Beneath the beaming London sunshine thousands of food lovers are enjoying picking up new cooking techniques and cocktail recipes, tasting different foods and sitting back to enjoy a chilled out atmosphere in Regent’s Park. For 15 years almost 55,000 people have been flocking to IMG’s Taste of London festival to decide which masterclass to book onto first, or which how much food they can try before they’ve had sufficient.
The festival has been growing year on year – its latest reported financial results show turnover rise 13% to £9.6m for 2016 – and for 2018 it has signed a global deal with Diageo to bring the food and drinks offerings together.
"We’ve worked with Diageo brands individually for many years and there was a real concerted desire from their reserve portfolio perspective to not just treat the cocktail consumption as an individual brand flavour but an overall strategy to align cocktails with a culinary experience rather than just being a bar experience," Justin Clarke, senior vice-president, managing director for culinary at IMG, says.
There are several Diageo brands at the festival, be it with their own activations – Johnnie Walker and Ketel One Vodka are hosting cocktail masterclasses – or within the food sphere such as The Residence where top chefs create an intimate meal for 26 people, an experience that kicks off with a cocktail using a Diageo brand.
"The bar culture is really exploding," Anya Haarhoff, Diageo’s global reserve commercial director, explains. "So how do we really ensure that we are linking beautiful and creative cocktails with beautiful and creative food? The reserve portfolio is a combination of brands that are really linked in heritage, creativity, putting the bartender at the heart of the experience."
The warmer months in London are often awash with fun experiences usually created by alcohol brands. For Diageo, the partnership with Taste is a way to open up consumers’ minds that spirits can be enjoyed at any time. For example the Johnnie Walker activation is about showing how to enjoy the whisky, a drink that is usually enjoyed on the rocks, as a highball and making it accessible to a wider demographic.
"It’s about occasion, and making sure that people understand that you don’t need to have a preconceived idea about how you enjoy a beautiful drink," Haarhoff says. "It doesn’t always have to be at a certain time, it doesn’t always have to be an aperitif or only as a dessert."
A selection of the experiences are also paid-for, a trend seen across other brand activations over the past year, such as Pernod Ricard's Chivas Regal "The blend". The World Class masterclass, which showcases Tanqueray No Ten and Bulleit Frontier Whiskey, is £10 and customers leave with the two cocktails they’ve made.
Haarhoff says that the small fee helps bring value to the experience: "It meant that people were way more engaged, and actively thought about what that experience could bring to them in their daily lives. It was not just a moment in time, they were planning how they would pair their food and drink the next time they entertained at home or the next time they went out."
Taste of London itself is also a ticketed event, starting at £17 for entry and then between £4 and £7 for the dishes. "We really do believe in the principle of paid-for sampling," Clarke says. "If you’re just given something and you haven’t chosen it, you’re not really that engaged. If you’ve made a purchase – and it’s always about value rather than price – you’ve said, ‘I’m going to try this’.
"With the masterclasses, you’re making a small incremental decision that means that you will probably change your behavioural pattern as a result of it but it gives you a safe ground to try it. The purchase does make a difference."