Design Today: Concá Vodka Panamericano

Concá Vodka Panamericano is one of the first brands to come out of The Absolut Company’s new Innovation Accelerator. As a start-up, their goal is to push the boundaries of the industry with innovation and creativity, in turn, gaining a new audience. With a bright and vibrant brand identity that packs a powerful punch, Concá is turning heads by redefining vodka packaging.

"By blending a sugarcane vodka from Verarcruz, Mexico with a corn vodka from USA a completely new spirit was born. Concá has the smooth versatility of vodka with the depth and complexity of a quality rum."

In this Design Today, we hear from Absolut's Innovation Accelerator Andrew O'Sullivan, and from The Kitchen's Design Director Matt Squire. 

 

From Andrew O'Sullivan, Absolut Innovation Accelerator:

Design can mean many things to many people. At Absolut, ‘daring to design everything’ not only means designing a great product and brand, but also designing how we bring it to life so it can reach its full potential. We are using design-led thinking in every dimension of new business development to push the boundaries of the vodka category.

Vodka as we know it has become cold and faceless, paling in comparison to the self-expression, social connection and collaboration we see in the world today. Concá Vodka is a completely new brand designed to redefine what vodka means to people. From the brand, product and packaging concept and the full sensory experience of our vodka, to our communications strategy and execution, every element has been systematically designed to create a vibrant brand that engages, rather than targets, the people we want to reach. 

A lofty vision perhaps, but to do this we have been collaborating and co-creating with our audience from the outset, with the mindset of a start-up. We have engaged designers, bartenders, lifestyle experts and influencers to get their insights and feedback, to share, test and refine Concá, and build an adventurous brand they would choose.

"Our ambition was to create a vodka for people like us. A vodka that celebrates diversity. We strongly believe that authenticity today is not about purity, but rather an original remix of all that we love."

Very early on we knew we didn’t want to try and compete with other vodka brands on the purity or exclusivity scale. Our ambition was to create a vodka for people like us. A vodka that celebrates diversity. We strongly believe that authenticity today is not about purity, but rather an original remix of all that we love. We draw inspiration from everywhere - our own personal passions, as well as our diverse cultural identities. Every year in the US over 200 new vodka brands are launched. We wanted to stand out from the crowd by designing an exceptionally high quality vodka that would bring a fun-loving attitude to a category badly in need of a shake-up. 

We set out on a journey to redefine vodka as we know it. We talked to Per Hermansson, the Director of Sensory Strategy at The Absolut Company and Pernod Ricard. A world-renowned master blender and sensory designer. Our brief to Per was simple. Design a completely new and audacious sensory experience that challenges the notion that quality is synonymous with purity. A vodka for people who think vodka is boring. 

Per agreed that there was plenty of room for innovation: “I wanted to recreate the feeling you have when you taste an exceptionally good spirit for the first time. It’s a revelation. A whole new world opens up to you.” This search led him to a distillery in Vera Cruz, Mexico that produced a unique local sugarcane spirit. The distiller described it as vodka ‘con carácter’. Per took a batch back to his taste lab in Sweden to see how he could balance the taste profile into a fully rounded experience, from the very first sip to the ‘in-mouth’ feeling and prolonged finish. He experimented at length, finally re-distilling the raw sugarcane spirit and blending with a pure vodka distilled from North American corn. The result? An outstanding spirit, elegantly smooth yet rich, robust and full of personality. 

CONCÁ was to be the name. Vodka ‘con carácter’, a spirited remix of cultures. Vodka ‘Pan Americano’. The next step was to design packaging that could live up to the product. We found a beautifully timeless port bottle. Its proud and independent spirit stands as a stark contrast to the tall frosted bottles of premium vodkas on the shelves today. Even the sound design of the bottle has been considered; the natural cork delivers a friendly ‘popping’ sound that signals the warmth inside the bottle. The bulb in the neck creates an appealing ‘glug, glug, glug’ sound whilst pouring, reminiscent of the laid back energy of a good rum or whiskey. All these design thoughts add pleasure to the product experience. Concá Vodka isn’t a status symbol. It’s meant to be enjoyed with friends. 

"Even the sound design of the bottle has been considered; the natural cork delivers a friendly ‘popping’ sound that signals the warmth inside the bottle. The bulb in the neck creates an appealing ‘glug, glug, glug’ sound whilst pouring, reminiscent of the laid back energy of a good rum or whiskey."

