Traditionally a time for luxury, the drinks industry is now looking to make the most of the gifting season without compromising on sustainability or affordability, finds Rachel Badham

We’re expecting a bumper Christmas 2023 season, but as the cost of living crisis continues, it’s important to offer a range of alcoholic drinks to suit all budgets,” says Jo Taylorson, head of marketing & product management for Kingsland Drinks. 

As consumers grapple with financial stress, this Christmas looks to be characterised by an underpinning theme: good value for money. However, the opportunity for retailers lies in balancing affordability with evergreen consumer wants, such as quality, sustainability credentials and, of course, a good dose of Christmas spirit. 

“Value and quality are the order of the day, especially for gifting,” Taylorson continues. “The key for retailers is to really understand how different consumer groups are approaching Christmas gifting and ensure that they are offering that breadth and depth of choice.” 

GREENER GIFTING 

Curating a drinks gifting range doesn’t necessarily mean pushing sustainability aside. As this issue becomes a bigger influencing factor for many consumers’ purchasing decisions, offering a range of eco-conscious gifts could put retailers at an advantage in a highly competitive gifting market. And when it comes to sustainability, alternative packaging is likely to be a hit with brands and retailers this Christmas. 

Laura Willoughby, founder of B Corp-certified Club Soda, says that her team has introduced furoshiki (traditional Japanese wrapping cloths) at its shop in London to offer customers a more sustainable alternative to wrapping paper when buying bottles for gifting. “Furoshiki is great for Christmas and beyond – suitable for any gifting occasion. Our team can wrap purchases in-store, and we are also offering corporate furoshiki wrapping classes as part of our events programme,” she explains. 

In the world of wine retailing, Jeroboams wine director Peter Mitchell MW says Christmas classics such as Champagne and fortified wine will hit home with gift-givers, making it important to take note of wine brands with sustainable packaging. “All the classics, including Champagne, port, spirits and wines from established regions, will likely be very popular this Christmas,” he says. 

Mitchell mentions Ruinart Champagne as an example of a brand that has combined sustainability with gift-ready packaging: “Ruinart’s ‘second skin’ packaging is incredibly popular with customers. Rather than the traditional gift box, Ruinart provides a beautifully crafted paper shell that both protects and presents the bottle. It’s a real head-turner and something we always try to have on our shelves during festive periods.”

AFFORDABLE VS PREMIUM

Luxurious gift packs are synonymous with Christmas, but the challenges of inflation and the cost of living crisis could see consumers reach for more affordable options. Jeroboams’ Mitchell says: “While many of our regular customers are lucky enough to have suffered less from inflationary pressures, it is inevitable that some will be looking to reduce spending on gifts. Retailers need to manage their offerings with clever buying and provide a wide range of price points.” 

Leanne Jones, gifting business manager at Friexenet Copestick, agrees, saying that providing a range of wallet-friendly products is vital for drinks retailers this year: “In the current economic climate, we are seeing consumers tighten up on their spending and look to get more for their money. 

“Consumers want products they know the recipient is familiar with and loves,” she says, mentioning Freixenet and I Heart as popular gifting brands. “For example, the I Heart 18.7cl rosé and tealights gift set is a great stocking filler, and strikes a balance between affordable and well known.” 

For ease of purchasing, Jones suggests drinks brands work with specialist online gifting retailers to offer delivery for shoppers. “Our Freixenet Italian Sparkling Rosé 75cl & Diffuser set is available at Moonpig, Slurp, and Not on the High Street with delivery within two days.” 

Despite financial pressures, many consumers will still look to trade up when it comes to gifting, with Lauren Priestley, Diageo GB’s head of category for the off-trade, saying that it’s important for retailers to establish a balance between more premium options alongside a budget-friendly range. 

“Stocking premium spirits from reputable and trusted brands is essential in the run-up to the festive season as we can expect customers to seek products that lend themselves to gifting or celebrating. “We recommend maintaining a few super-premium vodkas which, last year, accounted for 51% of super-premium spirits sales in impulse between October and December [according to NIQ data].” 

Priestly predicts that, while some shoppers may look to cut down their spend on gifts, this Christmas will continue to see consumers “treating themselves and their loved ones”. She says: “Retailers can tap into these purchase moments by considering which brands and products lend themselves to these occasions,” mentioning Christmas favourites such as Baileys.

CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS 

While 2023 has been a turbulent year for both trade and consumers as the nation contends with rising costs, it seems that decadent and whimsical gifting options will continue to hold their place on shelves. Jeroboams’ Mitchell says: “While many customers are becoming noticeably more environmentally conscious, there’s no getting away from the fact that items in gift boxes are still very popular.” 

A classic Christmas staple for the consumer looking to try a little bit of everything, drinks advent calendars are back on the market, with more adventurous options now available. Virgin Wines has relaunched its classic Wine Advent Calendar, featuring a selection of mini-sized “timeless classics and customer favourites” as well as more “unusual” wines aimed at catering to experimental drinkers. 

Drawing on the desire for discovery, 2023 will also see the introduction of the retailer’s first Mixed Spirits Advent Calendar, featuring a selection of mini bottles of spirits, including brandy, gin, tequila, rum and whisky. 

In beer, Thornbridge Brewery has launched an advent calendar with a sustainable twist, constructed from “biodegradable, sustainably sourced cardboard” to contain 25 beers. In a bid to reduce waste in the long term, the calendar is also reusable, with Thornbridge planning to offer 2024 refill beers at a reduced rate to those who purchase the original calendar this year. 

Outside of advent calendars, festive gift packs remain a reliable option, with Tim Dunlop, European commercial director for Shanky’s Whip, saying that packs can be a “real sales driver for retailers in the run-up to Christmas”. 

To combat the competitiveness of the gifting market, Dunlop recommends stocking gift packs that offer “new brands and flavour experiences” for consumers to try. 

Products aside, Jeroboams’ Mitchell says that communicating the gift offering with consumers is vital. For bricks-and-mortar retailers, he recommends “eye-catching window displays and A-boards that include a clear gifting message or visual cue to help drive footfall”. 

And ultimately, he says the answer to gifting success for retailers is guiding consumers on their buying journey to cut through the noise this Christmas: “We find the key to gifting is, of course, having the right product range at the right price point, but equally important is the service that surrounds it. Customers, rightly so, want things to be as straightforward as possible, which only comes from staff knowledge.”