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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PENNY WILLSON

Head of R&D Innovation at The London Essence Company

At London Essence, we’re proud of our innovative approach, not only to our products but also to our business.

So, to shed a little light on what goes on behind the scenes – from flavour pairings to our signature distillation process – we sat down with our Head of Research & Development innovation, Penny Willson.

Keep reading as we ask Penny about her role at London Essence, her inspiration and her predictions for the coming year.

Penny Willson

LEC

You’ve been in the drinks industry now some 20 years, and must have seen plenty of trends emerge – like craft beer and boutique gins – can you tell us how it’s evolved in that time?

Now I feel old… it’s an amazing industry to be part of, the combination of science and creativity is so exciting. Being part of an industry which brings pleasure to consumers is a privilege, moments of enjoyment with friends or family are precious.

When I started out, there were a lot of mergers and acquisitions going on, with smaller producers being absorbed into bigger companies. Now with the rise of craft, the small-scale producer has completely re-emerged.

For me, one big evolution has been the importance of flavour and how it is created, this has always been a part of the drinks industry, but I think the importance of storytelling was lost for a while. It’s great to see it returned and the engagement of consumers with producers and production processes. 

Speaking of evolution, it’s been a year full of upheaval and uncertainty for the food and drink industry. What do you think 2021 will bring to the table?

I think it’s likely that the two key trends will be indulgence and wellness. Consumers will want to look after their health, but also enjoy themselves – and this could cause a bit of internal conflict, so offering more choice for different occasions will be important.

Socialising is more important than ever, even if it looks a bit different right now, and because of the restrictions we’ve faced, I see the trend for premium and luxury products as a means of treating, rewarding and indulging ourselves. Alongside this sustainability, continues to be a focus, with interest not just in environmental sustainability, but social and well-being. Low-calorie drinks that offer great taste is an area I expect to continue to grow.

London Essence Roasemary

London Essence products certainly put sustainability and well-being front and centre, but can you tell us what inspires the unique flavour pairings?

London Essence has a clear vision around elegant and elevated experiences, and this flows into the approach on flavour for each of our products. At the outset, we think about the drinking experience we’re trying to create; that helps us to identify the specific distillates and other ingredients needed to create a fitting flavour profile.

Inspiration obviously comes from the World’s 50 Best Bars, and the cocktails and spirits they are creating, but we also look at perfume, culinary and beauty trends.

Flavour R&D

So how closely involved are you with product development, flavour selection and taste tests?

One of my favourite parts of this job is the very start of the development process. I’m very involved with the brief creation for a new product – understanding what’s needed, whilst letting creativity run free, is critical. Identifying the potential flavour options is done with our sensory team and is always a fun scoping exercise.

I’m privileged to have two liquid experts in the team, who take on the development from this point. I then have the lovely task of tasting the concept liquids as they create them, and feeding back about the balance of flavours, making alternative suggestions until we get to a flavour we all believe belongs in the London Essence collection.

Distilling Essences B&W

Can you tell us precisely what it is about the distillation process that sets London Essence apart, and makes it the superior choice?

Simply put, London Essence is the only mixer brand which is able to draw on a history of flavour extraction to create its drinks collection. That means we not only layer different flavours and extracts, but we also always add an extra unique element – a signature botanical distillate.

A distillate is an ingredient in its purest form – like an Eau de Parfum rather than an Eau de Toilette. It truly captures the essence of the ingredient, and contains the highest concentration of top notes, with an aromatic finish.

We then skillfully layer these flavours, extracts and this precious distillate to create each individual drink in our collection. It takes a great deal of effort and precision to ensure we’re able to create this depth of flavour, with a precise balance of top notes, for a unique taste experience.

Are there any upcoming product releases you could give us an exclusive glimpse of today?

I can’t reveal our trade secrets, but suffice to say we’re always working on a wide range of new ideas. These include exploring new flavours for the years ahead, but also exploring how to deliver world-leading taste experiences using new, innovative products like London Essence Fresh Serve, which delivers tonic on dispenser, flavoured at the point of serve.

Tanquerray Sevilla And Tonic

Finally, if you had to choose a cocktail to indulge in on a Friday evening, what would you opt for?

Just one! I was taught by my first professor that there’s a perfect drink for every occasion, so I have a wide portfolio of favourites… but if I have to choose one, my favourite would be a G&T, with Tanqueray Sevilla and London Essence Original Indian Tonic Water.

Explore the London Essence luxe mixer collection, including exquisite tonics, crafted sodas and delicious gingers, over on our drinks page.

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