We involved Helena Leach and Matt Squire, founders of The Kitchen design studio, at a very early stage in the process. Helena describes how the visual identity was inspired by Concá’s distinctive character: “We intuitively felt that Concá sees life in color. We wanted the visual communication to be as bold as the product, unlocking a sense of generosity and joy. The typography supports the attitude of passion with purpose, but with a nod of respect to tradition. The bold color world contrasts with the traditional voice of quality and the dark backdrop of the bottle, with the aim of creating brand recognition beyond the logotype.”

So that’s where we are at today. A new vodka ‘start-up’ in a design-led era. We are proud to have been welcomed to LA by The Dieline, HOW magazine, and their readers. We hope to return the hospitality wherever we are. At the end of the day, a brand is only as passionate and individual as the people who enjoy it. 


Matt Squire from The Kitchen talks about the Concá Vodka project and what some of the challenges were of this project.

1. What are some of the challenges of this project?

Knowing your market is a vital part for succeeding in any project. In this case, the market lies 9.000 kilometres away and also provides a challenge in terms of a cultural perspective. Collaborations and successful working partnerships with people in the know has been imperative in ensuring the delivery of a brand that the target audience can connect with. 

Concá is set out to challenge people’s perception of vodka, and this in itself was a big challenge as vodka carries with it very strong connotations, both in terms of taste and from a visual perspective.  

 

2. What is unique about the Concá packaging?

The Conca packaging is designed to disrupt peoples clichéd image of what a Vodka bottle should look like. The shape of the bottle invites you to handle it, rather than just let it sit pretty on a shelf. It’s dark and confident with a vibrant, energetic mark as the brand carrier. Concá 'sees life in colour', not shades of red and blue found on your typical vodka bottle.   It’s a vodka bottle with a passionate personality that speaks to and about the people.

3. How does the nature of the project drive your design?

The first thing we try to do when we receive a brief is to imagine what people expect to see and throw it out the window.  

 

4. Where do you find inspiration?

The obvious answer to give would be everywhere, designers tend to view the world in a unique way. We study and criticise everything we see and it’s in our blood to do so. At The Kitchen we believe that good design doesn’t always have to be influenced by order and logic. The best forms of inspiration can be those contained in ones head, manifestations and mash ups of years of gathered visual material that in some way interlinks and blends into giving a great solution. 

 

5. How do you define The Kitchen's Aesthetic?

We don’t really have a specific style, we dislike re-inventing the wheel and always push ourselves to try something new. We have a great belief that design should be fun, experimental and bold. Everyone in the studio is inspired by different things, different movements, you don’t need to share an interest in similar things to get on here. We have no fear of rattling a client as long as our thought process is valid and delivers on brief. 

6. What do you consider a successful design?

In simple terms, if the client likes the design and it performs its task it’s successful, but with design it becomes more personal. We also have to feel proud of it and believe that we gave it our best with the limitations provided. However, since design is all about self-criticism, it's easy to keep asking yourself if you could have pushed something just that little bit further.  

 

7. What kind of projects are you most excited to work on?

The annoying thing about design in any form is that it is subjective, anyone can have an opinion on it. Which is fine, but can be a hindrance when trying to find a solution to a brief. When we work with clients who understand this, leaving us to our own devices, the project becomes a lot more fun and exciting. Or, if you are presented with a bland brief and a client with a certain visual expectation, and then totally flip them on their heads and succeed in doing so. That’s invigorating.

 

8. If you can give one piece of advice to a prospective packaging designer what would it be?

The Kitchen are not traditional packaging designers, in fact we don’t like categorising designer into groups. A good designer should be able to apply their thinking to anything that comes their way. We are graphic designers that jump into anything that takes our fancy, whether that be branding, packaging, print, film or digital design. So the advice would simply be to not limit yourself to the rules and trends of people’s expectations. Gaining knowledge of how things work across the whole board means you will have a better understanding of how far you can push a design.

9. What's next for The Kitchen?

We’ll continue working with developing the Concá brand and communication, and we’ve got a book project and a film project in the pipe line. Amongst other things. 

 

10. What's exciting you about design today? 

The same thing that excited us when we first started, original ideas. Little gems amongst the coal. Media and technology changes and advances, but it’s still the power of the mind where the idea is created.