Richard Corbett examines how gin producers are looking to NPD to maintain interest in the category through 2023 and beyond
New flavours, cocktails, no-alcohol and high-end brands will shape the fortunes of gin in 2023. According to the IWSR, the UK gin market nearly trebled in the decade to 2020, but this now looks to have been the high water mark, with consumption declining ever since.
One of the very early pioneers of craft gin, Christian Jensen, founder of the Jensen’s gin brand, remains optimistic.
“Gin may not be as fashionable as it was five years ago, but there is room for plenty of growth for the right kind of companies,” he says.
“You can, though, no longer just join the category and expect the growth of the sector to carry you. You have to stand out and do things differently.”
One of the obvious ways to achieve this is through flavour innovation. Creative and cosmopolitan flavours picked up the baton as the pink gin boom faded in 2021 and we can expect more of the same this summer.
Co-op spirits buyer Jonathan Grey isn’t expecting a return to growth for gin this year, but does think that flavoured gins will be very visible again. “We expect to see sales of gin steady this year and remain higher than pre-pandemic levels,” he says.
“While innovation has slowed, we continue to see new flavoured gins enter the market.”
Gordon’s has been leading the NPD charge and new flavours have been an important focal point as the brand looks to keep the category fresh.
Lauren Priestley, head of category development at Gordon’s brand owner Diageo, says “innovation has enabled the category to remain relevant”. Gordon’s White Peach, Sicilian Lemon and latest launch Tropical Passionfruit have all generated noise in mainstream gin.
More seasonal and unconventional flavours are likely to feature in the market in 2023.
Alex Holbrook, of online retailer Master of Malt, says the top seller in its parent company Atom Brands’ D2C business in 2022 was its Jaffa Cake gin. Atom is working on bringing out other unusual flavour propositions.
“We want to keep innovation and creativity in flavours at the heart of what we do,” says Holbrook.
“We think flavoured gins will keep their popularity and evolve, as consumers are seeking more complex flavour profiles.”
Jason Kidd, founder of Irish craft gin producer Blood Monkey, says the pandemic-fuelled at-home cocktail legacy influences its flavour development.
It is launching Blood Monkey Tropical Storm this summer. Kidd says the drink is “made with real mangos and offers a unique taste that pairs beautifully with soda or tonic water, making it a top pick for cocktails this summer”.
Warner’s gin founder Tom Warner has also identified cocktails as a factor in shaping consumption trends this summer.
“The G&T will still be massively important,” he says, “but there will be a little bit more heat in spritz and cocktail choices.”
Warner cites the impact the Pornstar Martini had on vanilla vodka sales and suggests that getting a particular gin serve to “land well” could be a game-changer. “Of course,” he adds, “it’s finding that one serve everyone wants to drink that is the challenge”.
Warner says the Warner’s Rhubarb Gin & Ginger Ale serve was a major contributor to putting the brand on the gin map.
THE ALCOHOL-FREE ROUTE
Though from a small base, Warner’s fastest-growing product this year is its alcohol-free range, Warner’s 0%, with listings in Waitrose and Marks & Spencer. Diageo is also upbeat about Gordon’s 0.0 which, Priestley says, “taps into the demand for more diverse drinks on social occasions”.
In addition to consumers moderating their alcohol intake, there is an increasing willingness to upgrade to super-premium brands. While forecasting a downward trajectory for the overall gin category between 2022 and 2026, IWSR predicts that gins at super-premium prices and above will grow at a CAGR of between 2% and 3% in both value and volume.
Jensen says: “For people who have the right story and credibility there are plenty of opportunities to grow, because there are people willing to pay for their interest in good-quality products.”
Ian McCulloch, managing director of Silent Pool, is positive about the long-term direction of the category.
“Gin will continue to offer consumers a taste journey almost without end,” he says.
“There will be a continued shift to quality as consumers refine their gin repertoires and deepen their enjoyment of the category.”
As drinkers trade up, they will probably drink less, putting volumes under pressure, but the category remains in a good place, says Diageo’s Priestley.
She notes that Kantar figures show more than 11 million consumers enjoy gin in the UK, with 31% of drinkers having gin in their repertories, up from 27% before the pandemic.
“So many people continue to see it as a versatile and must-have spirit in their drinks cabinet,” says Priestley. “Retailers should continue to tap into the category’s strengths by leaning into brands that provide popular and innovative variants, widening the number of occasions in which consumers choose gin.”
As gin operators innovate further in the summer of 2023, the category may win over more drinkers to become an even broader church than it is today.