Which drinks you need to stock for Christmas 2021

28 September 2021, 09:02 AM
  • Christmas is boom time for alcohol sales, but what will really go off with a pop? Anna Blewett investigates
Which drinks you need to stock for Christmas 2021

Christmas is coming, and with a potentially explosive set of circumstances on the cards for festive drink sales, many in the market are eyeing the competition between on- and off-trade for consumers’ alcohol spend. Last Christmas was itself a record-breaker according to market data from Nielsen, with £12 billion spent on alcoholic sales in the four weeks up to Christmas giving a huge boost to overall grocery sales. This year very different factors are at play: pubs and restaurants look set to remain open, but unrestricted social, professional and familial gatherings – subject to tight limits last year – could really see a spike for retail demand. “There will definitely be a strong interest this year in family reunions, as it has been a long time since many shared Christmas together, so bringing a bottle as a house gift will have a lot of uptake, as well as sending across the country to people we can’t be with in person,” predicts James Kerslake, founder of cocktail brand Tom Savano. “Of course this can all change heavily should we experience another spike in cases or more restrictions, which would once again drive strong sales in the off trade.”

Ready, steady, go!

A real area of interest is ready-to-drink cocktails, a category that could have a great year as travel-starved Brits look for escapist experiences with an international feel. “The ready-to-pour category has two main drivers: the weather, and occasions,” says James. “It is in constant flux with the on-trade, as people will either drink at home, or at a bar, not both. So as weather worsens, sales often pick up. Of course occasions mean people getting together, the desire to make something special, which usually involves a nice bottle of wine or cooking good food. Christmas hits both of these, being both a strong occasion for family and friend get togethers, also one synonymous with enjoying a few drinks, along with being deep into winter when it’s much colder to head outside. Add to that a boost from gifting – sending loved ones a nice bottle as a gift – and you can see why Christmas is a huge boom for the ready-to-pour cocktail category. We certainly expect to see almost half our yearly sales in the final quarter.”

Spirits saw huge growth last Christmas, with sales of tequila up 59%, flavoured vodka up 50% and spiced rum up 45%. So what’s the safe bet for buyers stocking for Christmas 2021? “This has been the ultimate question for a number of years as every distiller envisioned an imminent drop in gin sales in favour of a massive upturn on rum,” says Alex Conti, founder of The Apiarist Gin who recently added a British rum to the range. “However, it hasn’t really happened as both drinks seem to be going from strength to strength and gin sales/the distilling of gin continues to grow regardless. I think they can happily sit alongside each other. After all, sometimes you fancy a G&T and at other times you might want to try a rum and tonic…”

Ginning is winning…

Rum isn’t the only winner here. “The learning from gin has been the growing appetite from consumers to discover more spirits and become increasingly discerning about what they want to drink and how they want to drink it,” says Dima Deinega, founder of the Ukrainian-centric spirit Dima’s Vodka. “Lockdown has accelerated this, with consumers taking the time to make themselves premium drinks at home - branching out from their typical gin tonics. I believe that other spirits will benefit from these new behaviours, especially at Christmas time. As with the wine category, consumers are growing their appreciation for craft, independent spirits brands, which is very exciting for brands such as Dima’s. We see Christmas as a key moment for consumers to pass on their discoveries in other spirit fields from the past year to their loved ones.”

Fizz was a big winner last year, with Champagne sales up 18% and crémante experiencing 51%. “Prosecco is the number one bubbles of choice over the Christmas period and a category that is continuing to achieve recognition and credibility,” says Ed Smith, who brings premium Prosecco to market via his brand The Emissary. “Brits drink over 100 million bottles of Prosecco a year, with Christmas as a key season – but we’re now seeing a growing appreciation for the premium Prosecco category in particular, which is exciting for us. People are leaning towards quality over quantity with their drinks choices, taking the time to research the products they’re consuming, their origin and provenance and discovering new, independent brands.”

Conscious consumerism

We know that shoppers care more than ever about the impact of their spend, but this could be especially true at Christmas. Why? Not only does research show consumers are willing to pay more for products they can feel good about, but at Christmas they will be keen to spread this good will – and display their pro-social choices to others in the drinks they gift and serve up. “Provenance and authenticity has been a big trend for a number of years now,” agrees James. “It’s very much down to a younger generation who have grown up in a world where much work needs to be done to maintain it in its current state, due to decades of excess. It is inherent in the younger generation’s culture that they have to care where things come from, as it’s much harder to make buying decisions with a clean conscience now that they know of the problems that exist with sustainability and globalisation. People are becoming more responsible consumers and are enjoying the afterglow effect of knowing that you have shopped ethically and consciously. It is also somewhat of a status symbol: when people visit your house or see what you’re drinking, it adds a bit of culture, depth and kudos to our social image when we are seen with the right sort of brands, not to mention it being a great conversation starter.”

Woke consumerism will undoubtedly have a real impact on sales this Christmas, so investing in products that prove their authenticity and conscious credentials to the consumer is a real no brainer. “This past year has demonstrated that consumers care greatly about both the origins and provenance of spirits,” agrees Dima. “Now, more than ever, they enjoy experiencing the culture and authenticity that surrounds a spirit, learning how to drink it how it is traditionally and locally intended. We’re seeing a more curious consumer, one that is receptive to learning new things and trying different flavour combinations.” We can all raise a toast to that!

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