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    Mixing it up

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    2024 is shaping up to be the Year of the Cocktail, with new products in the form of ready-mixed and RTD showing the way to quality and sophistication in spirits

    In an early episode of the TV series Minder, which aired back in the early 1980s, the laconic barman at Arthur Daley’s drinking club was asked by a hapless punter what cocktails he could offer. The barman slowly answered that he could make a gin and tonic by pouring tonic over gin, or that he could make a whisky and ginger by adding ginger ale to scotch.

    How things have changed! For some time now it feels as if ever-more fabulous cocktails have dominated the drinks scene, and premiumisation – with brands and pedigrees to the fore – have been the watchword of the sector, encouraging excellent NPD and interesting new brands to enter the category, competing among the established names in the main categories of whisky, vodka, rum and gin.

    At the same time, the sheer richness and complexity means that the spirits world, encompassing everything from cognac to ouzo and from sambuca to moonshine, continues to upgrade itself and refine its marketing.

    Which drink is in the lead? For many years now, the “permanent” gin revolution has been threatened by other contenders for the spirits crown, first rum and now tequila. Diageo’s UK Commercial Director of Take Home, James Halliday, has made an intriguing point: that it was in fact the development of trendy mixers – the Fever-Trees and so on – that originally ignited the spark for the gin explosion. It was underlying elements (the background culture and innovations) that pushed gin to the fore, rather than a national thirst for gin inspiring the upmarket ingredients.

    Mixing it up

    If that is so, then the next big thing could well be whisky, or tequila, or rum, as each of them forms the base of the many cocktail-inspired products, from RTDs to ready-mixed bottled drinks, that are appearing and finding popularity among drinkers recently. If the Paloma cocktail is the new gin and tonic, then perhaps tequila will be anointed the regent spirit; or if the Old-Fashioned wins the day, then whisky might equally enjoy a new coronation.

    Meanwhile, gin carries on selling perfectly happily, and rum, especially in its darker incarnation, is giving the wave of tequila innovations a “rum” for its money.

    RTDs and ready-mixed

    Forging ahead in the cocktails category is a range of products especially well-suited to the convenience channel: those on-the-go cans of the alcohol RTD world, and now the ready-mixed bottles of cocktails that take all the anxiety out of home entertaining for amateur baristas – with the domestic and Big Night In cocktail trend showing no signs of slowing down.

    “One of the best ways to recreate out-of-home experiences is with cocktails. 50 per cent of consumers have increased their at-home cocktail consumption over recent years, and this trend is here to stay said Sophie Lawrence, Marketing and Communications Director at Sovereign Brands. “Their interest in experimenting with homemade cocktails using quality products presents a lucrative opportunity for businesses,” she says.

    As the cost-of-living crisis grinds on, Sovereign Brands is seeing a growth opportunity with the rise of at-home drinking. More than a quarter of those surveyed (28 per cent) said they even have a bar setup at home, which 63 per cent restock at least once a month. 

    Mixing it up

    According to Global Brands, the RTD category also continues to display strong growth, and in convenience is growing at 7.6 per cent (NIQ). Price inflation is playing a role, but changes in shopper behaviour are driving channel growth, and as three quarters of shoppers visit their local convenience store at least once a week, this is helping to increase RTD sales.

    Bearing that in mind, Global Brands has launched a premium range of 8.4 per cent ABV cocktails named “be.” With the UK off trade RTD category worth £529m and premium-branded cocktail cans enjoying a 36 per cent YOY increase in sales, it seems the perfect time to do so.

    Global Brands will initially offer five of the most popular cocktails in the UK, including Passion Fruit Martini, Pina Colada and Strawberry Daiquiri (200ml) all of which are nitro-infused for a smooth, velvety texture. They will be sold alongside a pre-shaken Margarita and a sparkling Paloma (250ml) that satisfy the growing appetite for tequila and tequila-based cocktails and are 8.4 per cent ABV with a RRP of £3 per can.

    “As the number one off-trade canned cocktail provider, we’re already expert at what we do, and we have the infrastructure in place to do it well and at scale,” said Marketing Director Matthew Bulcroft. “We’ve invested over a year developing be. cocktails and during that time we’ve been able to bring together all the best qualities a cocktail should have into one can, using industry insights that have influenced flavours, textures, price, design and ABV.

    “The range is aimed at females from 25-45 who are looking to enjoy a delicious, fresh tasting cocktail from a can, whether they’re relaxing in the bath, having a laugh with friends or sitting on the train ahead of a big night out.”

    Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) is also further extending its product range into the RTD segment, after entering with the best-selling Jack Daniel’s and Coca-Cola can.

    “To help retailers tap into this opportunity, and establish our presence within the category, we launched Jack Daniel’s and Coca-Cola RTD in GB, made with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Coca-Cola, and inspired by the classic branded ‘bar call’ serve, JD & Coke, which is enjoyed around the world,” said Amy Burgess, Senior Trade Communications Manager at CCEP, adding that since launching in March 2023, the product has generated nearly £27m worth of sales.  

    “We also launched a Coca-Cola Zero Sugar version in GB,” she continues, and announces an NPD that CCEP expects to do just as well as the Jack Daniel’s collaboration:

    “We have also added to our ARTD portfolio with Absolut Vodka & Sprite, which blends the smoothness of premium vodka, Absolut, with the loved lemon-lime soft drink, Sprite, offering yet another refreshing alcoholic serve for the upcoming warmer months.”

    The RTD is out in wholesale and convenience nationwide now, and Absolut Vodka & Sprite 250ml cans (at five per cent ABV) have an RRP of £2.30 and are sold in case sizes of 12.  

    Mixing it up

    Diageo has recently brought to market several game-changing bottles of ready-mixed cocktails with its premium “Cocktail Collection” trio, in 500 ml and giving five serves (now also available in 100ml can format).

    The new range has been created using three of Diageo’s leading brands – Johnnie Walker Old Fashioned cocktail, Tanqueray Negroni cocktail, and Cîroc Cosmopolitan cocktail.

    “We recognise that consumers are still looking to create quality, memorable experiences at home and The Cocktail Collection innovation in GB provides consumers with the means to easily elevate any occasion,” said Nin Taank, Marketing Manager RTDs, Diageo GB adding that he range is set to revolutionise the way people enjoy drinks at home by providing accessible, premium options.

    “We anticipate the new range becoming a drinks cabinet staple or a great gift for a loved one – delivering premium quality cocktails that can be served without the hassle.”

    Tequila rising

    Pernod Ricard is also dancing on the RTD stage and has launched its Altos Tequila ready-to-serve (RTS) Margarita bottle, again delivering bar-quality cocktails in seconds. Made with Altos Plata Tequila, triple sec, natural lime flavour and agave syrup, Altos Classic Lime Margarita RTS has a “smooth, clean and complex taste … with a subtle sweetness and perfectly balanced finish”.

    Altos Classic Lime Margarita RTS is available now in a 750ml glass bottle (RRP: £15) which offers six servings and once opened, if kept refrigerated lasts up to 15 days.

    “The tequila category is booming and this new, accessible format, makes it so simple for people to create the perfect margarita at home,” says Josh McCarthy, Brand Director for Pernod Ricard UK. “Whether elevating an evening in or looking for the perfect dinner party serve, creating a top-quality cocktail is now as simple as pouring over ice, taking away concerns about balance, technique, and leftover ingredients.”

    The challenger spirit, especially with the summer approaching, tequila is full of promise for the convenience channel, with many new RTDs and elegant bottles springing up.

    Global Brands has expanded its portfolio with its innovative tequila range, TAKE, which will include a 100 per cent Blue Weber agave blanco tequila and a range of tequila liqueurs.

    Mixing it up

    Created specifically with the growing UK tequila market in mind, Global Brands says TAKE features the highest quality ingredients, a refined smoothness, and a vibrant brand identity, particularly targeting those who typically lean towards shots other than tequila.

    Flavour has been the key driver in spirits over the last five years, and the TAKE portfolio features a range of distinctive flavoured liqueurs – pineapple, jalapeño and pink grapefruit, with ABV of 34 per cent and a 38 per cent ABV 100 per cent Blue Weber Agave blanco, all available in a 70cl format at £29.99 RRP.

    “I’m really excited to be able to bring Take to market,” said Matt Bulcroft, Marketing Director at Global Brands. “We’ve developed a brand that challenges perceptions of tequila, with a fresh ‘take’ on the category. Our new liqueurs offer a fantastic base for margaritas, as well as great tasting shots, without the need for salt and lime.”

    While we are on the subject of liqueurs, which are another category gaining in popularity by being mixed anew with spirits (look at how well Shanky’s Whip whisky liqueur has been performing), the French Liqueur Villon – with sweet, spiced notes of almond, butterscotch and toffee, perfect to add to cocktails – should be mentioned as a taste bellwether. It is a drink from increasingly prolific Sovereign Brands – who incidentally are now distributed in the UK by Pernod Ricard.

