BlogSpirits & Wines

Peter Marshall (PM):  Quentin, Rocks Whiskey Chilling Stones are a highly innovative and a fun introduction to Travel Retail. Can you give us some background to the product?

Quentin Depigny (QD): Everyone always asks me: how did I think of this product? Aha!  My background has actually always been in wines and spirits. I started my career co-founding with my father a wines and spirits export trading business based in France. I grew up in China where I spent over 15 years between Beijing and Shanghai. So I speak the language fluently, which helped me develop a portfolio of Chinese importers as clients at the time. So I was already in that space but I always felt like I wanted to own a brand.

That’s when I noticed an opportunity in the gifting niche, particularly with whiskey stones. To explain our product briefly: the idea is to replace ice cubes with granite rocks to cool your drink without ice melting and diluting the spirit’s true taste. Now whiskey lovers can enjoy their whisky neat, with ice or.. on the rocks – literally!

The market was and still is full of low quality stones and very generic products. The item has also often been considered only as an accessory or for GWP purposes and therefore overlooked by larger companies. That’s why ROCKS Whiskey Chilling Stones was created with a simple mission from day 1: to become the world’s number 1 premium whiskey stones brand with a key focus on upscale gifting.

The first step to achieve this was to select high-end premium granite stones. Unlike 99% of the the market producing smaller cube shaped stones made from low quality soapstone/basalt, we only handcraft top of the line round shaped granite rock. The selected upmost quality granite rock is first cut in smaller pieces, then each stone is polished individually to perfection. There is a big quality gap with other rock types and ROCKS only uses the best.

Then, we started developing a product assortment tailored for gifting and this has been our core focus ever since.

We launched our best-selling ROCKS & gift sets as a direct to consumer e-commerce business first and accumulated over 4000+ reviews online since we started in 2016. That allowed us to refine our market fit over the years to create the perfect offer that converts. We also built a loyal fan base and community that love our products. Thanks to that, we expanded successfully in B2B and are now in over 500+ retail stores in 35 countries and work with some of the leading gifting platforms worldwide.

PM:  So the idea is not new, given its Scottish roots. But how is it being reviewed by whisky aficionados, who might claim that adding water or ice to whisky is the answer. Do granite stones actually enhance the taste?

QD: Great question! From a technical standpoint, our whiskey stones are not meant to replace ice cubes (you can’t use them for mojitos..!) and they will not cool down your drink as much as ice cubes would. Instead, our stones chill the drink about 4-5 degrees Celsius (40 Fahrenheit) from room temperature for around 20-30 mins. This will offer the perfect whisky tasting temperature (although it also works for rums, sake, plum wine…).

Similar to wine, if whisky is served too cold, you won’t be able to taste it properly, low temperatures can mute flavors thus the taste will be somewhat dulled in flavor. Ice is also porous, which means that other aromas and flavors can seep into the ice and affect the taste of your drink (the water itself could be an issue too! Not all water is the same quality/taste… ). So the objective is to enhance the drinking experience by preserving the whisky’s original taste profile and avoiding to damage or alter the spirit’s flavors with ice water (even more so if you have a rare and expensive bottle in your hands!).

Many of our customers are in fact avid whisky connoisseurs and enjoy the idea of having the option of using rocks. Our ROCKS have been reviewed independently by many whisky bloggers but also by our own customers. Some of them ran some advanced tests, measuring the temperature by the minute! Results were positive with many approving the product’s claims which further solidified our ratings of an average 4.5/5 stars across all products.

From a business standpoint, we gained much credibility for the quality of our product with the support and distribution partnership of key retailers such as The Whisky Exchange in the UK, V&B in France, La Maison du Whisky in Singapore, Dan Murphy’s in Australia.. just to name a few. I think this demonstrates strong interest and demand from whisky aficionados for our product.

PM:  Korean Air is a big plus for you as a key listing. How are you faring with other travel retail partners?

QD:  We marked our debut in travel retail this year with Korean Air and are thrilled to be collaborating so closely with the KAL team, they have been extremely supportive and impressed by our sales results. We actually sold out the first week of launch in April this year. Following the successful first month, we were then also listed with Jin Air since May.

I also attended TFWA Singapore in May for the first time and this is where the journey with other travel retail partners started. Things have been moving fast since with samples being shipped left and right! Aha!

We see a lot of interest and curiosity from operators. With a post-covid context where there is an increasing need to maximise customer lifetime value, the feedback on our product assortment has been very positive. The opportunity to cross-sell, upsell and showcase upscale gifts is proving to be in demand as operators seem to want to explore new ways to differentiate and expand their duty-free offering.

Considering the dimensions and weight of our hero product, “The Original ROCKS”, there’s naturally an excellent fit for in-flight placements and we are expecting to grow further in that channel in the coming months with exciting new listings to be announced soon.

We also started introducing the brand to multiple major operators at airports and downtown duty-free stores with trials set to begin in Q4 this year.
We already count our long existing partner from Fiji, Motibhai and the Prouds Airport stores where we are already stocked in.

We are also interested to look at listings with cruises and ferries in due time where impulse buy and gift shopping is frequent and where I think the brand would make perfect sense.

PM:  What challenges have you faced and where do you see the opportunities?

