Gin sales grew 14.5% to £420 million in UK supermarkets in 2016, making it the best performing spirits category.

IRI figures show that spirits sales topped £3 billion in the year to December 31, 2016, and it said gin is the biggest growth driver. It is also the best performing category in all of BWS, ahead of star performers like sparkling wine and fruit cider.

The figures come from IRI Retail Advantage, which measures sales at the UK’s top nine retailers – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose, Co-Op Food, M&S Food, Iceland and Ocado.

They showed that gin sales built up to a frenzy as we approached Christmas, with sales growing 18.3% in the 12 weeks to December 31, 2016, compared to the same period the previous year. That performance put £136 million in the top nine retailers’ tills over the festive period.

Sales of tonic water also grew 12% to £98 million in 2016, a far better performance than the 5.2% rise in sales of other mixers, showing the nation cannot get enough of G&T.

“Gin is the spirit of choice right now and we don’t see this changing any time soon,” said Martin Wood, head of strategic retail insight at IRI. “According to our data, gin was the strongest contributor, both in spirits and in the BWs category overall. BWS grew by 1.5% during 2016, which might not seem a lot, but with total food and drink sales showing overall value decline, it is a vital growth driver and worth a staggering £12.3 billion in total. 

“Christmas was a bonanza this year for retailers, with booze sales of £3.7 billion, 3% growth over the same period the previous year, with gin a major contributor and often bought as gifts.”

While gin sales are soaring, vodka, whisky and brandy have still held their own over the past year. Whisk(e)y remains the UK’s favourite spirit – when you combine Scotch, bourbon, Irish and other whiskies – and grew by 0.4% in 2016, to £1 billion. Vodka and cognac/brandy also both grew by 0.4%, to £784 million and £230 million respectively. Supermarkets also saw strong sales growth from dark rum products, up 8%.

According to IRI, gin is sold mainly in supermarkets, while vodka also sells strongly in convenience stores. “Gin was perceived as a bit old-fashioned a few years ago. But with the growth in craft gins and premium varieties, supermarkets have been keen to invest in market trends and to stock new gin lines and premium brands,” said Wood.