As part of our annual Drinks Retailing Trends Report, we polled around 35 independent retailers from across the UK to capture key movements for the trade across beer, wine, spirits and low/no

Despite the ongoing financial pressures facing the industry, around 60% of the retailers we surveyed said their business performed better in 2023 than in 2022, with a further 30% reporting that their business performed the same. 

Many were optimistic about the coming year, with the majority of retailers (25) predicting that they will improve turnover in 2024. Nonetheless, economic headwinds are undoubtedly still a source of concern for retailers. In light of inflation, rising energy bills and rent prices, business cost increases were cited by around 80% of respondents as the biggest challenge affecting the trade at the moment. 

One third also mentioned last year’s duty hikes as a prominent issue and, as a result, several retailers suggested that higher-abv products such as fortified wine will be among the most difficult categories to sell this year. 

Around one sixth also said that gin sales could decline this year due to the highly saturated market. On the flip side, retailers noted strong opportunities for growing categories, such as low/no, agave spirits and rum. 

And as consumer preferences shift, respondents also predicted that wine drinkers will seek out less traditional offerings, with New World wine, orange wine and lighter styles of red being highlighted as categories with great potential. 

Sustainability also remains high on the trade’s agenda, with 21 respondents saying that improving sustainability credentials in packaging is the most vital component when it comes to reducing environmental impact. Some 14 retailers also flagged organic as an important element when thinking about sustainability. 

SPIRITS 

Despite a handful of retailers flagging concerns around gin’s appeal to consumers now that the boom of the late 2010s has begun to slow, it was cited as the top-selling spirit by 17 respondents. It also appears that gin may be recapturing consumer interest, having been noted as only the second most popular spirits category in last year’s DR Trends Report. However, for gin to maintain traction, the category “needs a high level of constant newness”, said Harvey Nichols spirits buyer Nick Larsson-Bell. 

Gin was closely followed by whisky, with around one third of retailers mentioning it as their bestseller in spirits. English whisky in particular was mentioned by a handful of retailers as an area with strong potential for growth, with the spirit being cited by several respondents as a category gaining more interest from consumers. 

However, a third of retailers agreed that, in terms of spirits which are garnering more attention from shoppers, rum holds the top spot, overtaking tequila from last year’s Trends Report. The wider agave spirits umbrella was highlighted as a key opportunity for retailers, with Sadie Wilkins, co-founder of Vineyards, predicting that this category will be one of the strongest growth areas in 2024. 

Across the board, some respondents expressed concern about the potential for spirits to grow in independent retailers. “In general, we think spirits could be a challenging area this year,” said Krishan Rajput of Stirchley Wines & Spirits. “Big-name brands are already harder to sell as supermarkets continue to heavily discount many of them regularly.” 

Cassie Gould, of Butlers Wine Cellars in Brighton, also raised concerns about the financial viability of the spirits category for smaller retailers: “We don’t specialise in spirits but we have to commit to quite a lot of stock to get in new producers, so they’re not great for cash flow.”

BEER

In beer, established styles were the biggest hit with consumers. Of the retailers we polled, one third said that lager was their biggest seller, followed closely by IPA. Other classic styles such as stout and pilsner were also mentioned and, much like last year, it seems that many consumers still have a penchant for smaller, UK-based producers, with a handful of respondents mentioning locally produced beers as their biggest sellers. 

From a financial point of view however, some retailers suggested beer styles that traditionally have higher abvs will suffer this year. Matt Kelly, founder of specialist beer retailer The Filling Station, said: “High-strength double IPAs and imperial stouts will likely be challenging to sell this year due to the pricing requirements and new duty levels.” 

Turning to beer styles that are seeing more consumer engagement, European beers were found to be increasingly popular, with German and Belgian beer in particular being cited as categories to watch. But, much as in 2023’s Trends Report, sour beer was reported as the style gaining the most attention, with retailers such as Bier Huis and The Epicurean Beer People seeing an uptick in those looking for sour styles.

WINE

France, Italy and Spain once again dominate as the most popular countries for wine, however much like last year, these are not the areas generating the most consumer interest. Once again, England and Portugal tied for the top spot, with 23% of the votes. Italy, South Africa and Greece followed closely behind, as the thirst for quality, value and something new continues.

In terms of varieties, Sauvignon Blanc got almost half of the votes (17) for most popular white, with Malbec (closely followed by Pinot Noir) flying the flag for most popular red. The usual suspects of Chardonnay and Cab Sauv also got several mentions, but it’s a different story when it comes to what’s garnering increasing interest. 

Although Cabernet Franc and Grenache got the most mentions, there was a fairly even split among several other varieties, including Nebbiolo, Picpoul, Albariño, Chenin Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Assyrtiko and Viognier. Last year’s Tannat and Pinot Gris didn’t feature at all in 2024. 

Vineyards’ Wilkins said “regional Italian and French grape varieties” are gaining more interest, as well as German, Austrian and Portuguese wines. She predicts Portuguese wines will be one of the biggest growth areas this year as well as “wines with minerality and grower Champagne”. 

At The Wine Society, director and buyer Pierre Mansour said “Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Cabernet and Syrah” were the most popular varieties and expects “fresh, vibrant red wines” to be popular this year. Nicolas Rezzouk from Reserve Wines added that “esoteric and unknown wine types” will be a challenge to sell in 2024, “because it feels like people want to prioritise value and certainty in their buying choices, so we expect they will, mostly, stick to what is known, be it grape styles or appellation names/regions”.

LOW & NO 

As the low/no category continues its expansion, this year’s Trends Report is the first to survey retailers on the bestselling low/no products in-store, as well as those that are attracting more consumer interest. 

Overall, low/no looks set to continue on its path to success, with 10 retailers predicting that it’ll be the biggest growth area in 2024. A further five respondents also highlighted alcoholic drinks with lower abvs as a big opportunity this year, particularly in light of duty hikes for higher-strength products. With many big-name producers coming out with alcohol-free variants of their core products, the vast majority of respondents who stock low/no products said that beer was the most popular category. 

While beer was also mentioned as a category that is continuously gaining more interest in the low/no space, low/no wine alternatives, and in particular sparkling wine, were tied with beer as product innovation sees quality improve. Several respondents also mentioned low/no spirits alternatives as an up-and-coming sector.