While this year has been marked by inflation, rising duty rates and the cost of living crisis, the approaching festive season offers an opportunity for retailers to boost sales and connect with consumers. Rachel Badham shares tips from the trade on how to make this Christmas a success
“OFFER GREAT VALUE FOR MONEY TO HELP WITH CUSTOMERS’ BUDGETS”
There is no denying that 2023 has been a challenging year, both for the drinks trade and for consumers, as rising prices leave both parties feeling the pinch.
“As the cost of living crisis continues, it’s important to offer a range of alcoholic drinks to suit all budgets,” says Jo Taylorson, head of marketing and product management for Kingsland Drinks.
While some drinkers may look to splash out on their festive favourites, it is also vital for retailers to provide a more affordable range to cater to all shoppers. Amrit Rebello, Spar UK brand controller for BWS, says it is more important than ever to “offer great value for money to help with customers’ budgets”, particularly during difficult times.
Rebello says: “Spar shoppers can expect great deals on their favourite brands, in every category.” Mentioning sparkling in particular, she adds: “Because it’s the festive season, we will have brilliant offers on our award-winning sparkling wine, such as the Spar Valdobbiadene Prosecco, Perlezza Prosecco or the Marquis Belrive Champagne, so customers can celebrate without breaking the bank.”
“ALCOHOL-FREE WINES WILL BE A KEY FEATURE THIS CHRISTMAS”
No longer reserved for Dry January, low/no drinks are a shelf essential for retailers in the run-up to Christmas as moderation and alternatives to alcohol remain high on the consumer agenda. In the low/no space, Club Soda founder Laura Willoughby predicts that alcohol-free wines will be big business this Christmas, thanks to the “explosion in range and quality combined with a boom in alcohol-free sales in the lead-up to Christmas”.
As consumers continue to turn to wine as a celebratory staple, Willoughby says that retailers can cater to mindful drinkers by offering a “great sparkling, a still white and a red” as a minimum. She also suggests offering a low/no version of a seasonal favourite so as to be inclusive to all consumers.
“If you serve mulled wine over Christmas to tempt shoppers in, then do an alcohol-free version so that no one feels left out. The Adnams red wine is great for an alcohol-free mulled wine.”
However, retailers shouldn’t neglect other major categories, with Willoughby saying that low/no beer sold particularly well last Christmas. “Consumers like a pick-and-mix so that they can try different things, so ensure you have a good lager, IPA and stout.”
“2023 WILL BE THE YEAR OF ENGLISH SPARKLING WINES”
It’s no secret that wine is the category of choice for many consumers during the holidays. While Champagne may be the epitome of celebratory sparkling, Phil Innes, founder and managing director of Loki Wines, expects English sparkling to shine this Christmas. “I think 2023 will be the year of English sparkling wines. We have seen continued growth for a number of years, and with the price of Champagne, I think England is looking like a very good value proposition.
“There was a perception that people were paying a premium for English, but most wines are now sitting below the price of Champagne.”
Elsewhere in wine, Innes believes that Greek wine will perform strongly this Christmas. “I expect retailers will continue seeing more demand for Greek wines. These wines are definitely growing in popularity, and I think Xinomavro in particular is a good shout for Christmas.”
Jeremy Lithgow MW, head of wine at Amathus, echoes this, saying: “We have seen consistent annual double-digit growth in Greek wine sales over the past five years.
“Greece is blessed with a range of high-quality, distinctive indigenous grape varieties such as Assyrtiko and Xinomavro, varied terroirs and the current generation of talented and motivated winemakers successfully applying winemaking techniques while retaining regional identity – in short, everything you could want from a wine producing country.”
“WE’RE SEEING A RESURGENCE IN THE POPULARITY OF VODKA”
In the spirits sector, Lauren Priestley, head of category development for the off-trade at Diageo, expects big brands to perform well this Christmas as customers look for familiarity following a financially uncertain year.
“We know brands play an important role when it comes to influencing purchasing decisions and we can expect customers to choose spirits brands they know and trust,” she says. “For those hosting, they may be more inclined to lean on brands with quality assurance and versatility, especially over the festive period.”
In terms of which spirits to stock, Priestly notes clear spirits, such as vodka and gin, as retail essentials. “Flavoured vodka in particular is performing incredibly well,” she says, highlighting the versatile appeal of vodka.
Jonathan Grey, category buyer for spirits at Co-op, affirms that vodka could be the spirit of the season: “We’re seeing a resurgence in the popularity of vodka, with demand being driven by sales of Co-op own-brand offerings.
“We anticipate this demand for classic and flavoured vodka products to continue into the Christmas period given its versatility as a simple mixer or cocktail ingredient.”
Despite the stagnation of the category following the gin boom of the late 2010s, Priestly says that “gin is not to be overlooked”, particularly as consumers gravitate towards classic serves, such as Gin & Tonic, during the holiday season.
In dark spirits, Tim Dunlop, European commercial director for Biggar & Leith, whose brands include Shanky’s Whip whiskey liqueur, says: “Consumers branch out at Christmas, buying into new brands and flavour experiences and Shanky’s Whip fills a gap in the market for flavoured dark spirits by bridging the gap between whiskey and liqueurs – two prominent categories throughout winter.”
And of course, festive staples such as Baileys are always likely to be a hit with consumers in search of a Christmas treat. “Baileys is perfectly suited to the colder months of the year,” Diageo’s Priestly says.
“We know that one in four households bought Baileys last Christmas, so we recommend that retailers stock up ahead of the festive season.”
However, while premium and branded spirits look to make waves this Christmas, Co-op’s Grey says it is still paramount for retailers to offer good value options, with this year likely to see customers both splurge and look to save on their favourite spirits.
“Whether sales will lean more into brands or own-label will be juggled by consumers wanting to trade up, which is typical of this time of year, against wanting to find the best value for money,” he says.