The rise in popularity of apéritif and digestif drinks

02 February 2024, 07:00 AM
  • From the well-known Aperol Spritz and Negroni to up-and-coming trends like Amaro, Speciality Food discovers how retailers can sell popular before and after dinner drinks
The rise in popularity of apéritif and digestif drinks

Summer might feel like a distant dream in the chilly depths of February, but trends for the warmer months are already firmly on retailers’ minds. Now is the perfect time to think about what you’ll be restocking your shelves with ahead of summer picnics and parties.

With gin, the summer must-have of the last decade, on the decline, other spirits are emerging as go-to favourites. As well as rising demand for agave-based spirits like tequila, on-trend liqueurs used to craft apéritifs and digestifs have made a splash in recent years and are a sure bet for retailers. If you don’t know your Aperol Spritz from your Amaro, Speciality Food is here to help.

What are apéritif and digestif drinks?

The French words apéritif and digestif (also called aperitivo and digestivo in Italian) are used for alcoholic drinks that are traditionally served before or after a meal, respectively.

What is an apéritif?

Apéritifs, which are said to be served before a meal to stimulate the appetite, are usually dry rather than sweet, and they are typically served with an hors d’oeuvre, such as a cheeseboard or charcuterie platter

Popular apéritif choices include:
• Aperol
• Campari
• Vermouth
• Pastis
• Dry sherry

These, and many others, are also used to make apéritif cocktails, like negroni, Kir, martinis, Aperol Spritz and more.

What is a digestif?

Digestifs are served after a meal, supposedly to aid digestion. They are often darker and have a higher ABV than apéritifs, and they are usually served neat.

Typical digestifs are:
• Amaro
• Brandy
• Fortified wines such as sweet sherry or port
• Limoncello

While they may not be digestifs in the technical sense, sweeter options like Baileys and Kahlúa are also often grouped together with these after-dinner drinks.

Why are these drinks rising in popularity?

While there are a few factors driving the demand for apéritifs and digestifs, such as the ‘luxury’ feel of that many brands in this arena have, Tom Gatehouse of Insights Lab by Egg Soldiers shares that, most of all, “it’s the social aspect of enjoying a small-yet-strikingly memorable tipple with friends or family”.

“Aperol is obviously the trailblazer within aperitifs, and its popularity clearly spikes in the summertime. It’s light, refreshing and flavourful, with bittersweet apéritifs perfect for an al fresco afternoon or early evening pre-meal kickstarter – a charming aperitivo moment,” he continues. The Aperol Spritz trend first started taking off in 2021, when Waitrose recorded a sales spike of 148%.

On the other side of the meal, the digestif “doesn’t yet have that standout brand driving momentum – unless it’s Baileys around Christmas”. Here, it’s more about the type of drink, Tom says. “Limoncello is an obvious pillar for perceptions, and Amaro is one to watch in terms of the UK market.”

These drinks also differ from other cocktails and spirits because, as Tom says, “there is an inherent ‘holiday’ element to the experience, more so than with full spirits, with heritage and uniqueness being key elements”. For retailers who want to make a bang with their apéritifs and digestifs, highlighting the heritage credentials of a product is a promising route to higher sales.

What’s trending now?

While Aperol remains a popular favourite when summer rolls around, vermouth – the fortified wine behind the negroni – has also seen a surge. In its 2023-4 trends report, Waitrose noted that vermouth sales were up 5%, with sales of Lillet Rosé Vermouth apéritifs up 176%, and Cocchi Extra Dry up 78%.

On the digestif front, Tom is particularly interested in the rise of Amaro, as the old becomes new again. “Manteca just launched its own option for both on- and off-trade, made in collaboration with Vault Aperitivo. Said to be a complex, bittersweet and fragrant offering, the base recipe boasts infusions from the likes of green walnuts, acorns, fig leaves, cacao, mint and rosemary,” he says.

Amaro has a unique flavour profile and is used as an ingredient in a number of popular cocktails, from the Amaro Spritz and Amaro Sour to the Black Manhattan. 

“The Manteca Amaro’s ‘modern interpretation’ strapline rings true with us, and it’s the concept of reimagining old favourites for a modern audience that led us to noticing Khoosh, a 20%-ABV orange bitter liqueur first created in 1881, brought back to life by UK brand Phoenyx Spirits.”

Another that Tom will be watching this year is Cordusio, which is said to be the world’s first red berry aperitif.

With liqueurs continually finding favour with mixologists, 2024 is likely to see even more evolutions on these traditional drinks. When asked what he thinks is next for the trend, Tom points to the globally inspired “flair” that is entering market, particularly with apéritifs. “Indian- and Mexican-aligned launches are among those catching our eye,” he says.

However, there are many exciting brands on the UK’s doorstep, such as Aker English Rosé Aperitif, which showcases rosé wine from Chapel Down and English botanicals, Tarquin’s Cornish Pastis, a contemporary take on the French classic, or The Aperitivo! Co.’s Venice Aperitivo Liqueur, an Italian-style bitter aperitivo made in Bristol.

The no/low alcohol take on apéritifs and digestifs

With no and low alcohol drinks continuing to grow in popularity, Tom says this poses yet another interesting move for apéritifs and digestifs. “With alcohol-free, the pair offer something different when compared to 0% versions of existing alcoholic beverages – distinctive expressions without the threat of a ‘less than’ drinking experience.” We’ll raise a glass to that.

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