Gin: Good call

Shopping local and buying more sustainable products are just two trends accelerated by the pandemic. And both are proving important to the gin category, finds Lucy Britner

There are a heck of a lot of gin brands out there. And in a market so crowded, it has become important to look at what drinkers really want. “With so many gins in the market, consumers are looking for premium, quality products and to be assured in their purchasing decisions,” says Karl Mason, co-founder of Masons of Yorkshire.

The company conducted some consumer research last year and its findings show that regular gin drinkers are a core and fast-growing audience of “quality seekers who want to hunt out and support brands that inspire them, including premium offerings that go beyond the label to deliver a story they can invest in”.

Mason says the research also shows that, out of the three in 10 adults who regularly buy gin, one in four trades up to a premium offering once a month. To meet this demand, the company this year launched three special edition gins: Raspberry, Distiller’s Strength, and Pink Grapefruit & Cucumber.

Fellow Yorkshire gin producer Spirit of Harrogate’s co-founder Marcus Black also says consumers are looking for brands they can support – especially local ones. Black says the company, which makes Slingsby gin, regularly engages with the local community to “form close connections with our customers and local businesses”.

“When we develop a new gin, we display it in our Harrogate store and experience in Kilner jars, so customers can sample our experimental flavours,” he says. “We will only bring a variant to market if it receives positive customer feedback.”

SUSTAINING SUSTAINABILITY

For some, local sales go hand in hand with sustainability. Cardona & Son Spirit Co, which makes the Hitchin Honey Spirits range from Hitchin honey, describes itself as a “small, hyper-local brand” with a mission to save the British honeybee and support biodiversity.

The company has just launched an Elderflower & Borage gin.

“We’re working hard with local retailers to develop opportunities to tap into their specific customer base, whether that’s linking them up to other projects we’re working on locally, such as beekeeping experiences, or updates on new spirits, so that we can provide more context about our products and how the local environment impacts what we produce,” says co-founder Jane Cardona.

She says that being visible as a brand and as beekeepers in the local community is a great way to develop interest with potential retailers. But it’s not that straightforward when it comes to cracking a wider audience.

“Buy-in for our spirits from our local audience has been fantastic so far, but we’ve found it very hard to secure stockists nationally,” says Cardona. “But we believe that what we produce, along with our brand mission of saving the British honeybee one cocktail

at a time and supporting biodiversity projects with a percentage of our profits, resonates more widely with customers now that there’s more awareness generally of the role bees play in all of our day to day lives.”

At Ten Locks, Becky Davies, head of commercial, also champions meaningful sustainability measures.

She says that one way to stand out in the crowded marketplace is to highlight environmental benefits and sustainable production processes, especially since they are becoming more relevant to today’s consumers.

“Consumers are now much more ethically minded and increasingly looking for elevated brands – those that stand for something more and work towards positive change in some way, be it supporting sustainable producers, profiling the overlooked or marginalised, or championing brands that place provenance, heritage or family at the heart of what they do,” she says.

The Ten Locks portfolio includes Applewood, an Australian B-Corp certified business that donates profits from its pink Applewood Coral in to the restoration of The Great Barrier Reef.

Meanwhile, Langley’s Gin sales director Matt Ashton-Melia believes that in this crowded market, having a high-quality liquid, which is well priced and nicely packaged, is just the required starting point. He says after that, it’s about having a brand that is credible, honest and transparent so that consumers can relate to its purpose, story and values.

“It’s not enough to simply be doing your bit anymore; customers are loyal to brands that are going above and beyond and if, as a brand owner, you’re willing to meet that challenge then there is every reason to be optimistic about the brand’s potential in what is a very saturated market,” he says.

Ashton-Melia highlights a range of positive sustainability practices, from animal welfare and protecting the environment and sustainability to overhauling production, bottling or labelling practices.

“Consumers are willing to pay extra for brands that stand for much more than what’s in the bottle. Such brands come with the opportunity to engage shoppers in their stories and the feelgood factor of contributing to positive change.”

He mentions Langley’s Old Tom, which gives 50 cents per bottle sold to Panthera – a wild cats conservation charity.

SELLING MORE GIN

Ashton-Melia also makes an interesting point about prices, especially since more people are making cocktails at home.

“Price point really is where we excel right now as there aren’t many brands on-shelf offering our liquid quality with the commercials to match,” he says.

“Lockdown has sparked an interest in home cocktail making, a trend that’s shown promise for years but hasn’t really stuck. However, that’s all changed now and being able to pick up Langley’s Old Tom with a 47% abv, which is specifically made for cocktails, for less than £30 a bottle, has great potential.”

And, of course, there’s the added feelgood factor with the big cat donation. Price also gets a mention from Hannah Dawson, head of category development at Diageo. She says retailers must clearly signpost and include a range of gins spanning varied price points. According to Dawson, stocking well-known brands will also help consumers to shop and navigate the offering with confidence.

“Blocking sub-categories together to ensure all gin products are located on shelf in one place, and placing premium products on the top shelf will ensure clear visibility,” she adds. “Retailers may also want to consider which serves are synonymous with summer and how best to maximise their profitability. During the warmer times of the year, people opt for mixed drinks such as G&Ts and Spritz serves.”

She suggests cross-merchandising the spirit with quality mixers to inspire customers to create drinks at home.

Elsewhere, Tarquin Leadbetter, founder of Tarquin’s Cornish gin, says sampling is key.

“We believe that product quality and taste are crucial for any brand. This has been the number one driver of our growth at Tarquin’s from £0-10 million in annual sales over the past nine years,” he explains.

According to Leadbetter, sampling helps to win new customers – and many of them stay for life.

“We also like to keep things exciting for buyers and customers with seasonal new product development, and this innovation allows us to get creative as distillers, which is what we love doing.”

For this summer, the company has launched a limited-edition Tarquin’s Yuzu & Lime Gin. “Pre-orders have already set an in-house record,” he adds.

This snapshot of the gin category illustrates that having a decent product is just an entry requirement. Not only do today’s consumers want a good gin for their tonic, but they also want a gin that does good.

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