The shoppers asking for short measures

The industry jargon is “fractional bottles”. In spirits, this has traditionally meant 35cl, the orthodox half-bottle size. For wine, a half-bottle means 37.5cl – an unfashionable size for decades that is starting to make a comeback.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco is just one new product that’s appeared in a 37.5cl bottle as the supermarket has attempted to cater for individuals or couples who only want a glass or two at a time. There’s even an online business devoted to resurrecting the half-bottle of wine in the national consciousness.

But a half is no longer the only fraction that matters in drinks packaging as suppliers, retailers and consumers have embraced a range of pack sizes designed to satisfy a number of consumer needs and occasions.

The big supermarkets all have small but significant ranges of 50cl wines, though it’s in spirits where the market has gone fractional crazy.

The 50cl bottle has again made its presence felt, but 35cl bottles are selling well, along with 20cl sizes – what we perhaps should call “the two-seventh” in fractional terms.

There’s a temptation to view such products as a marginal, add-on side of the business – something to accommodate if, and only if, space allows.

Many specialist cocktail liqueurs and other obscure spirits have long favoured 50cl as a driver of more regular purchase.

But there’s growing evidence in the convenience channel that such bottles are becoming increasingly important for main- stream brands – and they’re likely to be even more significant as duty increases send price points on full-size bottles soaring.

Sainsbury’s spirits buyer James Heller says: “As duty and inflation push the price of spirits up, we see smaller serves becoming increasingly attractive to consumers who look to make smaller, more frequent shops to help them manage their budgets.

“Whisky and vodka are key categories for Sainsbury’s so these are the categories we have placed most emphasis on for 50cl packs.”

Jack Daniel’s and Russian Standard are two the supermarket lists in a 50cl size.

Though much has been talked about 50cl bottles, they are still largely a future growth opportunity rather than where the market is already, according to Adam Green, category manager at First Drinks.

He points out that 35cl spirits outsell 50cl by more than 10 times in the impulse mar- ket, with Nielsen figures for the year to April 27 showing cash sales of £154 million for the half-bottle against just £12 million for 50cls.

The 20cl bottle splits the two with sales worth £70 million in impulse. One in four bottles of spirits sold in the impulse channel is a 35cl bottle.

Price points are the main attraction to consumers, says Green. “Seventy per cent of consumers [buying spirits in convenience stores] won’t spend over £20 on a bottle of spirits,” he adds. “That means you’re either going to have to sell an awful lot on promotion to attract those people – particularly litres – or you can give them what they want with a smaller size at a lower price point.”

It’s not just in the convenience channel that fractional bottles are hitting home, but they clearly resonate with what Green calls the “mission-led” shopping that takes place in such stores. This could be shopping just for same-day consumption rather than for the drinks cabinet, shopping on a budget, or simply ease of transportation.

For the retailer, fractionals allow them to look like they offer better value, bigger choice and accommodate more stock on displays.

Green thinks 50cl will come more into play if a decline in 70cl and litre bottle sales continues on the back of future duty increases.

Global Brands aims to capitalise on the success its herbal liqueur Jungfrau has seen in the on-trade as a shot or cocktail ingredient by pushing its new 50cl and 20cl serves in the off-trade.

Marketing director Simon Green says: “Consumers look to recreate their on-trade experiences at home, and in the off-trade they are looking for smaller SKUs to meet this need. Jungfrau is now available in 20cl and 50cl bottles to satisfy this occasion.

“Smaller SKU sizes offer less risk for consumers due to a better price point, and having a premium herbal liqueur in a 20cl and 50cl option will meet consumer needs while maintaining good margin.”

Avoiding confusion:

The design of 50cl bottles of spirits tends to be a straightforward reduced version of the 70cl bottle.

Because of this, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that a 50cl bottle could unwittingly be bought by a customer thinking they’d got a bargain full-size pack.

First Drinks category manager Adam Green recommends stores merchandise both packs of the same brand alongside each other to avoid embarrassment. This also gives the shopper a clear indication of the range available.

“The 50cl bottle tends to be a mini-me version of the full-size one,” says Green, “whereas the 35cl is normally a flask, so it’s easily distinguishable. The advantage of the 50cl is that it looks more attractive and a consumer is more likely to pick it up.

“The downside is that it could be taken to be a 70cl bottle, so we recommend displaying 35cl, 50cl, 70cl and litres of the same brand next to each other to avoid any shopper confusion.”

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