When drinks giant Diageo announced that it was bringing out a pink gin, the new spirit posed a major threat to Pinkster. The Cambridge-based beverage company launched its distinctive rose-coloured gin in 2013, and has a loyal following in the UK. However, Diageo’s new drink benefited from Gordons' global distribution, deep pockets, and low price point.
Pinkster, which was founded by Will Holt and Stephen Marsh, produces a premium gin, which retails at £35. Gordon’s’ Pink Gin hit supermarket shelves last summer priced at just £16. ‘We worried that customers would think, "Why are we paying so much for Pinkster when we could just buy the Gordon’s?" instead,’ admits Holt. ‘We thought, "Christ! We’re sunk!"’
Gordon’s poured £2.1m into marketing its new pink gin, according to its marketing materials. ‘They were chucking millions at it,’ he says. The new spirit now represents 6% of Gordon's gin sales.
The entrepreneurs’ fears proved unwarranted. ‘It’s actually been great for our business,’ Holt says. The marketing has had a halo effect on Pinkster, he explains, raising the profile of the brand, and encouraging more people to try their product.
‘Our collective view now is that this has been great for us,’ Holt says. ‘When the world’s largest drinks company identifies your business as a worthwhile sub-category, people start thinking, "Ooh, I must try pink gin".’
Sales certainly haven’t suffered. Pinkster turned over £1.1m last year, and is on target to double that in 2018. Pink gin’s newfound popularity also helped Pinkster to successfully raise funding from the crowd last year. The company sought £600,000 on GrowthDeck and overfunded, raising more than £1m.
Rival pink gins aren’t the only growth driver. ‘The colour goes in and out of fashion but the Millennial pink, which was called "the colour of now" last year, and was big on style agenda, certainly helped sales,’ claims Holt.
The pink tint to Pinkster’s gin came about by accident. The firm was the brainchild of Marsh, who was diagnosed with a yeast allergy, which meant he could drink neither wine nor beer. He started experimenting with different drinks but none of the gins he liked to drink paired well with food. ‘He started to mash fruit with gin, and worked his way through the whole fruit bowl,’ says Holt. ‘Raspberry delivered the best flavour.’
It took three years to develop the recipe, as fresh fruit complicates the process. However, these raspberries, all sourced from the local Cambridge area, give the gin its eye-catching tint.
Pink gin formerly described a cocktail, which was made by mixing gin with angostura bitters, but has become a term to describe gins that are coloured using fruit extracts. According to market research firm Mintel, the UK gin market will be worth £1.3bn by 2020.
‘There have been a lot of new entrants,’ says Holt. ‘I would say that 200 gin brands have launched in the last few years.’ To help shore up its business model against competition from the likes of Diageo, Pinkster has brought out a range of complementary products. Its waste raspberries have been turned into jars of Boozy Berries, which are used to liven up prosecco or cakes. The company’s gin jam has also proved popular with customers.
Crucially, Pinkster’s pink gin is holding its own against a raft of new entrants, Holt claims. ‘We’re seeing more pink gins coming to market, using rhubarb or pomegranate, but we were the pink gin pioneer, and we’re pink because it gives the gin the best taste,’ he says. ‘We’re miles apart from the others.’