    Diageo, meanwhile, has its premium tequila brand, Don Julio, and Pernod Ricard took a majority stake in the range of ultra-premium and prestige tequila Código 1530 in 2022 in addition to its Altos brand – the number-one premium 100 per cent agave Tequila in the UK off-trade, after the brand grew by eight per cent in value in 2023 according to Nielsen data.

    The investment into the fast-growing agave category (although a slow-growing plant in nature) was designed to complement the group’s comprehensive portfolio across price points and occasions, Pernod Ricard said at the time.

    Vodka – full flavoured

    What Dead Man’s Fingers did for flavoured rum, Absolut has done for flavoured vodka. And its new Absolut Hunni, exclusive to the UK, offers flavoured vodka fans an alternative to fruit-led options. Made exclusively with natural flavour, Absolut Hunni contains no added sugar and delivers a premium, sweet vodka “with a distinct flavour of golden honey, providing a smooth, delicious taste” that mixes perfectly with lemonade.

    Lemonade is the mixer of choice for 60 per cent of UK vodka drinkers and honey has been identified as an emerging flavour profile in the UK spirits market, making the Absolut Hunni and Lemonade one drink combo to watch in 2024. The design of the bottle is striking, and its distinctive packaging ensures it stands out within the Absolut portfolio, as well as the wider category, with bold black and yellow stripes emulating those of a honeybee.

    “Absolut Hunni is our Queen Bee for 2024, providing flavoured vodka fans with a new and exciting flavour profile to sip and enjoy with friends either at home or in the on-trade,” said Ian Peart, Commercial Director for Pernod Ricard UK. “This new addition to the Absolut range has been designed to be enjoyed with lemonade, making elevating at-home occasions super simple. For the on-trade, we know flavoured martinis are enjoying their time in the sun as the UK’s fifth most popular serve, and our Absolut Hunni Lemondrop Martini offers a balanced yet sweet, zesty serve that will ensure customers aren’t stung when ordering at the bar.”

    Mixing it up

    The launch of Absolut Hunni will be supported by a 360° marketing campaign, which includes media, influencer and PR campaigns, as well as in-store and in-venue POS to drive visibility.

    Absolut Hunni is rolling out across the off- and on-trade now at an RRP of £22.

    Meanwhile, Smirnoff has introduced a brand-new flavour expression to its growing portfolio in Britain, Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind, supported by a £3.5 million marketing campaign across social, digital and OOH, making the launch unmissable for consumers throughout the summer months. 

    Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind has been crafted with tamarind fruit, notes of lime, spice from a mix of chillies and Smirnoff vodka to create a bold and “sweet-meets-spicy” flavour. The Mexican-inspired bottle has been designed to stand out on shelf or on a back bar. It features a vibrant design bursting with colour and a label that contains phosphorescent ink for a glow-in-the-dark effect.

    “Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind certainly puts the Smirnoff brand at the forefront of innovation and great flavour. We know that people are becoming more explorative when it comes to food, drink and flavours so we couldn’t think of a more perfect time to launch Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind in GB,” Tyler Monk, Smirnoff brand manager, Diageo GB, said. 

    Mixing it up

    Diageo’s super-premium vodka brand, Cîroc, is releasing a new limited-edition flavour, Cîroc Limonata in time for the summer. Inspired by Mediterranean ease, Cîroc Limonata blends the smooth taste of vodka distilled from fine French grapes and infused with the sweet citrus flavour of fresh lemons. The new variant taps into the growing demand for flavoured vodka amongst consumers, with the category experiencing 14.1 per cent growth in the pub sector over the last year, whilst flavoured vodka is worth nearly £33m each year in impulse convenience. With a bold white and yellow bottle to showcase the fresh flavour of citrus, the vibrant bottle will stand out on any backbar or shelf in-store.

    Beth Weston, Marketing Manager for Luxury Spirits said, “As one of the biggest super-premium vodka brands in the GB market, Cîroc is well known for flavour innovation, and we are thrilled to be unveiling a brand-new, limited-edition flavour across both on and off-trade channels in time for summer.” It is available in a 70cl bottle across convenience and wholesale now.

    Whisky – new fashion

    Whisky is a brown liquor and for a few years there was seen as something of a dad (or even grandad) drink. That stuffy image has now entirely vanished, to be replaced with a fantastic young socialising vibe together with an overlay of sophistication and individuality that stems from the vast variety and tastes of whisky – not just being distilled in Scotland, but also in England, Wales, Japan, Australia, India and even Denmark, among still other territories.

