The NOW Gen

In this episode Janet Oak Chief Branding Officer for Eastside Distilling tells us about how the NOW Gen is changing the market for spirits and how disruptive craft distilleries are revolutionizing the way we drink by offering constantly evolving personalized experiences.


Janet Oak

Francisco Serrano (01:04):

Hello and welcome to the NOW Gen podcast. This is another interesting episode. And today I have a very interesting guest. Her name is Janet Oak. She is the Chief Brand Officer at Eastside Distilling, you know, Janet has a lot of background as far as connecting with the consumer at different points, different touch points. And this conversation is going to be understanding how the craft market and the liquor and the beer industry is influencing the NOW Generation. So I would like to welcome Janet to the show. Hello, Janet, how are you?

Janet Oak (01:49):

Hi, so great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Francisco Serrano (01:52):

Oh, thank you for accepting this invitation and talking to us about this wonderful experience, which is the journey of the instant gratification market. So before we get into the topic tell us a little bit about you and where you’re at and a little bit about Eastside’s brands.

Janet Oak (02:12):

Okay, great. Yeah, so I started my career as a trend hunter and ethnographer immersing in the youth market in skate parks and video game arcades. I became known as an expert actually in youth culture. And I started up the kids and Family Center of Excellence at IPSOS then which is the third largest market research company in the world. I then transitioned to lead research and analytics for some of the top social media streaming platforms and entertainment companies. And most recently I took the leap to a pure play marketing role as the Chief Brand Officer for a public craft distillery in Portland, Oregon called Eastside Distilling. We have two divisions: craft canning and craft spirits. And I can talk about some of our brands if that’s of interest.

Francisco Serrano (03:01):

Yes, yes, of course. I saw I was, you know, peeking in your website that as we invite different exciting brands into the show I saw that you have a tequila brand right there and, and given our background, you know, I’m from Guadalajara very close to the Tequila town, and also you have all different sorts of why don’t you tell us about that?

Janet Oak (03:23):

Absolutely. So we have a brand called Azuñia Tequila, which is a single estate grown organic tequila. It’s one of the very few that are actually organic and we have four different products under that. Award-Winning products, quite tasty. We also have a four times distilled potato vodka called Portland Potato Vodka. We have a line of Burnside Whiskeys, which are uniquely aged in Oregon Oak barrels. The only whiskey that is aged in Oregon Oak and we have lastly, a fair trade, single origin coffee rum from Guatemala.

Francisco Serrano (04:00):

Wow. Coffee rum from. So is that when, when I, when I hear the products and the brands that you have, I see innovation at its best. Right. I see, you know, organic tequila, coffee rum. Is that a thing? Why all this sophistication?

Janet Oak (04:24):

Well, because we know that the market is crowded. And so we need to do things to stand out, to find white space opportunities, but we also know that consumers are demanding unique experiences and need products that they can’t get anywhere else. We also are based in Portland, Oregon, which is a very unique place. And our products embody the spirit of that place.

Francisco Serrano (04:50):

Oh, tell me more, what, why, what do you mean?

Janet Oak (04:55):

So we did quite a bit of work around what makes Portland Oregon unique because really that is where we were grown and that’s where we are. And we landed on the idea that actually Portland is unapologetically original. And so that is the way that we think about all of our products and brands that they may hearken back to the spirit of Portland, Oregon, and that they all embody the spirit of being unapologetically original.

Francisco Serrano (05:25):

Okay. That’s interesting. Talking about original, I’m a moderate drinker I have to say it’s not just that I do a lot of that, but I do like that. And I’ve seen, there’s a lot of, you know, the craft world has obviously invaded the beer market and I don’t know how much has, does the, how much has influenced to jump into the liquor. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Janet Oak (06:02):

Sure. I mean, I have some facts that might be of interest. The IWSR has said that the craft spirits experienced volume growth of 8% in 2020 and regular non-craft spirits only grew 5%. So we can see that the craft segment is growing quite significantly. And then we also see that value share is expected to reach double digits by 2024 of craft spirits. So craft spirits have overtaken even spirits. And then if we are interested in talking about additional innovation, we are innovating in the RTD segment, which is even more explosive. In fact, RTDs are predicted to grow faster than the overall spirits category or to become larger actually than the overall spirits category.

Francisco Serrano (06:48):

Okay. So I’m sorry, what is RTD?

Janet Oak (06:51):

I’m sorry, the ready to drink. So the the canned cocktails that are made spirits.

Francisco Serrano (06:57):

Oh yeah, I have it teenager for sure. I know, I know that they’re growing and not a teenager

Janet Oak (07:05):

Know market. We only market to 21+.

