All wrapped up: drinks gifts report

At Christmas, one must quote Cliff Richard. And as Sir Cliff so correctly informed us in his 1988 number one Mistletoe & Wine, “it’s a time for giving”.

But in this age of instant gratification, more and more consumers are faced with the question: “What do you give the person who’s got everything?”

With space at a premium, clutter could be next on the government’s blacklist behind tobacco, alcohol and sugar. So the age of the facial sauna and footspa is over – and the age of the experience is at hand.

Drinks companies have grasped this issue, and 2015 has seen a plethora of releases giving consumers the chance to try something new, learn something they didn’t know and simply give their loved ones, or themselves, a treat.

Frazer Thompson, chief executive of Kent winery Chapel Down, says: “We have seen a 40% uplift in sales of our gift packages involving vine leases, tours, stays and meals at the vineyard. Customers are increasingly looking for unique experiences to give to closest friends and family rather than more joke jumpers. We welcome more than 50,000 visitors each year, with wine experiences becoming an increasingly important area of the brand and business.”

Last year Aldi had great success with a port gift pack including several smaller bottles and a small book about the wine, and has translated the same idea into whisky this year, with three branded, age-declared whiskies, a book and a tumbler in a gift box for £11.99. The box sits among a range of premium spirits and gift tubes in the retailer’s festive line-up.

Nick Temperley, head of Diageo Reserve Brands, says: “There is a huge incremental sales opportunity for premium spirits at Christmas time, with shoppers trading up and treating themselves, as well as purchasing gifts. Placing premium spirits in eye-catching gift boxes makes a big difference to sales figures.

“Great gifts and beautiful packaging are hugely important for consumers at key periods of the year. So in recent years we have developed gift boxes or limited- edition bottles for many of the brands in the Reserve portfolio and this year we anticipate demand to be high for our premium spirits during the festive period. We’ve also created miniature bottles for both Haig Club and Cîroc so that the liquid is more accessible to a wider range of customers and expands the gifting opportunities available to us and our customers.”

Richard Ellis, spirits buyer at London independent Hedonism, has seen big growth in demand for vintage and age-dated spirits as gifts.

He says: “We have seen a huge increase in demand for vintages across anything, but particularly things such as Armagnac that have a library of different vintages. This year we have sold a lot of 1955, 1965, and 1975, and I have been really taken aback how quickly we have seen growth in that.”

He says the spike came as a surprise in the Armagnac and brandy markets, which had been just ticking over if not sluggish and inconsistent for years.

“People approaching their purchases are looking for something that is going to mean something to the person they are giving it to,” says Ellis. “The personal connection with what people are buying is much more prevalent than it was a few years ago. People are much more open to challenging themselves and finding out new things and learning new things about spirits in general.”

Maxxium UK customer marketing controller Chris Richardson recommends that retailers create a “whisky gifting centre” to showcase premium expressions, and stock a range of whiskies from accessible ones such as The Ardmore Legacy to more premium brands such as The Macallan 1824 Series.

“Make sure any gifts you are offering are clearly displayed and with clear and competitive pricing,” says Richard Volpi, national account manager at Armit Wines. “A lot of consumers are open to the power of suggestion, particularly during the festive period when they need to buy so many gifts, so it’s important to make this as easy for them as possible.”

Greene King take-home sales director Neil Jardine reminds retailers to cater for shoppers who want to treat themselves. In fact, according to William Grant & Sons’ Market Report, one in five spirits are bought as a treat compared to one in 10 bought as a gift.

Jardine says: “Consumers are realising that gifts are just as valid for themselves as they are in the classic sense of a present for someone else. Gifts continue to be an important part of a beer shopper’s mission and bottled ales are the most important format, according to drinkers.

“Make the most of gifting opportunities this season by stocking the leading brand in a category first, add value with popular gifts, such as glassware and chutneys, and merchandise in the seasonal aisle to attract new shoppers.”

At online and mail order retailer Ales by Mail, managing director Paul Kruzycki says consumers are putting in orders earlier to make sure they get their goods in plenty of time.

“We’re always developing and releasing new products. This year, we’re looking to target the desire for drinkers to gain more knowledge about the beer they’re drinking. People like something that’s a limited edition, but it has to have the right kudos – take, for example, the small batch Beavertown and Magic Rock releases this year.

“The level of noise in the market goes up exponentially at Christmas – so we have to work much harder to reach the customers. It’s important to remember loyal customers who shop year round with you and make them feel special. There is a risk of being over-zealous in the marketing of the seasonal range and verging on the brink of spamming the customer. Be careful.”

On the other side of the coin, Diageo category development manager Patricia Mota points out that Christmas is a prime opportunity for convenience stores cashing in on last-minute gift sales.

Over the past three years consumers have increased their spending in c-stores by 13%, according to research company HIM, and 73% of shoppers have said they would buy spirits as gifts from convenience stores, according to Nielsen.

Mota says: “There is a massive opportunity for convenience retailers to increase sales by increasing a focus on gifting occasions such as birthdays and Christmas. In fact, 64% of shoppers would buy spirits as a birthday gift and one in 10 shoppers are actually after a gift when purchasing alcohol.”

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