Gin: Natural selection
After witnessing the advent of baobab gin, hop gin, cocoa gin, gin with ants in it, nettle gin and seaweed gin, you could be forgiven for thinking the flavour conveyor belt had run out of options. You would be wrong.
Enter stage left the world’s first turkey gin from Portobello Road, a blend of organic turkey breast and 13 festive botanicals, from apples and pears to nutmeg and mace. Good job the turkey breast they used is organic, lest there be an outcry.
You cannot overstate gin’s importance to the retail trade: sales are up 20% in value over the past year, providing more growth than all the other spirits categories combined (Nielsen, year to October 2017). However, there are now more than 400 gins in the UK as more and more artisan producers jump on the bandwagon, so it can be tricky for retailers to wade through it all and put together an effective range.
After the big six of Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Greenall’s, Bombay, Beefeater and Hendrick’s, and own- label, retailers need to select brands that add value, give them credibility and – most importantly – will not just gather dust on the shelf. When Mark Dawkins launched Langley’s No 8 gin five years ago, the market was
a lot less crowded, and he believes he entered it just in time. Like many success stories over the past five years, Langley’s built its brand in the on-trade, gained listings at luxury retailers such as Harvey Nicks and Selfridges, then went into wider distribution with Oddbins and is now listed at the likes of Asda and Morrisons. But it would be difficult for a brand now to follow a similar path as the market is so packed.
“Five years ago I said this renaissance will bring a tidal wave of new brands and there will be casualties,” says Dawkins. “There will be a trimming over time, as we had with vodka.”
He notes that Waitrose has the largest gin range of any multiple retailer, with 30-40 on sale, so fewer than 10% of brands find widespread distribution. Meanwhile Asda, which has really pushed the category of late, only carries 25 SKUs, while a specialist retailer such as Gerry’s of Soho offers 70 gins on its website. If the vast majority of gins being produced by passionate, dynamic distillers must be rejected, how do retailers settle on those they will give a listing to? “For most retailers the biggest concern about putting any small, artisan gin on shelf is whether it’s going to move off the shelf,” says Dawkins. “You know the big six and own-label will sell well. If you want to stock another 10, 20 or 30, you need breadth of styles, choice without getting gimmicky, brands people are prepared to trial.
“Retailers want brands that add value, [such as] unique styles or classic styles done really well. We are trying to do classic, timeless styles, gin as it should be. There are gimmicks coming out, adding value, interest and debate, but I want to focus on the classics, because generally they will have more chance of sustainability. I want to do the classics well, market them well, not compromise on quality and make good liquid and good packaging. “Getting distribution has been down to the quality and the look of the bottle and it’s down to the work we did to establish the credibility and availability. That gives retailers confidence to stock us.”
TELLING A STORY
Another brand that has stood out from the crowd is Whitley Neill, which describes itself as “the fastest-growing top 20 gin brand in the country”. Supplier Halewood also has the likes of City of London Distillery and Liverpool Gin it its portfolio and senior marketing manager Leanne Ware says brands that tell “a compelling and consistent story, steeped in heritage”, are reaping the rewards of the gin renaissance.
“Provenance, production, botanicals and packaging design are all playing a part, with craft credentials increasingly becoming a central theme, just as we’ve seen in the resurgence of craft beer in both the on and off-trade,” she says.
“Gin has been leading the way for a good 12 months now and it’s fair to say the consumer market has matured with it. As they follow the logical progression from discovery to fan, or aficionado, their desire to experience superior products increases, which is why we’re seeing a steady growth in the premium end.
“One of the most impressive aspects of the gin revival has been the wealth of flavour innovation. This has not only reinvigorated the market and boosted the category’s appeal, but also driven consumer desire for more distinct combinations and experiences. This is reflected in Halewood’s current portfolio. From Whitley Neill’s Rhubarb & Ginger gin, to JJ Whitley’s Elderflower gin, we’ve backed our brands to do what they do best and create intriguing flavour combinations that will excite consumers, whether they’re new to the category or life-long gin fans.
“With no sign that the gin craze is going to die down, we expect all brands to maximise on this seemingly unwavering consumer interest by introducing more unique flavour combinations and mixers over the next 12 months.”
Retailers are embracing the broadening range of flavours, from baobab to turkey, and beefing up their own-label offerings in this sub- category. Lidl has just launched 20% abv Rhubarb & Ginger and Scottish Raspberry gin liqueur variants of its Hortus gin, retailing at £11.99. “Lidl is enabling customers to explore a whole new area of gin they may not have experienced before – one that goes beyond the standard gin and tonic,” says UK buying director Paul Gibson. “These unbeatable prices for high-quality spirits are testament to Lidl continuing to deliver excellent value to our customers.”
Gin and cucumber has become a classic flavour combination, pioneered by Hendrick’s, but the English Drinks Company has taken it one step further with its Cucumber gin (rrp £35).
“Gin is one of the star performers in the alcohol category and its popularity continues to grow,” says Graham Carr-Smith, company founder. “It continues to show very strong annual sales growth and we’re confident there will be significant further expansion in the category.
“Consumers are branching out from the well-known, established brands and are looking for interesting alternatives. This pattern of discovery is one of the key drivers for gin and retailers need to ensure that they adapt their ranges to meet these evolving consumer demands.
“We’re finding sales in the off- trade are really positive. In retail, shoppers get the chance to pick up a bottle and read the label to get a sense and feel of what a brand is about before purchasing, and their response to our launch has exceeded expectations. This summer, after successful in-store tests, Cucumber gin achieved a national listing in all 200 Majestic Wine stores.
“Ours is a genuine, authentic cucumber gin, rather than a gin merely flavoured with cucumber, and it’s this authenticity that helps it stand out from the crowd and makes it deserving of space on shelf. As the category evolves, more and more consumers are looking to trade up in search of increased quality and small batch offerings.
“The gin category has experienced nothing but success in recent years – its greatest threat now is complacency. To maintain the momentum, it’s down to suppliers to deliver further innovation and it’s down to retailers to give on-shelf focus and support cross-promotions.”
However, Dawkins believes an even greater threat to trailblazing brands such as Cucumber and Pinkster, could be category
heavyweights such as Gordon’s. “For a while the big brands will have their market share pinched and many entrants will grow,” he says. “Big brands will sit and wait for artisan gins to come out and then react. The two biggest catalysts for the gin revolution are Bombay and Hendrick’s. Bombay turned it into a category bartenders loved and made it trendy. Then Hendrick’s came along in a cool bottle, putting a piece of cucumber in it. Artisans came along to make it even trendier.
“The small ones come up with great ideas, such as pink gin, cucumber gin, elderflower gin, and then Gordon’s brings it out. Big brands will have pressure on them and then eventually bring out NPD quickly, reactively and on a much bigger scale.”
Asked if gin will continue its upward march long into the future, Dawkins adds: “Like anything, it plateaus. It has more chance of recruiting younger consumers than whisky or Cognac, which are tougher drinks and there are fewer ways you can use those.”
He also warns that consumers could be turned off if the industry slaps too hefty a price tag on gin. “In Spain you are already seeing plateauing,” he says. “They have seen enough premium gin. The £35 price, they are sick of it. A lot of smaller guys over-price it. At the end of the day, it’s gin. You don’t have to put it in a bottle for eight years and age it. We have to be realistic.”