As retailers gear up for an influx of consumers in search of gifts, Rachel Badham explores how the drinks industry is giving gifting a refresh
With 2022 marking the first Christmas free from Covid-related restrictions, it seems probable that decadent seasonal celebrations and gifting galore will be back on the consumer agenda.
However, as the cost of living crisis puts a dampener on the first Christmas out of the shadow of Covid, will consumers turn their backs on the gifting category and opt for more budget-friendly options?
“Value for money is obviously critical as we all face the cost of living crisis. Buy less, buy better is our motto this year,” says James Bell, head of marketing at gin producer Masons of Yorkshire. But that doesn’t mean consumers are only being led by value.
Carmen O’Neal, founder of London gin maker 58 & Co, thinks that while higher-end brands and retailers have no cause for concern, it is key to communicate quality to consumers. “More than ever, quality and provenance are going to be important,” she says.
“Consumers are going to be very conscious of how and what they spend their money on, so the quality and story behind the liquid is important.” Regardless of economic pressures, it seems that the trade is prepared for a successful Christmas following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Becky Davies, head of commercial at spirits distributor Ten Locks, believes that consumers are all set to indulge when it comes to gifting. “People haven’t had a full-on, let-loose Christmas for three years, and they’re ready to enjoy it,” she says.
“This year, despite the tough times coming down the road, we expect a ‘keep calm and carry on’ approach to celebrations.”
To stand out from the crowd, Davies says it’s all about delivering a range that inspires excitement among consumers in search of a gift.
Sam Jeveons, co-founder of Nusa Caña Indonesian rum, agrees, saying that gifting is often led by emotion or social values. “Brand characteristics can be thoughtfully curated ability to personalise a spirit bottle gift purchase,” he says.
“This way, the gift can be matched with the personality of the recipient, whether it’s offering something adventurous with an off -the-beaten-track option, complementing their social values with a sustainable gift, or simply providing something that matches their energy.”
And, as sustainability continues to be a priority for consumers, Jo Taylorson, head of marketing & product management for Kingsland Drinks, is confident that Christmas shoppers will continue to trade up “to a brand that gives back in some way or has a clear sustainability/social responsibility agenda”.
A NON-TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS
For many brands and retailers, the appeal of something different is likely to be a key driving force in the gift market this year, with Masons of Yorkshire’s Bell saying that “in an increasingly competitive market, consumers are looking for products that are unique in terms of the flavours they offer”.
While bottles of sparkling wine have long been the Christmas gift of choice for drinks fans, many brands believe that this Christmas is the spirits industry’s time to shine, with 58 & Co’s O’Neal suggesting that it’s time to switch up exhausted gifting options with emerging categories.
“I think vodka and tequila could be big when it comes to gifting for Christmas this year,” she says.
Julian Howard, off -trade controller at Ten Locks, echoes this sentiment, highlighting dark spirits, such as whisky, as ideal gifting options for consumers who are still caught up in the home cocktail craze.
“Winter always comes with an appetite for dark spirits, which naturally lend themselves to the colder months and do well neat or at the heart of richer cocktails,” says Howard.
Jonathan Grey, Co-op spirits buyer, also expects rum to see high demand this Christmas, as well as vodka, with “flavoured innovations” driving sales.
For the adventurous drinker, Saskia Meyer, marketing director at Fever-Tree, recommends flavoured mixers as gift options, allowing consumers to add an unusual twist to their festive tipples.
Meyer says Fever-Tree has noticed consumers “becoming more and more experimental with their drinks”, adding: “We believe offering variety and choice is key to making the most of gifting this season, which is why we’ve broadened our mixer range beyond gin and tonic to offer something for the vodka fans, whisky lovers and rum drinkers this Christmas.”
However, Tom Holmes, senior customer marketing manager for Kopparberg, thinks for the simplicity-seeking customer, RTDs deserve a space in the gifting department.
“RTDs offer perfectly mixed spirits and cocktails without having to invest large amounts or buy multiple products, making them a cheap and convenient solution,” he says. “They are also ideal for many of the drinking occasions that Christmas presents.”
Jamie Waugh, head wine buyer at Fortnum & Mason, expects low/ no to make its mark in the gift season and thinks sparkling tea could be a popular alternative to alcohol. Looking beyond bottles, Santa Ana gin founder AJ Garcia predicts that experiential gifts will begin to take off in the drinks world.
“Beyond a product offer, I could see brands also offering immersive experiences as well, such as distillery tours, online classes and the like. Experiences like these can bring consumers much closer to a brand.”
In a similar vein, The Wine Society offers the option to give a membership, with director Pierre Mansour describing it as a “no-brainer” present for wine lovers that will last beyond the holiday season.
Despite the popularity of non-traditional gifting options, Christmas classics and old-school festive flavours are still likely to be hits with consumers.
According to Pernod Ricard UK, around 60% of shoppers are looking to give alcohol as a gift this Christmas, with wine and spirits expected to see soaring sales. And as consumers seek a taste of celebration after a turbulent few years, traditional seasonal appeal looks likely to endure when it comes to gifting.
But even time-honoured gifting favourites can be given a boost with special-edition festive flavours and packaging.
“Stocking seasonal SKUs creates interest and gives consumers another reason to shop,” says Kopparberg’s Holmes, highlighting the brand’s Spiced Apple cider.
58 & Co’s O’Neal also thinks that seasonal interest is the best way to give traditional choices a refresh: “It’s important to think about small-batch and seasonal products that can’t be bought all year around. Also, make the most of the festive packaging.”
It seems classic gift options are as popular as ever in wine, with Kingsland’s Taylorson saying that Old World wines are always a favourite at Christmas.
A spokesperson from the gifting team at Virgin Wines suggests sprucing up classic wine offerings by adding a touch of personalisation: “We recently launched a wine and gin personalisation gift service. Consumers like to send sentimental gifts and a bespoke label on a luxury bottle is a fantastic option. In some circumstances, personalised gifts can also provide a little whimsy and entertainment.”
Which, it seems, might be exactly what consumers are in need of as economic tensions mount. And as the drinks industry feels the pressure of financial uncertainty, Ten Locks’ Howard thinks Christmas gifting might provide a chance for brands and retailers alike to end 2022 on a high.
“This Christmas isn’t a tale of doom and gloom”, he says. “It’s one of opportunity and thinking beyond the season and how you can keep momentum with the right range.”