The nation might be pinning its hopes on a hot summer, but don't go cancelling your holiday to Majorca just yet. With two wet summers behind us, chances are this year will be just as miserable.
So when the rain pours and the sun refuses to shine, how can retailers sell summer spirits?
As Sue Beck, Halewood International's senior brand manager, points out,
neither the weather nor the financial climate can be guaranteed . Spirits can, however, be promoted as a cost-effective
accompaniment to summer events .
Selling spirits to go into pitchers
drinks can be "cost -effective for consumers ", according to Beck, who recommends retailers invent displays with mixers and fruit to help shoppers understand how to use spirits in different ways.
"Retailers should look at the
calendar to try and develop some themed events," suggests Vicky Lee, marketing manager for Huddersfield-based CWF.
"For example, consumers could recreate a day at the races in their own home, without the huge cost of attending, but with cocktails and food."
But remember to keep things simple, warns John Bradbury, off-trade sales director for Whyte & Mackay.
"The key to any promotion is making sure you
have the basics right and
the right drinks to suit your local customers," he says.
So which spirits are best for making summer-themed long drinks and al fresco cocktails, and which should retailers steer clear of promoting?
"Lighter spirits generally work better in the summer, such as vodka, gin and white rum, and some specialities like Pimm's , Archers and Malibu," says Diageo's category marketing director Russell Jones.
But don't be afraid to think outside of the box, adds Bradbury. "Retailers should look to promote other brands that are not necessarily thought of as mainstay summer drinks. For example Glayva liqueur can be combined with a variety of different mixers to create a refreshing long summer drink and it's versatile enough to be used as a topping for the other summer favourite, ice cream."
Whisky shouldn't be ignored in the summer, regardless of it s reputation as a winter
warmer, says Iain Weir, head of marketing at Ian Mc leod Distillers.
"As whisky is not normally seen as a summer drink, new takes on whisky-based cocktails are a perfect way to make it more accessible during the warmer months. Cocktails are also good as an introduction to powerfully
flavoured malts such as Smokehead. Lighter, fresher whiskies such as Glengoyne work particularly well in long, refreshing mixer drinks," he says.
Bourbon also works well in summer drinks, as long as it's combined with the right mixer, according to Beam Global's marketing manager Aileen Nicol.
"Maker's Mark is one of the most mixable bourbons on the market and its flavour profile is
suited to people who don't normally drink whisky. Maker's Mark mixed with ginger ale is a tasty drink which offers something a bit different ."
forget the traditional, classic mixers, she adds. "Teacher's is great served with
Coke - an easy mix which everyone will be familiar with, using ingredients they are likely to keep stocked up at home."
Cream liqueurs, a category generally associated with Christmas, can also be used in summer drinks, according to Katie Rawll, marketing director at First Drinks Brands. "Amarula is traditionally enjoyed chilled over ice during the summer months in Africa, but it can also be drunk as a 'summer warmer' in a variety of coffee serves, such as an Amarula
latte - added to strong black coffee and topped up with hot milk."
RTDs are another must-stock product for summer, adds Karen Salters, marketing director for WKD owner Beverage Brands . "RTDs offer the appeal of a spirit-based offering, combined with the convenience of serve of a packaged drink, making it an ideal choice for outdoor summer socialising."
It's the season ...
Almost a third of annual off-trade spirits sales occur from May to August, making the summer "a hugely important season for the spirits category in the off-trade", according to Jones.
"Nielsen shows that total off-trade alcohol grew 4% in value sales between May and August 2008, compared to spirits which grew 7%," he says.
Diageo added £14.6 million to take-home sales last summer through a portfolio-wide campaign called Refreshing Tastes for Long Summer Days, which included a neck-collar guide to summer drinks and sponsorship of ITV weather's UV updates during the early evening news.
"Research has shown that supporting retailers with promotional activity is hugely important, as nearly 450,000 consumers who bought spirits during the summer 2008 promotional activity were new to the category," Jones says.
This year the drinks giant is ploughing £1.6 million into a new summer campaign called Bring Home the Spirit of Summer. The push is designed to stop spirits drinkers defaulting to other drinks like beer in the summer
and will aim to influence consumers when they're planning what to drink at home after work.
Ads will run in railway stations
and the Underground, on drive-time radio slots and in London's free daily papers.
Jones also wants to get
the message across that spirits are a cheaper alternative to beer and wine because they go further. "Spirits provide multiple servings, for example 1 litre of Smirnoff provides 40
2.5cl servings," he says.
Retailers shouldn't be put off promoting summer drinks when the weather is poor, he adds. "It's not necessarily sunshine that drives people to consider drinking lighter, more refreshing drinks. People drink them regardless of the weather. In the summer you have longer, brighter evenings
and people have a more optimistic frame of mind."
The season's hottest trend is going to be golden rum, according to Dan Reuby, customer development director at Pernod Ricard UK. "The golden rum category is currently performing particularly strongly, showing a year-on-year growth of 19.6% in the off-trade. This is reflected in Havana Club's performance
- the brand is experiencing an impressive growth of 31% year
year," he says.
"While we would tip the rum category for success, we believe that female consumers are more nervous about dark spirits in general,"
In an effort to get females drinking dark spirits, Halewood extended its Lamb's Navy Rum brand last month with a spiced rum variant, Lamb's Spiced Rum. By infusing the blended rum with natural spices and flavours, including cinnamon, lime and vanilla, Halewood has made the rum sweeter to appeal to women aged 25 to 35, in contrast to Lamb's traditional core consumer base of men aged 45 and above.
Gin is another category to watch out for, according to Weir. "Gin has been on a steady increase for the past couple of years and going into summer will continue to be a growth area as consumers look for a crisp, clean, seasonal thirst-quencher," he says.
Weir predicts that sales will be "robust" this summer, adding: "I am confident that more consumers will holiday at home, more tourists will enjoy lower exchange rates and surely there will be sunshine after the past two washouts."
As consumers attempt to wriggle free of the credit crunch stranglehold, a growing number of foreign holidays will be abandoned this year in favour of the UK - making this summer an ideal time to go big on pushing summer spirits
- come rain or shine.
A Grand cocktail promotion
Grand Esprit - a mix of Grand Marnier and elderflower cordial, topped up with soda water and garnished with a slice of orange and a strawberry - is the official long summer drink of the National BBQ Association's Gastro Alfresco campaign.
Running from May 21
6, the activity will reach over 1.2 million consumers, with a travelling road show visiting 180 shops nationwide.
More than 125,000
samples , recipe cards and pitcher kits will be handed out.
"For 2009 alone there is estimated to be 101 million BBQ occasions, making the UK Europe's largest BBQ nation," say
the campaign organisers.