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The alcoholic drinks market reached £48.9 billion in 2018 (Mintel: Alcoholic Drinks Review, February 2019) , with UK spirit sales amounting to more than £11 billion (Wine and Spirits Trade Association). With this sector offering many opportunities for independent retailers, it’s important to pick the right products for your business – here we reveal the drinks which are currently shaking up the industry.
Gin reigns supreme
In recent years, gin has propelled sales in the white spirits category, with £1.9 billion being spent on the spirit in the UK alone last year – up 41% from the previous year, according to WSTA. With more than 130 gin distilleries now existing in the UK, it can be tricky to know where to begin when choosing products, but one thing’s for sure; this has been the summer for colourful gins, with fruit and floral infusions such as blood orange, parma violet and rhubarb and ginger proving extremely popular with customers.
But there’s a feeling from retailers that, in spite of all of this choice, customers still want to embrace tradition: “For us, gin sales are still on the increase, but we’re noticing people are leaning more towards full-strength, traditional, juniper-forward gins, and are stepping away from liqueurs and what we would call ‘gimmicky’ gins”, explains Charlotte Clark, co-director of gin shop, The Cranny, in Tenby, Wales. “As a result, we’re now decreasing the number of liqueurs we stock, purely because we’ve noticed sales decrease so dramatically.”
Rum on the rise
For Charlie Brown, owner of Leighon- Sea bottle shop Vino Vero, gin may undoubtedly still be the spirit du jour, but there’s another tipple hot on its heels. “Gin still seems to reign supreme, but sales have definitely slowed in the last year, with rum becoming more prevalent. We’re selling a lot of East London Liquor Company Demerara Rum and The Duppy Share rum, in particular.” In fact, according to Nielsen, rum sales have grown by more than £25 million in recent years, and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association reports that close to 35 million bottles were sold in the UK in 2018. Nielsen also observes that flavoured and spiced rums are the standout varieties in this growing sector, something Charlotte Clark has also witnessed, “For us, we are seeing a large increase in the sale of dark spirits, especially rum and spiced rum,” she says.
Mixing it up
Given the ongoing success of spirits such as gin – and now, rum – the continued demand for premium and craft mixers and tonics from consumers is to be expected. Nor should it come as a surprise that 2019 has seen a flurry of new launches in this sector, from industry leaders and independents alike. “We have definitely noticed an increase in the launch of new and exciting premium mixers,” agrees Charlotte. “And, along with the rise of darker spirits, we’re seeing a similar trajectory in the sales of ginger ale and cola, in particular Fever-Tree’s spiced orange ginger ale, and Fever-Tree’s Madagascan cola.”
In spite of these wins across the spirits and mixers category, it’s no secret that the trend – and demand – for low or no-alcohol drinks continues to rise, too. According to Mintel’s Alcoholic Drinks Review (February, 2019) there’s now a clear ‘trend for moderation’ when it comes to alcohol consumption, with more than 47% of the consumers surveyed claiming to have reduced the amount of booze they’ve consumed in the past year. But, rather than seeing this as a threat to business, this consumer shift can also be regarded as an opportunity to market, and a chance to bolster stock with alcohol-free spirits such as Willow and Seedlip – the latter of which clocked up sales of close to one million bottles last year – as well as a more diverse offering of tonics and mixers, to cater for both drinkers and non-drinkers alike.
Point of difference
But how can independent retailers compete with supermarkets in this competitive area? For Charlotte, it all comes down to offering customers an experience, whether that’s drinks tastings, samples, or specialised guidance when choosing products. “While we do find it hard to compete with supermarkets, we feel we have an edge; we don’t just offer the sale of bottles, we also offer an experience,” she says. “People can ask for our advice on the right spirits for them, and then taste them in-house, which is something they cannot necessarily do a supermarket. There, people tend to make their purchases solely based on price and branding.”
So what’s in store for the remainder of 2019, and beyond? “For 2020, we expect to see huge increases in the sale of dark spirits, but do feel gin will continue to have its moment”, predicts Charlotte, “Though I do also think people will experiment less with new gins, and will be more inclined to stick to the brands they know and love.” It’s clear that while diversification of product and discovery remain essential, it’s also important not to overlook customer favourites.
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