Baileys branches out from coffee

A Christmas tree market is part of a bigger strategy to reposition the Diageo brand as a more versatile treat.


Baileys is helping young, urban Torontonians safely pick up a Christmas tree and give back to a local charity as it continues with a bigger repositioning of the liqueur as treat, rather than just a coffee additive.

Taking a cue from retailers that have been pursuing click-and-collect and curbside pickup, visitors will schedule a window online to pick up a Christmas tree at Stackt, a shipping container market in downtown Toronto. All of the proceeds will go to The Stop Community Food Centre, a local non-profit that aims to build community through distributing and growing healthy food.

Sharon Howard, senior marketing manager for Diageo’s liqueurs and whiskey brands, tells strategy that the holidays are an important time for the brand, and that during COVID, consumers are stressed, disillusioned and seeking out comfort. With re-imposed lockdown measures in Toronto limiting how much sampling or give-aways it can do, the brand is providing that comfort by instead facilitating normal holiday activities, like picking up the Christmas tree, in a safe way.

Baileys is the number one cream liqueur in Canada, meaning it needs to look into more occasions if it wants to grow its business and protect its market share. And while the brand’s association with the holidays will always be important, Diageo sees opportunity in linking the liqueur to baked indulgences and confectionery, so it isn’t only seen as a seasonal coffee additive.

Last year, it popped up at shopping malls with its “treat bars,” a global concept it adapted to local markets, and has since been pursuing made-in-Canada efforts to make the repositioning happen.

This past October, the brand partnered with premium confectionery maker Lindor to deliver 7,500 “Treat Kits” to people on the street that included a mini bottle of Baileys, Lindt Truffles and a recipe card with tips for making a perfect Baileys Hot Chocolate. It further amplified the message this fall with the limited-time Red Velvet flavour as part of a gifting promotion, partnering with different bakeries to offer food treats that incorporated the LTO. For the holidays, its partnering with west-end Toronto bakery Sanremo’s to bake a different Baileys treat every week, sharing the recipe with followers online. 

“We’re trying to get the consumer to understand where we are in the treating world,” Howard says. “Typically, Canadians were consuming Baileys with coffee and we want to elevate experiences by letting them know it’s so much more versatile with baking and recipes.”

Howard says Baileys has typically skewed older and more suburban, and the Stackt market’s locale beside a plethora of downtown condos is a way to reach a slightly younger demo. She adds that in a pandemic environment that can get rather mundane, people are open to and grateful for unique and safe experiences.

According to Howard, the brand weathered the COVID storm that hit other alcohol brands so hard because it is less reliant on on-premise business, with 96% of its volume in Canada being done in retail. The brand had previously been looking to improve its on-premise business, a strategy it will resume whenever bar and restaurant business begins to get back to normal.

Baileys saw an opportunity to give back by helping out The Stop Community Food Centre, which has previously worked closely with Stackt. Like other nonprofits, it’s been hit hard by COVID due to cancelled fundraisers and disruption of its programs.

Vibrant was behind the experiential, and North Strategic helped with the PR.