Since launching last year, 35cl Cocktail Co. has already released four collections of its bottled cocktails. Its team isn’t new to a remote work setup since they’ve been concocting cocktails at home, but doing business during a crisis? How exactly did they handle it? 

Here, we sat down with beverage director Niko Tiutan for an overview of their business strategies and plans for 2021.

How much has your operations changed since the pandemic started?

Before the pandemic, we could go to places like the supermarket to scout for ingredients or make last minute purchases. Now, we have to plan our purchases and find the majority of our supplies online. Some of our suppliers, particularly those located outside Metro Manila, have also had difficulties meeting our requirements due to the lockdown

Our work arrangements also had to change as we had to shift from meeting daily to a few times a week instead. Even if we’re a small team, it took time to adjust how we operated and how we interacted with people, with health and safety in mind.

How did you manage to thrive in this crisis? What are your specific strategies?

We got lucky that our product was something accessible to people and could be appreciated even in the context of a pandemic. The idea of bottled cocktails was not as widely thought of pre-pandemic especially when we launched the brand. It made it a bit easier that people were more open to the idea and that we had at least a year of experience before launching our third collection. 

With the pandemic, we had to focus our attention to interacting and providing the full experience online or remotely. We were fortunate enough to have sent our cocktails to the right people where we got to reach a market that appreciates what we do even in times of crisis. Aside from that, we tried to refocus the experience of receiving our cocktails through the packaging and other content to supplement the drinks.

There’s just so much uncertainty now, which then gives rise to anxiety, and so being able to properly communicate helps alleviate that. 

How is the alcoholic beverage industry faring right now?

For the niche of bottled cocktails, we believe that the industry is doing quite well as there are so many emerging brands that came about because of the pandemic. However, the alcoholic beverage industry took a great hit especially with the onset of enhanced and modified community quarantines, until now. 

Especially for experiential bars, it’s hard to shift from facing your customers to providing your drinks through bottles, or having the uncertainty of being able to serve alcohol due to the liquor ban. It’s generally difficult for anyone operating with a physical space now not just because of regulations but because of the overall sentiment for going out. We do think that it’s recovering but similar to the entire food, beverage, and hospitality industry, it will take more time to fully recover.

What do you think will next year’s trends be for cocktails and other spirits?

We think that more bottled cocktail brands would emerge and continue to be a strong trend for the following year. There’s a bigger market for it and more people are open to the idea of enjoying their cocktail pre-made with lots of brands making amazing drinks. As there are a lot of people who are both staying home and going out again, we think that there will be a bigger trend on experience both in the bar and even for bottled cocktails. 

To make up for the lack of interaction and limitations for going out, more and more brands have been creating thoughtful ways to reach out to customers (if they’re unable to be there physically). Aside from that, we see the possibility of a staple takeout section for bars to operate with—something that may have felt strange pre-pandemic.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from the pandemic? What are your plans for future developments?

The importance of communication—between ourselves, our suppliers, and our customers. There’s just so much uncertainty now, which then gives rise to anxiety, and so being able to properly communicate helps alleviate that. 

We faced our own set of uncertainties during the third collection. One of our suppliers is based outside Manila, so they had difficulties sending alcohol to us during ECQ and MECQ where cities and provinces had strict checkpoints and varying liquor ban rules. MECQ was also reimplemented a few weeks into the collection so we had to pause our operations for a bit. It really helped that we constantly communicated with our suppliers and that everyone was doing what they can to deal with the situation. 

We see the possibility of a staple takeout section for bars to operate with—something that may have felt strange pre-pandemic.

With that, we also felt the need to do more for our customers, especially with how we communicate with them. Some of the things we did were adding instructions cards for each purchase, creating instruction videos on how to serve the cocktails, and tapping into other senses such as sight and smell, particularly through our videos and the spray bottle we released with our Cascara cocktail. 

After all of this, we plan to have a physical space. We want to continue exploring flavors and creating new experiences while serving customers face-to-face, all the while considering how overall attitudes about dining out have changed due to the pandemic. We do plan to have a few more collections before that happens, but we hope to continue our work in our own brick and mortar setup while keeping the bottled cocktail concept for certain occasions.

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