DESIGN: Having the bottle to change

Julia Swift reports on the risks taken with Harveys Bristol Cream’s redesign

Julia Swift reports on the risks taken with Harveys Bristol Cream’s


When a packaging re-design fails to resuscitate a dying brand, few

companies would try again with an even more radical revamp. Yet that is

exactly what Allied Domecq did with its flagship sherry, Harveys Bristol

Cream. Opting for a second re-design, transforming the brand’s image

with a startling blue bottle, was a brave move because research showed

that customers did not welcome the idea.

But the risk paid off as trade sales shot up by 46% in the first quarter

of 1995. The motivation for re-designing the packaging was that, at the

start of the decade, Harveys Bristol Cream was losing its position as

brand leader. ‘In the early 90s sherry was irrelevant,’ says Grahame

Cox, vice-president of international marketing for Harveys. ‘New drinks

were coming in and sherry was getting lost.’ World volume of sherry was

around 17 million cases in 1979 whereas today it is just ten million.

The first re-design of Harveys Bristol Cream packaging was at the start

of the 90s. Research into customer attitudes to the existing packaging

was carried out: ‘Consumers said they wanted more gold and glamour,’

says Cox. The new look, however, made no difference.

The problem facing Harveys Bristol Cream was unique - the brand was

practically a national institution - yet for most of the year the bottle

sat at the back of the cupboard collecting dust. ‘Ironically, of all

drinks, Harveys Bristol Cream had the largest franchise, at that time it

was about 10 million people,’ says Cox. ‘But people were drinking it

only at Christmas.’

By 1993 the situation was so bad the future of the brand was in doubt. Ian Hannah, the man who was then marketing director of Harveys, took the

problem to design consultancy, Blackburn’s, and said: ‘It’s shit or

bust.’ As Cox explains: ‘The previous re-design was just tinkering round

the edges, but by doing that you can’t really change deep-seated


The director of the design company, John Blackburn, says that the

challenge was more than just changing the public’s image of one product:

‘What we had to do was change the perception of sherry.’

A combination of wanting the brand to seem exclusive, and wanting to

lose its image as a sweet, sickly drink, inspired the designers to think

about a blue bottle. ‘Blue used to be the most expensive dye; the colour

has a tradition of exclusivity,’ says Blackburn. The fact that Bristol

has a tradition of making cobalt blue glass made it particularly

relevant to the brand, and while researching the history of Bristol blue

glass, the designers came across a fact which clinched it. ‘Cobalt was

first taken to Bristol in 1796,’ says Blackburn. ‘We then realised that

it was the same time that Harveys started selling Bristol Cream. When

you come across things like that you think someone is telling you


The blue bottle, however, did not research well. ‘There was a lot of

concern,’ says Cox. ‘But we took that as a good sign because what we

wanted to do was to challenge them to think in new terms. When we did

further research we got a positive response.’

Following the introduction of the blue bottle in 1994, sales of Harveys

Bristol Cream turned around. Not only did trade sales increase by 46% in

the first quarter of 1995, compared with a year earlier, but it

increased its lead over rival Croft Original. Retail audit research

showed that in November and December 1994, Harveys Bristol Cream had

23.8% of the sherry market, compared with Croft Original’s 23.2%. A year

later, Harveys had 26.4% of the market, whereas Croft had dropped to


This success led Allied Domecq to ask Blackburn’s to transform its other

three sherries, Club Amontillado, John Harvey and Luncheon Dry. Re-named

Club Classic, Isis and Dune, the bottles are as radical as Harveys

Bristol Cream. Again, consumer research was not positive. Nevertheless,

Cox has confidence: ‘We weren’t scared of frightening away existing


This time the designs will have to work even harder. While the re-launch

of Harveys Bristol Cream was supported by TV advertising and below-the-

line work, the other sherries will have no such help.

Club and Isis are in the shops now, and Dune will go on sale in the

spring. ‘We’ve shown that we are committed to making a new future for

sherry,’ says Cox.