    There appears to be plenty of space and thirst to accommodate new whiskies, and to name just a couple of absolutely new distillations, there is Sovereign brands’ The Deacon Scotch Whisky, with a blend of smoky Speyside and peaty Islay malt whiskies make a rich, complex, smoky drink. “Charred orange, sweet malty biscuits and woodsmoke on the nose, plus orange and spice on the palate” create a long smooth, sweet and smoky finish, they say.  

    Mixing it up

    Hailing from the land of schnapps and aqua vitae, but recollecting the traditional rye and barley cultivation around its distillery, Danish whisky producer Stauning has produced HØST (meaning “Harvest” in Danish), now added to Mangrove’s portfolio of award-winning world whiskies (Mangrove recently cleared up at the World Whiskies Awards 2024, with no less than six products winning global recognition, including the World’s Best Single Malt 2024 Award, which was granted to The English Sherry Cask Matured, distilled in Norfolk).

    HØST honours the natural beauty of the West Denmark landscape and the season that provides the grains essential to these unique and refined Danish whiskies. 

    “Stauning whiskies have been part of the Mangrove portfolio for many years and have developed a cult following in both on and off trade,” said Stef Holt, Curator of Mangrove’s World Whisky portfolio. “It is recognised as a brand that speaks of its origins and its terroir. HØST is a delicious new whisky which is perfect for new drinkers and connoisseurs alike.”

    For retailers, whisky is also endlessly promotable because so many different brands and labels can boast connections to so many cultures, events and traditions – such as the link Jameson has been building with soccer.

    As part of its partnership with the EFL, Jameson has teamed up with Classic Football Shirts to release five limited-edition whiskey bottles that pay homage to some of the most iconic away jerseys in British football history. Experts from Classic Football Shirts carefully selected the jerseys, which will encourage fans to remember their most-loved away kits worn during some of each respective club’s most memorable moments.   

    The bottles mark the latest chapter of Jameson’s four-year deal with the EFL, which aims to unite fans from all corners of the country. The bottles capture the essence of an EFL away day, where fans regularly meet to enjoy the craic and share a drink.  

    “Seeing the vast collection of classic football shirts, from away matches embedded in the memories of fans from 72 clubs, got our creative juices flowing and we couldn’t help but reminisce on our own favourite away days,” said Josh McCarthy, Brand Director for Pernod Ricard UK. “An away match brings fans together in such a unique and special way, it’s the same kind of kinship you experience when cracking open a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey to share stories with your mates.” 

    Mixing it up

    Following the successful entrance of Japanese whisky into the Scottish-dominated market several decades ago, and then Welsh and English whiskies also joining the triumvirate of Scottish-American (Rye, Bourbon)-Irish (whiskey) liquors, the maturing of Indian whisky distilling is also upturning expectations in the UK market.

    The Haryana-located Indian distillery Piccadily, under master distiller Surrinder Kumar, is making its high-quality Indian Whiskies, under the Indra brand, available to the UK convenience and wholesale channels.  

    Piccadily has brought three whiskies to the UK table. The first is its Indri (named for a Haryana village) single malt, made from indigenous non-hybrid, non-GMO, six-row barley grown for hundreds of years in Rajasthan. Indri Trini “Three Wood” is India’s first triple-cask single malt matured in ex-bourbon, ex-French wine, and PX sherry casks.

    Indri DRU (Sanskrit for wood) is Piccadily’s cask strength whisky, with an ABV of 57.2 per cent, with the barrels in which it matures hand-picked by Surrinder. It is full bodied and complex with a fairly long mixed-fruit finish, and notes of vanilla, subtle citrus, gentle spice, chocolate and honey.

    Then there is the Diwali Collector’s Limited Edition, peated and sherry-casked, then bottled at 60.5 per cent ABV. Fabulous but rare …

    Rum – the dark side

    Could rum finally be edging ahead of gin in both fashion and sales levels? The jury is out on that one, but there is no doubt that the rum category is particularly vibrant of late, especially with spiced, flavoured and dark options. Vintage and premium estate rums are also making the running. Premium Rum is projected to grow +3.54 per cent ahead of Standard Rum by 2026.

    Last summer Captain Morgan expanded its portfolio with the launch of Captain Morgan Black Spiced rum-based spirit, which aims to help retailers and operators tap into the flavoured trend and cater for premium consumer occasions.

    It is an exceptionally smooth, premium spiced spirit drink, boasting a full-bodied flavour and joins the brand’s popular range of rum-based spirits tapping into trending flavour profiles, including Captain Morgan Sliced Apple (25 per cent ABV) and Captain Morgan Tiki (the no.1 flavoured, rum-based spirit in the UK).

