Most people enjoy a tipple at Christmas, with many keen to have a range of booze on offer to impress their friends and family, which is why volume sales of spirits double over the Christmas period increasing from 3.4% to 7.2% (Nielsen).

Faith Holland, head of category development at Diageo GB, says the spirits category was the biggest contributor in value over Christmas 2016, with premium products the main driver of growth. She says the two ’Ps’ are key to sales success preparation and promotion.

"The biggest spikes in promotional activity tend to land in the final week of October and the final week of November so it’s a good opportunity to strike in time for shoppers getting their last pay cheques of the year."

She adds: "Shoppers will be buying alcohol for gifts as well as in-home consumption. Therefore we recommend that retailers time promotions carefully to ensure that they’re not too late. While some shoppers buy their gifts at the last minute, grocery shopping for Christmas starts before December for up to 60% of households (Nielsen)."

And when it comes to gifting, Holland says: "Gifting is a huge driver of footfall at Christmas with over half the shoppers on this mission going into a store with the main purpose of buying alcohol. Customers are also more likely to trade up to higher quality and more premium spirits brands over the festive period."

Of Diageo’s brands, Baileys is always a festive best seller and last year 70% of its Original sales volume was sold in the 12 weeks up to Christmas. Meanwhile, Gordon’s Gin sold three times more at Christmas than the next best-selling gin and Haig Clubman drove 54.5% of NPD value sales at Christmas.

As for that last-minute rush, the timing of Christmas Day 2017 (on a Monday) is good news for smaller independents. That’s because with Christmas Eve on a Sunday, the huge grocery mults’ opening hours are limited by the Sunday trading laws meaning smaller stores (ie with less than 3,000sq ft of selling space) have all to play for. This means reminding shoppers of when you’ll be open is crucial.

Stock up or miss out

The message from Pernod Ricard this Christmas is clear: "Stock up on premium spirits or miss out," says James Middleton, channel director for impulse at the firm.

"Premium spirits generate 100% of spirits growth within the impulse channel, equating to £6.5m in the past year (Nielsen)," he explains. And to help convenience retailers make the most of this, Pernod Ricard UK is launching two campaigns focused on helping retailers increase sales of Scotch whisky and popular cocktail and mixer ingredients: ’Expertly Selected Whiskies’ and ’Mix with The Good Stuff’.

Christmas is apparently the perfect time to drive purchases of Scotch whisky as sales increase by 68% in the eight weeks ahead of the big day as shoppers look to trade up and select the perfect gift. In response to this, the ’Expertly Selected’ range, identified by Pernod Ricard UK, includes five of the supplier’s top-performing premium Scotch whiskies: The Glenlivet Founders Reserve, Chivas Regal 12 YO, Scapa Skiren, Aberlour 12 YO and Ballantine’s Finest.

At the same time, demand for cocktails at home has increased 23% (CGA) and so Pernod Ricard UK has therefore selected three simple cocktails, which are easy for shoppers to re-create at home using ingredients that are (hopefully) readily available in-store. These are: The Espresso Martini, Jameson, Ginger & Lime and The Plymouth Pink G&T.

The campaigns have two important Christmas occasions in mind: gifting and entertaining at home. Middleton says retailers should begin ranging these products from early November to ensure maximum visibility throughout the season, ensuring they are front of mind and store of choice when it comes to important purchases in the following weeks.

Middleton continues: "Our message is simple: ignore premium this Christmas and you will miss out. We are seeing success within the on-trade, where premium accounts for 50% of all spirits sold, which tells us consumers are willing to spend more on premium spirits. In comparison, 18% of all spirits sold within the convenience channel are premium, so for retailers, it’s about upping volumes to make the most of the obvious opportunity. We’ve created two incredibly simple campaigns to help retailers capitalise on this demand, the aim being to encourage shoppers to trade up and select the brands they are enjoying in bars at home."

Both campaigns will be supported by pos available to retailers from November.

Middleton says stocking the full ’Expertly Selected Whiskies’ range has the potential to add over £1,000 to each store’s annual sales and a full planogram is available to assist retailers merchandise SKUs correctly.

And the ’Mix with The Good Stuff’ campaign highlights to retailers that by increasing sales of premium spirits by 50% throughout November and December (116 bottles or 14 per week) retailers can take up to an additional £2,500.

Here’s to the beers

Finally, according to AB InBev, retailers can drive sales of beer and cider multipacks by clearly signposting any specific promotions or limited-edition products, as well as placing them near the till’s queuing area to encourage impulse purchase. Jessica Markowski, head of trade marketing, explains: "This would help retailers tap into the many shoppers that will be on their way to a Christmas gathering whether that’s a work event, family night in or dinner party with friends.

