Zeroing in on emerging opportunities

With an enviable collection of drinks covering on-trend categories such as rum, mezcal, tequila and gin, as well as niche drinks including pisco, raicilla and liqueurs, Speciality Brands has a portfolio which appears versatile enough to tap into a number of emerging premium spirits trends.

The pandemic and Brexit have been two headaches merging into a migraine for some companies, but managing director Chris Seale says that while 2020 was challenging, the team worked hard and the company managed to benefit from a number of consumer trends that escalated as a result of Covid-19. He believes the company is in good shape for 2021.

He says: “We are lucky that we are quite a small business and we can be very flexible, and I think the environment in 2020 required that.

“Going into the pandemic we were – as a business – very well set up. From a consumer perspective our products are very much resonating with trends out there such as trading up, premiumisation, at-home consumption, drinking less but better. We knew with our kind of niche premium brands they were very much on-trend.

“I think one of the nice things for us – if there are any positives to come out of this – is that people generally have had more time on their hands to make more informed decisions. That might be more time spent researching at a shopping level but also at an information level, so some of our more premium whisky ranges have really benefited from that. And we can see this from the number of questions we were getting on our website about our products.

“As a company we don’t stand still, and I think that’s been one of our strengths. We also expanded the portfolio last year, adding Irish spirits such as Boatyard gin, which has been well received by consumers. I have been looking for Irish whiskeys because we are seeing real demand for it, so I have been trying to fill that gap. We added an Irish single malt called Waterford and then, later in the year, a traditional Irish pot still called Drumshanbo. We have been pleased with those additions.”

Speciality Brands worked closely with its ecommerce customers last year, offering new tools to deal with changes in how they needed to interact with consumers. The company was also able to support retailers such as Waitrose which wanted to shift more of their activity online.

Seale adds: “Another opportunity that has worked really well for us has been expanding our gifting range. We have been talking to our brand owners to help develop more retail-specific packs and more gifting packs.”


The company also works with independent retailers to help them develop a comprehensive premium spirits collection. Seale says there are two categories he sees as “really important from an indie retailer perspective.” First up is whisky, with Seale saying: “It is a fascinating category because you have that spectrum with traditional Scotch but also New World whiskies, whether they be from the States or from Japan. I think it is important that retailers – where they can and to the best of their abilities – represent that spectrum.

“And the second area is with rum, which is very accessible. There is a huge variety of styles and flavours and people are experimenting. We are seeing an awful lot of growth around the £40 mark, so not necessarily rum with a mixer but rum as a sipping spirit and that’s a really exciting area of growth for the category. We are also seeing a lot of activity at the super-premium end, around limited releases and super-premium offerings.

“I don’t think the rum category has ever been so buoyant. Collectors are appearing in the market who are being priced out of whisky and they are realising there are some absolute gems out there, so that again is driving interest in the overall rum category, which is great.”

Seale believes the company now has something for everyone’s taste and preference in premium spirits. He says: “If you look at our range we are historically a whisky-led company but we have a great range of rum, a great range of agave spirits and a great range of white spirits. From a category perspective we have most areas covered and with really nice brands, so we are not really looking to add anything significant to our portfolio.

“I think as far as our retail strategy is concerned it is offering people the right products and the support tools, masterclasses, online events. All of those things for us are ready to go and then, as the market opens up, we can complement those with our more traditional and brand-building face-to-face methods.”

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