Pernod Ricard reckons there’s a £15.5m sales opportunity in the premium wine and spirits category this Christmas, that’s there for the convenience sector’s taking. The company is urging retailers to give better visibility to premium products so they can win back sales from the grocery multiples. Pernod Ricard is investing £5m in the Christmas occasion, which will include advertising urging retailers to ’Stock the good stuff’.

This ’good stuff’ includes the Absolut vodka, Beefeater Blood Orange gin, Jameson and Plymouth gin. As part of the £5m spend, Pernod Ricard is increasing its above-the-line advertising spend by 38%, with campaigns going live from this month for Jameson, Plymouth, Chivas and Campo Viejo.

Chris Shead, off-trade channel director for Pernod Ricard UK, says as spend on spirits within the convenience channel has increased 33% more than any other category in the past year and with more people visiting smaller stores than ever before (Him data), there’s no reason retailers can’t win big this year.

"Consumer behaviour at Christmas is changing, with more households, each buying more products, visiting convenience stores (Nielsen). During these shopping trips, people are buying less products but spending more and the leading premiumising product is spirits."

Shead points to the fact that home meal occasions were up by 752 million and dinner parties up by 38m in 2018 versus the previous five years (Kantar). This has contributed to the rise of consumers wanting to recreate their favourite cocktails and mixed drinks at home," he says.

While some consumers are happy to experiment making their own cocktails, many younger drinkers prefer ready-to-serve (RTS) cans.

Charlie Leaver, brand manager at Global Brands, says: "We expect our on-trend cocktail cans to perform phenomenally this Christmas," adding that it’s key for forecourt retailers to tap into this by filling their chillers with RTS cans.

Global’s best-selling RTS canned cocktail brand is All Shook Up, which is already worth £4.49m, just 18 months after its launch (Nielsen). The drink comes in five flavours: Passion Fruit Martini; Flamingo Colada; Espresso Martini; Violet Cosmo; and Hawaiian Daiquiri; all in 250ml cans.

In addition, the Passion Fruit Martini and Flamingo Colada are now available in a 2.25ltr cocktail bag-in-box format. Says Leaver: "With an rrp of £12, the SKU has been developed specifically for sharing, perfect for consumers to take along to Christmas house parties and festive gatherings. Passion Fruit flavoured drinks are growing +52% (Nielsen) in the ready-to-drink category in the off-trade, which can largely be attributed to the fact that the Pornstar Martini, upon which All Shook Up is based, is the UK’s number one cocktail in the on-trade, contributing for 15% of all cocktails sold in bars."

Meanwhile, another of Global’s RTS cocktail brands, Flare, is exclusive to independents. Available in 250ml cans, it comprises On the Beach, Cosmopolitan, Passion Fruit Martini and Mojito varieties.

When it comes to RTDs (ready-to-drinks), Leaver says Global’s flagship brand VK is a star performer, and therefore a ’must stock’ for forecourts this festive season. "The brand is up 26% year-on-year in value and up 23% year-on-year in volume and boasts the biggest RTD mixed pack in the off-trade (Nielsen data). Our VK mixed 10-packs are popular all year round, but promotions help to accelerate their success further. When on promotion, the mixed packs increase by 84% in sales (GBL data), a great reason for retailers to stock VK over the festive period."

He says that this year the VK mixed pack will have even more festive sparkle, thanks to the launch of a limited-edition Christmas flavour. The flavour will be revealed as part of the brand’s Christmas campaign ’#WeAreMerry’ in November. Festive-themed mixed packs will contain two bottles of the limited- edition flavour alongside the existing seven flavours.

Gin is still in

There’s no doubting the popularity of gin and its appeal shows no sign of slowing down. According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, sales almost doubled between 2016 and 2018 and broke the £2bn barrier for the first time.

Gin lovers are spoilt for choice with so many different brands and flavours to choose from. Aaron Darke, founder of Manchester distillery, Zymurgorium, says: "Christmas is a good time in particular to treat our friends and family to a special bottle of premium spirit or liqueur something extra special that they wouldn’t necessarily buy on a day-to-day basis. It’s therefore the perfect opportunity to entice Christmas shoppers with unusual flavours and independent brands with eye-catching bottles.

"We have a rich selection of spirits, with our gold stars going to Manchester Marmalade gin, Realm of the Unicorn gin-based liqueur and the new Flagingo Pink gin and Flagingo Electric Raspberry gin-based liqueur."

And Darke says it is not just the liquid that will surprise people: "Our bottles too have been created to be just as unique. All of our spirits are distilled on site in Manchester, hence the Manchester bee in our logo, and every bottle has a unique batch number and is hand sealed with a coloured wax. All of this helps to deliver the provenance and communicate the quality consumers are looking for."

He adds that creating a section in the store dedicated to popular gift options is a good way to help shoppers and also to help maximise sales.

"A stand with chocolates and premium alcohol, alongside gift bags, will come in handy for friends missed from the list or unexpected guests, while putting premium tonic and lemonade bottles by the gin section makes for a lovely last-minute hamper."

Finally, Andrew Turner, director of wine for Halewood Wine, says that throughout the festive season, shoppers are bombarded by choice so he suggests retailers give their customers the guidance they’re looking for: "Take hand-sell to the next level, advising on food pairing, tasting notes and offers that help make wine shopping enjoyable and accessible for all.

"The festive weeks are times of social occasions, which means buying a lot of last-minute wine to take for the hosts. Retailers should make sure there’s a good selection of white wines, fizz and alcohol-free options in the refrigerated sections, so shoppers can pick one up on their way to the occasion."

Alcohol-free lines

The alcohol-free wine category is worth nearly £40m, with Eisberg leading the way with a 60% market share (Nielsen).
Talking about Eisberg, Andrew Turner, director of wine for Halewood Wines, says: "What has previously been perceived as a beverage exclusively for designated drivers has now evolved into a common lifestyle choice resulting in a sharp rise in consumers who are in the market for easily accessible alternatives that don’t compromise on quality or taste.
"Drinking rates are at their lowest in 18 years. According to the Office for National Statistics, around one in five adults in the UK is now teetotal which is about 8% more than 10 years ago, indicating that this isn’t a trend that is set to die out any time.
"As long as brands like Eisberg can continue to provide premium, interesting and most importantly, tasty, low and no alcohol alternatives, then it’s a category that will keep on growing."
Turner says one of the reasons that Eisberg is doing so well is the fact that it is made in exactly the same way as all high quality wines.

Retailer view

"Alcohol is an important category for us and we do well with it at Christmas. We trade with Londis so stock up with items from their pre-sell brochure to ensure we have lots of deals to offer our customers.
"Beer and wine are our best sellers but we do well on spirits too. I know gin is popular but we sell more vodka and Buckfast tonic wine to go with it.
"We are always very busy on Christmas Eve with people coming in for last-minute items typically cigarettes and alcohol."