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The Playbook for Companies in Emerging Categories (2023)



 

In an emerging category, your company has its work cut out for it. Not only do you have to educate customers on what your product is, but also on when and how they should use it. For Ghia, a brand focused on non-alcoholic aperitifs, that meant designing the entire imbibing experience, from how the product should taste to what glassware it should be served in.

Ghia founder Melanie Masarin relied on her own upbringing in the south of France to inspire the taste of the company’s signature drink, which has a distinctive bitter, botanical flavor unlike the sweet sodas or mocktail alternatives that already existed.

“I loved this kind of fresh, bitter flavor. And so, I wanted to create this new-age bitter or Italian amaro that would just be better for you,” Melanie says.

Ahead, find out what Melanie learned from being one of the early non-alcoholic spirits companies in the US.

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Design your products for moments

Melanie had some specific occasions in mind when creating Ghia: It’s for the drinks at the bar before dinner. It’s to be served at a friend’s dinner party.

“We’re conditioned to think that if we’re not drinking, we’re having a lesser experience,” Melanie says. “That’s an experience that has less belonging and less acceptance. And we really wanted to break that stigma.” 

A Ghia bottle
Ghia bottles were meant to fit in on a bar cart, and stand out on a retailer’s shelf. Bobby Doherty

That’s why it was important for Ghia to integrate the purpose of those social moments into everything from the copy on its website to the design of its bottle. “We really wanted a bottle that felt like a jewel, something that people would proudly display and not be embarrassed because they’re not drinking alcohol,” Melanie says. “It always goes back to making our customers the hero and finding moments where we can help build them up.”

Create a world around your products

One of the opportunities in emerging categories is that you can create an entire ecosystem of products and accessories. For example, Melanie was often asked what glass to serve Ghia in. “We decided to design our own using the different codes for the brand. We wanted to do a glass that felt like it was luxurious, but also very approachable,” she says.

Ghia being poured into a glass
Ghia took inspiration from existing cocktail glasses to make a unique shape for its own drinks. Bobby Doherty

The company landed on a stemless martini glass with a totem foot, which has become one of its big sellers. Customers also wanted to know how to mix Ghia into different cocktails, so some of Ghia’s most popular drink recipes inspired the company’s line of mixed spritzes. 

Meet your customers where they are

Customer discovery is a major challenge for any business, but it was especially difficult in an emerging category, where restaurants and bars weren’t sure why they should add any other non-alcoholic options besides sparkling water or soda. “Part of our mission of being inclusive is for people to be able to enjoy a drink when they’re out with their friends. That’s something that was very difficult to do, because the category was very new and people are very protective of what goes on their menu,” Melanie says. “But we really insisted we really want to be where our customers are.”

Melanie sent hundreds of emails, showed up at eating establishments, and messaged chefs on Instagram to get the brand’s first few hundred restaurants and bars on board. This hands-on approach was key to Ghia’s entry in the marketplace, since most distributors hadn’t sold non-alcoholic spirits before and weren’t familiar with the product.

Justify your pricing

Melanie says the company got a lot of pushback on the pricing of Ghia—$38 per bottle and $60 for a pack of 12 spritzes—because people felt like something that didn’t contain alcohol should not cost the same as alcohol. Melanie had her justifications ready: “If you think about the price of an alcohol bottle, what you’re paying for really is not the ingredients. You’re paying for a lot of taxes. You’re paying for a lot of marketing. You’re often paying for the product placement behind a bar,” she says.

Ghia had to do lots of customer education around pricing. Because Ghia’s product contains natural ingredients (and doesn’t have alcohol to help preserve them), Melanie estimates that what goes into a bottle of Ghia is six to 10 times more expensive than the ingredients in a comparable alcohol-based drink.

For Ghia, though, those narrow margins are worth it to help people who aren’t drinking alcohol feel more included.

To learn more about Ghia and the tactics it used as a company in an emerging category, listen to the full interview on Shopify Masters.



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