Francisco Serrano (07:07):

Plus 21 plus, sorry. Yes. You’re not a teenager anymore. No, but I I’ve seen that a lot of, you know, this people, college students or early, you know, early workers at the companies, they, they go out and that’s just what they drink. And is this like, does this have to do with the generation that we’re talking, we’re talking offline, you and I about the, you know, people want instant gratification is that does that have any relationship know, looking for craft and looking for, I want to satisfy now, is that related in a way?

Janet Oak (07:46):

Absolutely. Yeah. So, and especially during the pandemic when the bars were closed and consumers needed drinks that were convenient, a drink that’s premade and a can is highly convenient and that what drove that trend, but now spirits based ready to drinks are overtaking sort of those malt based ready to drink. So people want the full spirit experience in a can. And so interesting. You talk about sort of this personalization because Eastside, our craft canning division, we do canning for are actually local breweries, wineries, cideries, and, and also for our own spirits. And we’ve just purchased a major a digital printer from a German company there’s only actually 10 in the world and there we’re the only one on the west coast. And what’s interesting about a digital printer is that you can customize every single can. So you know, we’re sponsors of the Portland Trailblazers. We could actually create a can specific to the Lakers game next Wednesday. So it’s a, it’s a really exciting innovation and what’s even more exciting is that with regular cans, they actually aren’t recyclable because of the label, the adhesive of the label. Yeah. Because these are digitally printed, these things can actually go right into the recycling. So they’re highly sustainable.

Francisco Serrano (09:11):

Okay. Sustainable, like it. Cost wise, is it too high, because I’ve heard in the past that, you know, that Miller is going to do a special, you know, super bowl drink for the winner and they don’t know if they’re gonna be the winner, you know, the team that they’re supporting or whatever. And they do just a badge for some specific event. And but it, the company pays for that because of branding reasons and, you know, positioning their brand. In this case, you were doing it to, to sell the, the product, I assume, or it’s not just for branding or supporting marketing purposes for brands it’s, it’s really to make the consumer sell or, or no?

Janet Oak (10:00):

So just a regular adhesive label that’s printed. It takes six to eight weeks just to print that. And then it has to be put onto the can. So the time that that takes and it’s highly expensive for those materials. And so with a digital printer, you can actually change out the design, like on the spot. And as I said, you could have a separate design for every single can. It’s much less expensive. The time to make something is immediate. There isn’t a six week lag time. And there’s less waste of the ink. There’s less waste of cans that are printed incorrectly or the labels put on incorrectly. So it’s actually fat for people, it’s less expensive for people. And as I said, it’s more environmentally friendly than the way that it’s currently being done. And as you said, it ties directly into the personalization trend, which is, I want a can that has my name on it, or my team on it, or my you know, my city on it, or, or however, you know, so choose.

Francisco Serrano (10:59):

I even did you guys did something with Frito, with Pepsi, right. With Frito Lay’s or with something like that. Can you tell us a little bit about what you did?

Janet Oak (11:09):

Sure. We partnered with Lays Potato Chips and they sent us their proprietary potatoes and we distilled potato vodka in our own distillery. And we mixed it with our Portland Potato Vodka, and we created an incredibly delicious and very tasty Lays Potato Vodka made by Eastside Distilling, and we put it for sale and it sold out in just over two hours. And we had over a billion impressions with just, you know, different social media posts and editorial posts, and just got a lot of attention in a very short period of time. So it was very exciting innovation for both them and for us. And now they have a couple hundred of our bottles they’re taking to the Super Bowl for some of their top retail customers.

Francisco Serrano (11:57):

Wow. That’s kudos on that. It’s not an easy thing to be on the Super Bowl, right. I mean,

Janet Oak (12:05):

Well, in their suites of the Super Bowl and the, and the Frito-Lay suites,

Francisco Serrano (12:09):

But anyways, you’re there. I mean, you, I’m sure you’re gonna take advantage of that in your social media for sure. But this personalization has pushed your marketing tools to E-comm?, or it’s just the same. How, what, how does the E-Comm world digital world engage with you and this personalization to make it more, you know, agile to deliver experiences to consumers?

Janet Oak (12:47):

Yeah, so we we have quite a few sort of brand experiences that we’re that are underway and we’re, we’re really excited about it. One of them is a partnership of American forest, because as I said that our whiskey is aged in Oregon Oak, which is a tree that’s threatened, actually only grows in Oregon down to sort of the Northern California. And just so we, we donated $10,000 to American forests, so they can plant 5,000 Oregon Oak trees. And we’re going to be doing some live sort of tree plantings with our consumers. I don’t know if you saw the Bush beer, did a popup in the forest. So, you know, we’re hoping to do these kinds of tree plantings and popups, but then people would sort of get to personalize those trees that they planted. And the products then would be personalized for those plantings as well. So the cans, for example you know, might say something about, you know, I planted a tree in the Willamette Valley, for example, in Oregon Oak tree. Wow.

