The new wave of flavoured spirits are helping holiday-hungry consumers take a virtual trip, finds Jaq Bayles
It’s not that long ago that mention of flavoured spirits would steer thoughts to a vodka category that had got out of hand, ricocheting from relatively obvious roots in citrus and berry bases to head-scratching options such as bacon and bubblegum. But a more subtle proposition has been enticing consumers into a new world of flavour across all spirits, resulting in UK growth of 22.8% in 2020 compared to just 0.9% for non-flavoured spirits, according to the IWSR. The research organisation also forecasts that the category in the UK will increase volumes by 2.3% CAGR 2021-2025, while the non-flavoured spirits sector is expected to remain flat or slightly down during the same period.
While purists may argue that gin should not be flavoured with anything other than juniper, the spirit that is seemingly everyone’s favourite has branched out widely in recent years, increasing its consumer base further with flavoured versions that now account for some 40% of the entire gin market by both volume and value (WSTA).
Other spirits have spotted the opportunity and innovation abounds in all categories, but one of the fastest emerging is rum because, says Jess Williamson, Master of Malt content manager, “it lends itself to complementary flavours such as tropical fruits and spices. Combined, spiced and flavoured rum make up over half of rum sales on Master of Malt, and bottle sales are only increasing”.
She adds: “Many mainstream brands (such as Captain Morgan) have released a range of new and exciting flavours. Thanks to Atom Labs we’ve been able to explore this trend with our own line called Project #173. Within this line we’ve experimented with flavourings which traditionally complement spiced rum (such as pineapple and coconut) as well as trying some more unique, seasonal concoctions including Pumpkin Spice and Christmas Pudding. We’re expecting to see this trend continue in 2022 and we’re planning on continuing to extend our wide range of flavours within the Project #173 line.”
FLAVOURS THAT TRANSPORT
Wholesaler LWC’s Signature Brands is also banking on rum and last year released Old J Pineapple to respond to consumers “missing that holiday feeling”. Nic Ponticakis, head of Signature Brands, says: “We’re expecting sweet, tropical flavours to continue growing across the spirits sector, with people favouring flavours that transport them to the tropics.
“With a refreshing flavour profile, Old J Pineapple sought to tap into the new-found rum renaissance and a new demand for vibrant and exciting flavours which could be used as an exciting base for cocktails or sipped with a simple mixer.”
Neil Boyd, UK managing director of Ian Macleod Distillers, describes his company as “a pioneer in the premium flavoured spirits space” and as such, when the growth pattern of flavoured rum revealed itself, “we knew we needed to delve in”.
He says: “Spiced rum has been popularly enjoyed with mixers for a long time. However, flavoured rum is now standing out as the category leader and one for brands to invest into, and retailers to stock now.
“In 2020, we launched Langs rum. The brand is all about big flavours – a Jamaican rum with a tropical twist. Our original Banana flavour is bold and unique. We also offer Pineapple flavour, in addition to a Mango & Ginger variant.
“Like flavoured gins, flavoured rum can be a great stepping stone for consumers who wouldn’t usually go for a rum-based drink. The relatable flavour profile taps into the world of fruit cider and liqueurs to introduce consumers to the varied world of rum. We fully expect to see the flavoured rum segment continue to grow in both popularity and availability as consumers seek out the new trend.”
The tropical and fruity theme can also be seen in other categories, with Diageo’s Lauren Priestly, head of category development, off-trade, saying two new innovations from Smirnoff, Raspberry Crush and Mango & Passionfruit Twist, “offer consumers the option to create simple but effective twists on classic serves while tapping into the growing popularity of flavour profiles”.
She adds: “The latest launches are set to invigorate the vodka category, recruiting new consumers through accessibility, great taste and ability to be enjoyed as part of many delicious, simple and diverse serves.”
While flavour innovations in gin show no sign of abating, there are other factors at play in maintaining the sector’s buoyancy, with Liz Peck, Quintessential Brands’ business unit director for off-trade, saying premiumisation is a continuing key trend.
“Opihr has tapped into that to drive demand among consumers for its range,” she says. “The newest launch, Opihr Black Lemon, has been incredibly well received. The brand’s nuanced approach to innovation with spices and herbs creates truly unique gins that appeal to those who are keen to be more adventurous. So, it’s fair to say the demand is driven both by brands and also by consumers who are perhaps more receptive to experimenting in gin than they are in other categories.”
Carmen O’Neal, managing director of 58 Gin, believes sustainability is going to have “a huge influence on what retailers will choose to stock next year”. She explains: “Changing consumer appetites mean that brands need to be transparent about their ingredient provenance and production methods to show they are truly sustainably driven.
One of our bestsellers in 2021 was our Apple & Hibiscus pink gin, which is made from wonky apples that aren’t considered fit for the supermarket shelves.
“I think we’ll see more products like this, using sustainably sourced, foraged, and seasonal ingredients driving flavour trends across the spirits category.”
Signature Brands’ Ponticakis agrees: “With an evergrowing focus on health, wellness and sustainability, we’re expecting more fruits and vegetables to be used – not only in the creation of our spirits but also as ingredients and garnishes within our glasses. Consumers, through the pandemic, experimented with fun and playful ingredients to liven up their cocktails and the added nutritional benefit of added fruits and vegetables is a bonus.”
WILLINGNESS TO EXPERIMENT
The fact that flavoured spirits have become so popular is also attributed to the pandemic by IWSR analyst Richard Corbett, who says: “Flavoured spirits are very much in vogue at the moment, reflecting a post-lockdown consumer who has become more willing to experiment, and the investment of the players in the category.
“The rise of the cocktail has contributed to this new spirit of adventure and in some cases is helping to shape flavour choices. Passion fruit-flavoured vodka, for instance, has performed very well, helped by the popularity of the Pornstar Martini cocktail.
“It is likely that the consumer appetite for trial and experimentation will mean that new flavours will come and go relatively quickly as drinkers move on to new offerings.”
But there’s no doubt that flavour extensions are helping to introduce new drinkers to all spirits categories, broadening their appeal. Diageo’s Priestly cites whisky, which is still relatively new to flavour extensions.
“Whisky and whisky-based spirit drinks remain an incredibly dynamic category with innovation and brand evolution, and in recent years we have watched as whisky has become increasingly appealing to a wider consumer audience who enjoy exploring new ways to enjoy the liquids.
“Last year, Haig Club introduced a new flavour, Haig Club Mediterranean Orange. The newest spirit drink innovation from Haig Club is an accessible option for novice whisky drinkers as well as connoisseurs.”
Given that Bargain Booze’s sales of premium flavoured products increased from 25% to 36% between 2019 and 2021, according to Gemma Addison, senior spirits buyer for Bestway Retail, there’s a clear opportunity for retailers to boost their profits in this arena.