourite vodka.”  

The team had planned to release the new product to the market in 2021, that is until the COVID pandemic hit.  

“When COVID came around we decided to accelerate its release because we could see from our own research people were experimenting a lot more with cocktails at home,” said Petitt.  

The company was able to secure distribution deals with both Dan Murphy’s and BWS in Queensland and have since secured deals with around 150 venues, both on and off premises.  

Deciding to launch the product sooner than planned ended up paying off for the Brisbane based company after receiving silver and bronze medals at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition. 

“We all understood the value of what we were creating,” said Petitt. 

“We now have an award-winning vodka, and we are absolutely confident in the formula we have. People often buy with their eyes and their heart, and we knew that we needed to create that connection with the consumer.”  

Looking forward; the brand is set to continue to expand its product offering with both a range of new expressions of Idle Hour Vodka inspired by native favours and launching a subsequent offering of premium RTDs to Australians.  

“We can’t and won’t stop now,” said Pettit.  

“We are exciting to show Australia what we have been working on.”

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