Francisco Serrano (13:49):

Wow. Well, I remember we did something with with Ferrero and the Nutella brand, you know, could put your name and personalize it and and you have your Nutella jar and it had your name right. Or Coke. I remember that Coke did it too, right. With, with

Janet Oak (14:08):

A share with campaign right? you share with an alumni share with, and then I have the names on it.

Francisco Serrano (14:13):

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that again, it’s personalization, but in, and do you feel that the liquor market it’s…let me put it this way. Do you think that e-comm has helped the liquor market or no, or you know, all the age restrictions, shipping and different states, and does that represent a challenge for you guys?

Janet Oak (14:38):

So direct to consumer has grown quite significantly in the spirits business, but e-commerce is quite challenging because it is a three tier distribution system. We still need to go through, you know, state registration. We still have to go through a distributor. We have to go through a retailer before it even gets to the customer. So we, while we do have products for sale at it’s invisible to the consumer, but it’s still, it’s going to take a little while because it’s gotta go to the distributor to the retailer and then ship to the customer. So it’s a little more challenging than just selling a regular you know, good as you. Okay.

Francisco Serrano (15:19):

And what about retail? I know that some, a lot of retailer, this retailer brands that are being threatened by eCommerce, and they want you to go back and have that experience, you know, physically face to face. Are you guys doing something different in order to make sure that it’s a different experience pre COVID than post COVID?

Janet Oak (15:46):

Yes. So one of the other things that we’re sponsoring in Oregon is the Hood to Coast, which is 197 mile from Mount Hood to the Coast we’re a gold sponsor and a sustainability sponsor, but they have races all during the year where we do sampling and we engage local bars and restaurants and retailers to carry our products so that people after the race can enjoy the delicious beverage. Or as I said, we’re also a sustainability sponsor. We’re planning to do a big beach clean up at the end when they end up on the coast, there’s lots of trash that gets you know, built up with people coming off the race and people watch the race, you know, there’s bibs and whatever the people drop. And so after we do sampling, we’re gonna hold a major beach clean up. And for every bag of trash that’s handed in, you know, we’ll give out some kind of a token, so they can go enjoy one of our beverages.

Francisco Serrano (16:43):

Oh. So I, I see that you guys are pretty big into sustainability, into loyalty to what your roots are, et cetera. Right. So is, is that something you feel that it’s a trend in, in your industry, or you just trying to be like you were saying different?

Janet Oak (17:06):

Well, I mean, as you said, this is a generation that’s very fickle, they’re onto the next thing. You know, first everything, you know, it’s explosive growth and then they’re onto the next thing. So a way that we see building loyalty with consumers is to build them on shared values. We know that this generation votes with their dollars, they stay away from companies that don’t support the things they believe in, and they give financial, you know, in the form of spend, rewards to companies that do support the things that they care about. And so that’s why things like sustainability are really important. It’s a value that we know people care about. And it’s something that we’re very passionate about. I personally am very passionate. I’ve spent a lot of of time thinking about how we can spend corporate dollars to make the world a better place and also share returns and drive business results. And that’s something that I’m just personally passionate about. But again, I think consumers not only buy products from companies that have the same values as them, but they also work for companies that have the same shared values. And so that’s the way that we think about building loyalty.

Francisco Serrano (18:16):

Wow. Completely concur. I even, you know, I even wrote a book it’s called Brain-Ding. Brain-Ding is from my perspective, is taking branding to the next level. And that is not just focusing on the pretty website, but putting your brand on the center overall with, you know, your values and making sure that everybody is aligned with the community. The consumer, your employees, your partners, everybody like what you’re saying. So it’s interesting, right? That we are even connected to that level. Also marketers, because, I mean, I don’t know Janet, but as marketers, we have a challenge of, of honesty and transparency and just trying to reflect to the consumer what, who we really are, you you’ve seen all this honest marketing pieces from Dove and, and from, you know, Target now is starting to put real people behind all the advertising, right.

Not just what people want to hear. So it’s just like, okay, let’s be honest. And this is what, what we are. And if you like it, that’s great. And if not go look for somebody or some brand that you might like, right. So and the trend that we are seeing as well as you is to meet that constantly changing demand of instant gratification. And to a level that is very, very complicated as a marketer, but is also interesting to follow as a leader and as an expert in your field given the fact that there’s a lot of brand managers and people that are marketing managers that are working in the industry, what would you say to them right now with all your experience of, of being all your background, how would they confront this, you know, this changing and instant gratification generation, what would you say to them? One takeaway that they can, you know, take with them today and they can start using with their small or big brands?

