The Duchess – New adult soft drink with real class

Post by Group Managing Partner, David Nichols.

I was in Cape Town last week with fellow brandgym parter David Taylor and we managed to blag an early table at The Shortmarket Club, a hot new restaurant with a cool bar. Needing to stay fresh for the mega worksop we had the next day, we asked what ‘mocktails’ (non-alcoholic cocktails) they had available. In one of those ‘this must be an ad’ moments, the smiling, white coated barman asked: “Have you tried ‘The Duchess’? It’s a virgin G&T.” My instant reaction was ‘where’s the hidden camera?’, but on trying the drink and seeing the brand, I had another thought: this is the holy grail, a credible, delicious, well branded adult soft drink!

The very next day, at our uber cool workshop venue, Workshop 17 at The Watershed, we saw a small stand with The Duchess branding. There we met the brand’s marketing manager for a quick chat.

This is why we think The Duchess could be a hit:

  • Solve a real issue: The Duchess taps into a huge and still largely unmet need for a credible, aspirational drink when you don’t want to drink alcohol. The ‘I’m driving’, ‘I’m sober for October’ or ‘I’m on a health kick’ crowd who still want to have a good night out at a bar. This is a need set to rise, given a trend for younger Generation Z (i.e. teenagers of today) to drink less than their older Millennial and Gen X counterparts.
  • Riff on a relevant category: Most other adult soft drinks try and persuade people in upscale bars to ask for things with names reminiscent of posh fruit juice. Not so The Duchess. They have taken a relevant, well-known category, ‘Gin & Tonic’, and created a new take on it by removing the alcohol. In this one step, they have repositioned other non-alcoholic adult drinks as wannabes and themselves as serious, premium and high quality by association. Good work.
  • Real Alcohol Visual Cues: The slightly arcane name, the twirly flourishes around the label, the ingredient ‘botanicals’ and the moniker ‘Virgin Gin & Tonic’ all give genuine alcohol cues. There is no need to talk up the purity of fruit or flowers and stretch their spheres into that of alcohol. The Duchess was born in a bar and that is her home.
  • Not a mixer, but a bona fide drink: Fever Tree, who have created a monstrously profitable business with a valuation of nigh on half a billion dollars, are positioned as a premium mixer for spirits. The fact that it tastes good on its own is now being exploited with larger formats and new flavours. The Duchess, however, comes across as the real thing: not a mixer, but a drink. And thus a more credible alternative to drinking a mixer.

Check it out yourself at


Again and again the large incumbent businesses who spend millions on innovation simply can’t. It takes the fresh unencumbered thinking of a total newcomer to crack the new opportunity. We think The Duchess has made an excellent start. Can they capitalise on a great brand and turn it into a great business? We’ll have to wait and see.

We’re on the phone now trying to oeder a few cases to ship to London….