Catch up with Janine Blakeway-Ely, Head of Whisky Innovation

Hear from Janine as she discusses innovating some of our most iconic brands, her new role and ‘ginnovation’.

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Janine has been with Diageo for just over two years and has been working within the European innovation team. She initially managed the European gin innovation pipeline bringing products like Gordon’s Sicilian lemon and Tanqueray Blackcurrant Royale to market, but she has recently made the move across to an exciting new role looking after whisky.

What has your Diageo experience been like since joining to your current role now?

Diageo is a unique company in that it really empowers its employees to have freedom and autonomy in our roles, embracing entrepreneurial thinking and encouraging us to be brave and bold. This is especially needed in a role like innovation where you have to think differently and creatively.

Tell us more about your current role as Head of Whisky Innovation?

I have recently moved into this new role as Head of Whisky Innovation and I’m thrilled to be working in such an interesting and dynamic category. Whisky is an incredibly exciting category, steeped in amazing tradition and process. It’s globally the biggest spirits category and Diageo has fantastic brands which I feel honoured to work on such as Johnnie Walker, Haig Club, Bells and Talisker.

Two very recent innovations that you worked on include Gordon’s Sicilian Lemon, Tanqueray Blackcurrant Royale and Villa Ascenti Rosa. When working on a new product development is the process different and unique for each one?

Gin is such a fun category to work on. Every year consumers see more and more new gin products launching which gives them huge choice and makes it an exciting category to shop.

My approach to all the ‘ginnovation’ I have launched is to deliver something above and beyond just a flavour. Tapping into consumer insight and finding creative ways to offer something not just desirable and delicious, but also unique. Diageo has such iconic brands with amazing histories, I always look at a brand’s heritage to inspire me on how to build a future product.

With the recent launch of Tanqueray Blackcurrant Royale, we looked at the life of the founder Charles Tanqueray and were inspired to launch a French variant. We then analysed trends and flavour popularity to help craft the concept. The result is a gin with sumptuous flavours and an interesting story.

What are the most exciting and challenging aspects of launching innovation?

The most challenging part of innovation is to ensure you have an idea which consumers are going to love and is different from anything else on the market. Creating a concept is a journey. Drawing inspiration from market behaviours, consumers, trends, history and finding different ways in to create compelling and exciting ideas that are tested with consumers.

The most exciting aspect by far is when you crack it and create an idea that not only consumers, but also everyone internally, gets super excited about. You need passion in this role to not only engage people with the idea but to share it. Once you have that idea and an excited team, the cherry on the cake is then seeing it live in store, or seeing people share it on social media. You get an enormous sense of pride knowing that alongside an amazing team you created the idea behind it! 

Outside of your role, what’s important to you at Diageo?

Diageo really supports female empowerment and being a working mum in senior role, I feel fully supported to work flexibly around my diary and childcare, especially through the recent lockdowns. We also have some amazing female role models in the leadership teams such as Claire Hadden, European Innovation Director, Anita Robinson, GB Marketing Director and of course our Chief Marketing Officer, Cristina Diezhandino. It’s aspirational for all employees to see that Diageo supports inclusivity and that there is no glass ceiling for females in this business.

Diageo’s commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse workforce is very clear and you see it across the Innovation team, which has strong representation. We regularly have open conversations and training on how to respect and understand more about important cultural issues. These inclusion and diversity values are part of our every day and I’m proud to work for a company that prioritises this.

 

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