Janet Oak (20:48):

Yeah, that’s a really good question because I do mentor quite a bit. What would I say to them? I mean, again, I would say what I just said, I would just build, be authentic is what you just said. I mean, I think that’s the right word, right. Be authentic, because people can see through it and you know, don’t cause-slap, which is, you know, or greenwash is what people call it, you know, like really authentically commit to the causes that you care about and make sure that those causes are aligned with the single most important thing you want to say about your a brand. I mean, make sure there’s no disconnects, like that’s, that’s the most important thing that everything is aligned and incredible and, and done in an authentic way. That’s what I would say. Build authentic relationships based on truths.

Francisco Serrano (21:33):

Okay. Yeah. It matches completely with because if you try just supporting what you’re saying, if you try to keep everybody happy and give everybody what they’re looking for and you are not really aligned to that that’s gonna, and the long run is gonna become a problem for you and for the brand and the consumer, because it’s gonna be a disconnect.

Janet Oak (22:01):

We used to say in the advertising business, you know, if you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to nobody, something, something to that effect.

Francisco Serrano (22:10):

Yeah. And in the corporate world, I don’t know if that applies to your company, but in the corporate world, this trying to please not only externally, but internally does make a huge challenge because, you know, you want to work within the constraints of internal policies, but also outside, you know the right thing to do. So being out there and, you know for me, it’s amazing that you’re aging a product that comes from a town that you’re, that is, that is just it. You can tell stories about that all day that can generate a lot of loyalty that can lead to something big. Right. so, okay. So, well, before we close out this interview, is there anything else you wanna say or you wanna tell us.

Janet Oak (23:09):

I don’t, I don’t have any closing thoughts other than thank you for having me. I appreciate it. And I hope that what I said was useful, but certainly, you know, circle back, if you have any questions or follow up, or if any of your listeners have any questions I’m, you know, I’m available.

Francisco Serrano (23:28):

Perfect. Where they can reach you in, in LinkedIn, where’s the best way that they can reach out. That’s good.

Janet Oak (23:35):

They can link reach me on LinkedIn or Janet at Send me an email.

Francisco Serrano (23:40):

Okay, great. So LinkedIn as always is a professional network to connect. That’s good. Excellent. So before we go, we come to a fun segment of this show and we, you know, we wanna play with brands here and there and, and want to know what professional branders of in your industry think of other brands. Right? So if I would ask you which, which two brands that come to your mind right now related to breakfast, why they come to your mind and yeah, just share with us your impressions of breakfast. General can be juice can be a cereal, can be muffins, can be, you know, top of mind and why.

Janet Oak (24:31):

Wow. I Celsius is the first thing that came to my mind because that’s what I have for breakfast.

Francisco Serrano (24:37):

There you go. Tell me a brand that you normally…

Janet Oak (24:40):

Yes. I really like Celsius. It’s delicious. And it’s got a lot of health benefits and I love the caffeine and you know, it’s a breakfast, energy drink. I take I drink it before I go to the gym before I eat anything. I love it. And I think their social media marketing is brilliant. And that’s a brand that I admire and I’m, we’re hoping to partner with, ‘em actually in one of the sponsorships that we’re doing.

Francisco Serrano (25:03):

No, really? That’s good. Yeah. My son he’s in college and he loves that before going to gym. Yeah  I wish I could say that I go to the gym, but I have to be more disciplined at that. Okay. So Celsius is any other one that comes to mind, Janet?

Janet Oak (25:22):

That’s a I’m also a big tea drinker, so I drink a lot of tea. So Tazo tea is my is my go-to chai

Francisco Serrano (25:29):

Oh, Chai tea. Okay.

Janet Oak (25:30):

Yeah. I like, again, I guess I just like that energy boost in the morning. I’m a morning person, but I like to, you know, really power my mornings with caffeine. And

Francisco Serrano (25:40):

That’s good. I mean, to turn, to turn the lights on and say, come on, I’m ready for you.

Janet Oak (25:45):

That’s right.

Francisco Serrano (25:48):

Yeah. Good, good. Well, okay. Well, thank you very much, Janet. We’re wrapping this, that one out. So we’ve been talking to Janet Oak Chief Brand Officer at Eastside Distilling. Where can people reach out to you? We already saw that as in LinkedIn and thank you so much for your time for your teachings. And we’ll be in touch in the future because normally we would have more a, a second row of, of our guests coming with a different topic that I will let you know when that is the time. And but thank you. Thank you so much for participating here with us today.

Janet Oak (26:33):

Thank you. I appreciate the time. 

Francisco Serrano (26:35):

Excellent. No, thank you. Excellent. If you want to learn more about the most relevant power brands in the industry, please do not forget to connect with the NOW Gen podcast and stay tuned for the next episode.

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