QD: The main challenge is that our product is a bit disruptive to the traditional product categories of duty free retailers. ROCKS is not an accessory, but we are also not a liquor brand. Yet we seek to be listed alongside spirits. We’re in the middle! Buyers sometimes have wondered how to categorise our product. So it’s necessary for us to share our vision with the retailer’s teams to demonstrate the market fit and to propose the right approach for retail display.

This is, however, also the opportunity. Whisky gifts are hardly represented in duty-free and it is my view that there is a market gap. It’s an underserved market with only maybe a few brands coming to mind, if any?

With our whiskey stones & gift sets, ROCKS offers a best-selling whiskey connoisseur gifts assortment that aligns perfectly with that audience and is complementary to the wines & spirits category.

Due to duty free liquor quota limits that apply to shoppers, we also see an opportunity to provide the operators a solution to increase revenue within that category without liquor. Giving the customer the option to bundle a nice whisky bottle with some rocks for example to increase the average order value!

PM: It seems to me that this is a natural gift, beautifully packaged, and it’s excellent that your portfolio of Rocks product extends to gift sets, glassware, even a Trivia quiz set. But, if I’m an airport retailer, where would I actually place your product? Do you need to consider a promotional stand to better get the brand message across?

QD: Great point. You are right, presentation is everything for our products! We have around 20 SKUs, this includes gift boxes with glassware, a cigar themed set, a bourbon barrel-aged coffee with rocks gift set, trivia quiz set and more…
At the moment, in airport settings, the gift sets have been placed on top of the whiskies/rhums shelfs and around. However, we are working on unveiling our very first retail displays to improve the shopping experience.

First, we are developing a retail display for our best-seller, the original rocks. We will be able to show the first concept at the Cannes trade show actually, so come visit us at blue village E4 !

This will help retailers to showcase the whisky stones and place us next to whiskies for impulse buys and bundles.

Then, for larger gift sets, we are working on developing a full promotion stand with a broader concept focused on gifting where our beautiful gold foil gift boxes can be showcased. Communicating on our unique selling points in those retail spaces will be key for airport locations but we want to make it easy to deploy and experiment. We also seek to work in collaboration with the operators to explore together creative ways to activate the brand in the shops.

PM:  You are also selling  into the domestic market? How is the product performing there?

QD: We’re in 35+ countries actually! Main markets are the USA, Europe and the UK. We import, store and fulfill products from there directly ourselves so we have a global logistics infrastructure to service our largest markets. However, we’re also present in Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia, Singapore, Fiji, Mauritius Islands and more – mostly through distributors or independent retailers that wanted to import our products.

We have a strong background in e-commerce like I shared earlier but we aim to  continue growing our wholesale client base of smaller retailers, especially wine and spirits shops through the USA and Europe.

Another excellent channel for us has been the corporate gifting world. We work with many of the leading gifting platforms that service the likes of major fortune 500 companies and their gifting needs. For example: employee recognition programs, rewarding sales teams, perks etc. There is a great fit with this much larger audience and our ready to gift items are a great match, even without any personalisation added.

PM:  So what are your next steps – other than expanding your distribution base in global TR?!  Might this involve a joint promotion with a well-known whisk(e)y brand?

QD:  Although we are 100% focused on travel retail for the foreseeable future, considering our market fit and initial results, we are interested in developing business in new countries – especially in regions we haven’t yet reached, like the UAE, LATAM or South East Asia.

A very exciting project for us will be to start introducing limited editions and exclusive series in the future. We seek to keep our shoppers engaged over time with relevant gifting designs and concepts for the rocks.

As for joint promotions and collaborations, we would love to work with distilleries and spirit brands to create co-branding projects and/or support their gifting ideas in partnership with our ROCKS. It’s been in my mind for a long time to be honest and I think we are now ready to approach these projects the right way.

PM:  Getting a firm place in the world of travel retail is something where you have to be long on patience and deep in pockets. Do you have both?

QD: The company is well run with clear objectives and a successful go to market strategy since inception. So, when choosing to pursue new channels or markets, we are able to allocate the necessary funds to support new venture/growth.

I am also very confident in our product’s sales performance, as we have already seen with Korean Air amazing results. This further comforts us too in our investments and efforts to pursue travel retail more.

We have also identified travel retail partner companies and distributors to accompany us on this journey and are fully committed to support all parties that are trusting us with trials and new listings.

To add to all of the above, I also believe we’re the only whiskey stone brand in the world with the team capabilities, supply chain reliability, the business infrastructure and the brand reputation to succeed in travel retail.

PM:  If there was one thing you wanted to say to the travel retail community, what would it be?

QD: The Original ROCKS offers a new and unique whiskey tasting experience for travel retail shoppers.
For operators, we offer the possibility to maximise their revenue performance and differentiate their offering with a best-selling upscale whisky gift assortment.

ROCKS is shortlisted as Finalist at the 2023 Frontiers Awards for Star Gift Product of the year as well as Finalist at the 2023 Travel Retail Awards in the Sustainable Product category further reinforcing our market fit.

I want to thank all our existing partners and clients for their close collaboration.
I look forward to meeting industry colleagues and continue to build key partnerships in the near future.

Please come visit ROCKS Whiskey Chilling Stones at TFWA Cannes at BLUE VILLAGE E4. /


Peter Marshall

Founder: Arts
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