The alcohol industry is known for being dominated by men. For instance, in 2018, only “4% of C-suite positions in wine and spirits were held by women” and women in the industry continue to face sexual harassment and abuse.
Furthermore, in research for my recent article on Karen Hoskins and her work at Montanya Distillers to make the alcohol industry less of a “boy’s club”, I was told that women in leadership positions frequently have their expertise questioned and people mistake them for someone other than a leadership figure.
Another women founder aiming to shake up this archaic industry is Dr. Nicola Nice, a trained sociologist and brand strategist-turned spirits producer. Over the past 15 years while working with clients including DIAGEO, Gruppo Campari and Bacardi USA brands, she has observed that the industry systematically ignores female audiences.
In 2015 Dr. Nice started her mission to bring the female consumer perspective to the forefront of the spirit industry. A two-year journey through extensive home infusions and research with her target audience led to a unique botanical gin liqueur, which she released as Pomp & Whimsy.
I recently interviewed Dr. Nice as part of my research on purpose-driven businesses and to learn more about the company’s work. Below is a light edited summary of our on-line discussion.
Chris Marquis: Why did you found Pomp & Whimsy? Was there an epiphany moment, or did the idea of a spirit targeted to women emerge over time?
Nicola Nice: I’m a sociologist by training and have spent the last 20 years of my career in the fields of brand strategy and consumer insights. Since starting a consulting agency in 2007 and working with global clients in the alcohol and consumer goods space, I have developed an expertise and interest in gender dynamics in marketing.
Nice: It was always very apparent to me through the course of my client work that the female consumer was massively under-represented in the brand and marketing landscape of spirits. As a researcher at first this intrigued me – was there some unwritten rule that said you couldn’t market spirits to women? As a woman and as a spirits drinker it frustrated me – why wasn’t I being taken seriously? And as an entrepreneur I could see it was a huge missed opportunity.
Eventually, I concluded that it’s not that marketing spirits to women can’t be done, it’s just that up until now it hasn’t been done well. And there was really one big reason for that, which was that there were simply not enough women behind the wheel in the creation, marketing and selling of hard liquor. That’s when I knew I had to get involved, and I was fortunate to persuade a very close and talented group of business partners to jump in with me.
Marquis: How did you develop Pomp & Whimsy? Why a gin-based liqueur? Did you think about other types of products? How did you test the taste profile of the eventual product?
Nice: The idea for Pomp & Whimsy first started to take shape in early 2015 and it took two years of research and development to bring it from first concept to market. I started in the same place I would start with any client project, which was with the end consumer. My partners and I went across the country doing focus groups and research interviews with women to understand what they were looking for in an ideal spirit and what was missing from their current experiences. We had a specific focus on white spirits because we knew the barriers to entry in the category were relatively low.
Very quickly we started to hear consistency in a desire for a lightly botanically infused spirit that could be sipped straight and could also be the base for a simple, crowd-pleasing cocktail. We realized that what was being described was a gin-like product, even if the women we were talking to were not necessarily drinking gin right now. We thought, what if we could make what we think these women have in mind when we describe this idea of gin to them?
The second step was to go back in time and learn more about where gin came from as a spirit and especially its history with women. We discovered that sweetened, lower proof gins – or gin cordials as they were called – were at one time very popular with women and that the spirit had even had the nickname, Mother Gin. That’s the moment when everything clicked, and we knew we needed to find a way to bring back this lost style of gin and update it for this modern consumer and palate. More importantly, we knew we needed to write women back into the overall story of gin and, by extension back into the history of the cocktail.
The initial formula was developed in my kitchen through experimentation with different fruit and floral infusions and testing in various applications. The tricky part was then finding a distillery partner with the capability to bring the product to life using only whole and natural ingredients in a formula that could be commercially scaled. Thankfully the team we found in Los Angeles turned out to be one of the best in the country for organic spirits and after just a few rounds of tweaking with the master distiller we knew we were onto something special.
Marquis: I see you just closed a 2.65 seed round (congrats!) with the press release focused on investors support of female founders. Can you say more about how and why the investors found supporting a women-owned business compelling (especially in the spirits industry)
Nice: Our investors see the same opportunity that we do – an award-winning product, a brand that is uniquely positioned in the market, and a founding team with the expertise and passion to take the business all the way.
Going beyond these core factors, they also obviously buy into our mission of giving women back their rightful place, not only because they agree it makes good social sense, but because they also see it makes good business sense. It’s a truth that women are the key purchasers for most categories, and there is mounting evidence to suggest that female led businesses perform better on a range of economic indicators. Fortunately, there is also now a growing community of women (and men) who are looking to actively re-invest in and lift the rope for female founders. As more and more women pay it forward, the net effect is hopefully a rising tide that will lift all ships.
Marquis: What’s next for Pomp & Whimsy, e.g. new products in development?
Nice: We’re excited to celebrate Women’s Entrepreneurship Day on November 19th with our Bee’s Knees campaign, which is a grand toast in honor of all the women who raise the rope! Those who want to participate can find more information on the upcoming programs through our website, via our email list and on our social media channels.
And as we look ahead to 2022, we’ll be embarking on a big restoration project – specifically, the restoration of Mother Gin! We’ll be commemorating this momentous event with a limited-edition Dry Gin, launching in Spring 2022.
Marquis: How did your training as a sociologist help your founding of the business (I also have a PhD in sociology)?
Nice: Oh, immensely! Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by human behavior at both the micro and the macro level. Why do some people brush their teeth from left to right, while others brush top to bottom? Why has mint become the predominant flavor of toothpaste? This never-ending curiosity and desire to understand actions and connect those actions to social values has driven my career in branding and marketing. In addition, the social research methods training I got as part of my PhD has been invaluable in teaching me to dig deeper to uncover patterns in qualitative and quantitative data that lead to insight and competitive advantage. Finally, I think it’s a love of problem-solving through sociological inquiry that has driven my interest in business in general, and ultimately led me down the entrepreneurial path I’m on now.