    “We are proud that Captain Morgan has been able to maintain incredible popularity with consumers thanks to the brand’s ability to innovate and be at the forefront of market trends,” said Eleanor Morgan, Captain Morgan Marketing Manager at Diageo GB. “We know that rum presents a huge opportunity for retailers and operators, and this latest innovation is set to help tap into new occasions.”

    Mixing it up

    Sovereign Brands are rum aficionados who sell Bumbu, a critically acclaimed line. Sophie Lawrence points out that the prospects for rum are looking good, with consumers willing to pay more for their alcohol, with 56 per cent willing to spend more when gifting to someone else, and 27 per cent still thinking premium labels are better quality.   

    “We anticipate this trend to continue, with quality being a key driver for purchasing decisions,” she says. “This means retailers should focus on premium brands, to capitalise on the shoppers’ willingness to invest in premium drinks to enjoy at home, as they replicate their favourite out-of-home experiences. We’re seeing continued success for our spirits brands, with Bumbu Original sales increasing 35.8 per cent MAT vs YA3. It is also not only #1 value gaining SuperPremium+ Flavoured/Spiced Rum but the #1 SuperPremium+ value gaining Rum demonstrating the demand for spirits in the off trade.”  

    Mixing it up

    Dead Man’s Fingers pointed the way in flavoured rum and Lawrence underlines this, saying she believes that flavours are the way forward to big rum sales.

    “Flavoured and spiced rums continue to dominate the category, accounting for over half of the sales with Rum, Liqueurs, Vodka and Tequila driving Spirits growth compared to three years ago,” she says, adding that “Bumbu is showing one of the fastest growth rates in the off-trade, up 17 per cent.”

    She notes that 53 per cent of consumers are looking to try new flavour profiles which creates a great opportunity for brands like Bumbu. Bumbu Original, Bumbu XO and Bumbu Cream.    

    Gin keeps on giving

    Last but not least (or top of the bill, depending on how you look at it) we have dear old gin. For a spirit that has been at the top of its development and marketing game for many years now, it is holding strong, not least as the champion distillate of small, artisanal producers who have revolutionised the off-trade shelves of the nation’s retailers with an unparallelled choice of tastes and labels across the gin category.

    Worth special mention is Beefeater 24 (45 per cent ABV), which celebrates the twenty-four-hour energy of London, its heart and home, with a distinctive, striking new design to stand out in high-energy moments.

     “Beefeater 24 is the Super-Premium expression of our World’s Most Awarded Gin, Beefeater London Dry, and we are proud to be offering our consumers our award-winning liquid in a new, modern design to enjoy during high-energy moments of conviviality,” said Murielle Dessenis, Global VP Marketing Gins at Pernod Ricard. “The new Beefeater 24 pack captures the energy of our heart and home in London and most importantly, takes us one step further on our sustainability journey.”

    Mixing it up

    In other news, Paragon Brands, one of the UK’s leading premium drinks importer-distributors, has become the exclusive distributor of Zamora Company spirits and liqueurs in the UK.

    Established in 1945 and still a 100 per cent family-owned Spanish drinks business, Zamora Company owns an internationally renowned portfolio of premium wines and spirits, including Martin Miller’s Gin – Spain’s leading premium gin. “We are thrilled to be working with Zamora Company and its portfolio of premium spirits,” said Paragon MD Chris Jones. “At Paragon Brands, we thrive on partnering with premium and distinctive brands, offering UK consumers a unique experience in an ever-evolving market.

    And as a flavour of the wealth or artisanal editions available now, and continuing a tradition of innovation and craftsmanship, 6 O’clock Gin has introduced the latest addition to its Distiller’s Archive Series: Elderflower Gin. Following the success of the inaugural release, Spiced Orange and Cranberry Gin, launched in autumn last year, 6 O’clock Gin is set to captivate connoisseurs with this exquisite seasonal offering.

    The small batch Elderflower Gin is described as “a harmonious blend of traditional botanicals, expertly infused with the essence of handpicked elderflowers. This gin embodies the spirit of spring, offering a distinctive and aromatic profile, floral sweetness which finishes with a clean and crisp palate.”

     Mark Hancock, Distiller at 6 O’clock Gin said “Our Distiller’s Archive Series allows us to showcase the diversity and creativity of our craft. The Elderflower Gin is a testament to our dedication to pushing boundaries and providing our customers with exceptional, seasonal expressions that can be served with tonic or used to create refreshing cocktails.”

    The 6 O’clock Elderflower Gin is available through regional wholesalers.

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