"Making these products easily accessible and visible is key no matter how great the products may look in store, shoppers won’t make a purchase if they’re not aware of them.

"To really engage with shoppers over the festive period, we’d also recommend retailers bring Christmas to life in-store by featuring festive fixtures and hosting a selection of Christmas packaging. With this in mind, retailers can drive sales of multipacks by stocking and displaying those with eye-catching festive packaging, such as Stella Artois with its iconic gold star design." Stella Artois is definitely a ’must stock’ as consumer research found it to be the beer most associated with Christmas. This year, the lager is available in a limited-edition Stella Artois Christmas Chalice, which would make a great stocking filler gift.

Markowski continues: "The key thing for retailers to remember is to make the experience as simple as possible for consumers; it’s important for retailers to use clear signposting to showcase festive merchandise and potential gifts such as festive limited-edition products.

"If space permits, retailers could even create a designated cross-category gifting bay in store, containing the likes of premium chocolates, biscuit assortments and popular festive beers helping the shopper to easily find a gift that will suit any member of the family."

Gordon’s Premium Gin is now in the pink

Diageo is cashing in on the popularity of gin with the launch of Gordon’s Premium Pink Distilled gin, providing retailers with the opportunity to appeal to a new, younger adult audience. Gordon’s Premium Pink combines the sweetness of raspberries and strawberries with the tang of redcurrant, using only natural flavours. The blush liquid is served up in a tall, narrow bottle, providing a contemporary, premium feel and distinctive on-shelf presence.
Annalisa Tedeschi, head of Gordon’s at Diageo GB, comments: "With the launch of Gordon’s Pink, we’re entering a vibrant sub-sector. In Spain, pink gin is a growing trend, which accounts for 36% of value growth within the total gin category (Nielsen), demonstrating a huge opportunity for UK retailers.
"With proven popularity, the strength of the well-established Gordon’s brand name and a delicious, refreshing taste, we’re confident that Gordon’s Pink will prove successful with consumers and help to catapult pink gin into the UK mainstream."
Gordon’s Premium Pink (available in a 70cl bottle, rrp £16.50) is being supported by a £2.1m marketing investment, including out-of-home, PR and social media activity.
Nielsen data reveals that an extra 300,000 households bought gin last Christmas.

Retailer view

Tim Garner
Portsbridge Nisa
"Alcohol is a very important category over the Christmas period and in fact sales in December 2016 were over 24% higher than sales in November ’16. All categories show good growth but beer and wine lead the pack.
"We have a very good alcohol display with about 4.8m of chilled (1.8m high).
"We always stock more alcohol for Christmas with a focus on the Nisa promotions being offered during the Christmas/New Year period. The deals available are pretty good ie reasonably close to the multiples."

Yule Fuel

West Berkshire Brewery (WBB) is hoping to inject some warmth into the winter season with its festive Christmas ale, Yule Fuel. The seasonal ale is a rich, dark beer available to the off-trade, in a bottle, from early next month.
Brewed with all English hops, it’s described as "a full-bodied, deep red ale boasting a strong flavour to match its rich colour". Taking inspiration from the Christmas pudding, Yule Fuel balances its wild berry hop flavours with juicy raisin and caramel sweetness, with a hint of liquorice. Will Twomey, head brewer at WBB, says: "Christmas drinkers are looking for maximum flavour and Yule Fuel offers a truly festive punch with smooth caramel and fruit flavours. We’re sure Santa would approve!"

Catering for all

Despite the growth in popularity of premium spirits, non-premium spirits still make up 70% of total spirits value (Nielsen), so remain incredibly important to the category.
Diageo says that stocking a range of smaller SKUs that can achieve lower price points helps shoppers to buy into the category over the Christmas period and is a simple way to meet the needs of more shoppers.
Faith Holland, head of category development at Diageo GB, says: "With 69% of alcohol sales coming from shoppers spending £10 or less, fractionals are key to driving spirits sales through unlocking the ’Something for Tonight’ mission. In the latest 52 weeks, fractionals accounted for more than 50% of spirits units sold and grew faster than total spirits, with 35cl the best-selling fractional size.
"Retailers should stock a range of best-selling spirits in smaller pack sizes this Christmas to capitalise on this growth opportunity and provide a wide range of fractionals in store to create a perception of value and therefore trust between the retailer and customer."