Bottle #46: Mandalay

Feb 13, 2024

In 1979 Gilbey’s of Canada was looking for their next product. To move things along, they hired a product development company called Product Initiatives (PI for short). This was a strategy that had paid off brilliantly for their parent company, International Distillers and Vintners. They’d hired a similar firm and ended up with the wildly successful Bailey’s Irish Cream, so they gave Gilbey’s the go-ahead and hoped that lightning would strike twice.

Dear reader, as you’ve probably guessed by the fact that you’ve never heard of today’s tiny bottle, lightning did NOT strike twice.

Read the rest of the story

PI’s early research identified that there might be a marketing opportunity among consumers of white spirits: gin, rum and vodka. Their research also identified lemon as a flavor those drinkers wanted. After nine months of research, countless telephone focus groups, actual taste tests, and between $50,000 and $100,000 dollars spent ($175-$350k in today’s money) the result was Bottle #46, Mandalay Dry Lemon Liquor, released in early 1982.

I know all about this because of a 1983 article in Canada’s Financial Post Magazine talking about PI and their approach to product development. They used Mandalay as a case study in the article, with the product development lead from Gilbey’s talking about how they couldn’t afford failure, and needed to be 85-90% sure the product would succeed before they launched it.

And less than three years later, an article in that same Financial Post Magazine would use Mandalay as an example of a failed product. Now, I assume that for the original article, the author had asked PI for a company they should talk to, and they’d suggested Gilbey’s and Mandalay. The implication was definitely that they thought the product would succeed. By 1986, of course, they were laying the blame anywhere but themselves! According to the head of the product development company “Mandalay was launched even though the research had made it clear it didn’t taste very good.” In other words, it was all the marketing director’s fault, for rushing it out before it was ready. The marketing director, of course, insisted that it just hadn’t been marketed quite right: it was put on the wrong shelf of the liquor store.

It might not have been what 1980s white spirit drinkers were looking for, but I’m interested in tasting this bottle, even though I kind of expect it will taste like lemon Pledge! According to that 1986 article, the goal for Mandalay was to “capture the taste of a real lemon soaked languorously in an alcoholic beverage.” It is 35% ABV and in a glass bottle, so I’ve got higher hopes for it than some of the other 1980s liqueurs I’ve put in my mouth already!

Watch me taste this bottle with Tony Jimenez.

Listen Now

Watch Now

Bottle #46: Mandalay

Feb 13, 2024 |

In 1979 Gilbey’s of Canada was looking for their next product. To move things along, they hired a product development company called Product Initiatives (PI for short). This was a strategy that had paid off brilliantly for their parent company, International Distillers and Vintners. They’d hired a similar firm and ended up with the wildly successful Bailey’s Irish Cream, so they gave Gilbey’s the go-ahead and hoped that lightning would strike twice.

Dear reader, as you’ve probably guessed by the fact that you’ve never heard of today’s tiny bottle, lightning did NOT strike twice.

PI’s early research identified that there might be a marketing opportunity among consumers of white spirits: gin, rum and vodka. Their research also identified lemon as a flavor those drinkers wanted. After nine months of research, countless telephone focus groups, actual taste tests, and between $50,000 and $100,000 dollars spent ($175-$350k in today’s money) the result was Bottle #46, Mandalay Dry Lemon Liquor, released in early 1982.

I know all about this because of a 1983 article in Canada’s Financial Post Magazine talking about PI and their approach to product development. They used Mandalay as a case study in the article, with the product development lead from Gilbey’s talking about how they couldn’t afford failure, and needed to be 85-90% sure the product would succeed before they launched it.

And less than three years later, an article in that same Financial Post Magazine would use Mandalay as an example of a failed product. Now, I assume that for the original article, the author had asked PI for a company they should talk to, and they’d suggested Gilbey’s and Mandalay. The implication was definitely that they thought the product would succeed. By 1986, of course, they were laying the blame anywhere but themselves! According to the head of the product development company “Mandalay was launched even though the research had made it clear it didn’t taste very good.” In other words, it was all the marketing director’s fault, for rushing it out before it was ready. The marketing director, of course, insisted that it just hadn’t been marketed quite right: it was put on the wrong shelf of the liquor store.

It might not have been what 1980s white spirit drinkers were looking for, but I’m interested in tasting this bottle, even though I kind of expect it will taste like lemon Pledge! According to that 1986 article, the goal for Mandalay was to “capture the taste of a real lemon soaked languorously in an alcoholic beverage.” It is 35% ABV and in a glass bottle, so I’ve got higher hopes for it than some of the other 1980s liqueurs I’ve put in my mouth already!

Watch me taste this bottle with Tony Jimenez.

 

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *