In many countries, the hospitality industry shutdown during the pandemic lockdowns has caused the potential closure of many suppliers. This is particularly true for those that relied on business-to-business sales, where a number of enterprises have embraced crowd-based business models to pivot and survive.

A craft lager brewery in Manchester, England, that had relied on selling kegs of beer to pubs and bars ran a crowdfunding campaign. Its loyal drinkers raised the money to buy canning equipment so that the brewery could sell packaged products direct to consumers. Similarly, a specialist wine importer that supplied restaurants crowdfunded to buy a van and started delivering online purchases to new consumer customers. In Ireland, a whiskey maker that relied on sales to the pub and bar trade had an idea to kick start interest in their direct-to-consumer sales: they crowdsourced opinions among 200 whiskey enthusiasts to make a new limited-edition product.

“We lost orders and lost customers, as they [pubs and bars] were all closing down. So we had to engage directly with our consumers and this seemed like a logical way to do it,” said Louise McGuane, founder of JJ Corry Irish Whisky

Members of the public were invited to sign up to the mailing list to receive details on how to apply and be part of the process. 200 successful applicants were sent samples of three different proposed blends and voted on the direction they would like the blend to go in.

“Given that everyone was at home during the lockdown, we all got together online one evening and discussed the blends. We brought our blending process into their living rooms. Bringing people from outside the business to create a whiskey is quite risky. But at the end of the day, you have to listen to your consumers and take their opinions on board. In the end, this was very much a collaboration between us and folks who love JJ Corry whiskey,” Ms McGuane explained to Irish state broadcaster RTE.

The 200 co-creators were also consulted on the label design and were able to go online and watch the whiskey being made. Sales of the limited edition 430 bottles of the co-created “The Lock In” will begin in August. Crowdsourcing opinions on future products is definitely something they will do again, and along the way they have recruited a number of enthusiastic and valuable “brand ambassadors” who are pleased to support JJ Corry whiskey for free. You could call it a form of crowdsourced word-of-mouth marketing.