On a visit to the London wine fair recently, I was struck by the huge increase in the number of exhibitors from all over the world.
Coming out of the fair, I reflected on a number of hot topics - the wine market in general, rosé growth, summer trends and cider - but I couldn't ignore that my visit really got me thinking about regionality in drinks in Great Britain.
There are clear variations in regional palates and preferences in the south and south west of England, in Wales, in the Midlands, the north of England and Scotland. To keep it simple I've looked broadly at London, the south and north of England and Scotland, with apologies to those in the Midlands, East Anglia, Wales and the south west.
London and the south of England are significantly ahead of the total GB off-trade market in soft drinks growth, up 10 to 12 per cent, driven by more "healthy" water and fruit-based drinks.
In value share indexed on total soft drinks, sports (up 139 per cent) and energy drinks (up 111 per cent) are very biased towards impulse purchase, but grocery multiples have the advantage in fruit juice (up 29 per cent), with water split between the two.
The health fad is hitting London most, with unflavoured water (up 39 per cent) massively biased to this region, with fruit juice up 19 per cent and drinking yoghurt up 13 per cent. London indexes very high on more exotic fruit flavours, under-indexing on more traditional flavours. All the categories with "artificial flavourings" in are in significant decline.
The south of England is very different from London, with a bias towards flavoured milk (up 16 per cent) and dilutable up 16 per cent, but away from fizzy drinks. The water phenomena is not happening so predominantly here.
The north of England is different again, almost health-averse, with a bias to sports (up 12 per cent), flavoured water (up 8 per cent), energy drinks (up 5 per cent), and carbonates (up 6 per cent) and away from unflavoured water, fruit juice and drinking yoghurt. For the instant energy rush, the north likes sharper tastes and soft drinks with some bite.
Scotland is massively biased towards the sweet and fizzy drinks, away from dairy and fruit-based drinks. Carbonates are up 30 per cent, flavoured water up 16 per cent and energy drinks are up 7 per cent. Almost averse to anything that might make you more healthy, so no wonder the Scottish Executive seem so focused on health issues. Scotland takes this to extremes, with citrus sour bursts (up 42 per cent) assaulting the Scottish taste buds and away from fruity "healthy" options.
I'm not saying healthier products are not influencing these markets further north. They are, but far less dramatically. GB off-trade soft drinks grew by 8 per cent in 2006 to £5.9 billion - a growth which outperformed virtually all other grocery categories!
So with these regional variances for soft drinks, what about alcohol?
In wine, the differentiating factors are Australian, French and South African. London has a bias toward white (up 3 per cent), the south; red (up 4 per cent) and the north, rosé (up 7 per cent). New Zealand (up 59 per cent), Italian (up 24 per cent) and French (up 23 per cent) with traditional French, like Burgundy, Beaujolais, Loire, Bordeaux, Rhône, Sauvignon Blanc, Languedoc and Italian
Pinot Grigio preferred.
The south of England sees reds (up 4 per cent) preferred, with France (up 8 per cent), South Africa, Argentina and Chile doing well.
In the north of England, the sweeter tooth is coming out with a bias towards rosé (up 7 per cent) and sweeter wines, with France, Italy and New Zealand all under-indexing, whilst German, USA and most New World wines are over-index. Preferred types are Liebfraumilch, hock and US white Zinfandel.
Scottish drinkers are stronger on white (up 1 per cent), South African (up 18 per cent), Chilean (up 8 per cent) and USA (up 8 per cent). Preferred types are mostly white varietals, like Chenin Blanc (up 41 per cent) and Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio (up 38 per cent).
Looking at wines and spirits, London is much stronger in Champagne (up 85 per cent), tequila (up 30 per cent), sparkling wine (up 29 per cent), premium brandy and Cognacs (up 24 per cent), light wine (up 16 per cent), flavoured vodkas (up 15 per cent) and imported whiskey. The bias is away from perry, dark and golden rums, cider, blended whisky and ale.
The south is more biased on tequila (up 10 per cent), but older age groups go for speciality drinks (up 10 per cent).
As you move north, a younger, lower socio-economic group comes in, so perry is up 26 per cent, cider up 12 per cent and ale is up 10 per cent. Other brandy (likely served with a cola), lager and cream liqueurs' value share index best.
Scotland again proves unique, with a big bias to spirits, like dark and golden rums (up 50 per cent), Scotch blended and malt (up by more than 50 per cent), white rum (up 40 per cent), gin (25 per cent), vodka (up 25 per cent) and RTDs. Scotland under-indexes on lager, light wine, stout, ale, Champagne, cream liqueurs and speciality drinks.
It's worth remembering that in GB off-trade retail, Scotland sells 14 per cent of all spirits volumes, 14 per cent of all blended and 20 per cent of all malt whisky, 15 per cent of dark rum, a massive 53 per cent of all golden rum and 20 per cent of all vodka!
Spirits account for 31.1 per cent of Scotland's alcoholic drinks markets value, compared to GB's 22 per cent, but in light wine it undertrades, with 31.4 per cent compared to GB's 36.5 per cent.
In off-trade beer, growing at 4 per cent by value, lager dominates with approaching 68 per cent of all long drink sales value and 83 per cent of all beer value.
While ale grew by £8 million in value, driven by 50cl bottles, its share dipped. In the London TV region, off-trade lager accounts for 86 per cent of off-trade beer value sales, but also accounts for some 30 per cent of GB premium lager sales, including imported world beers.
In the north, while lager dominates, ale is still substantial.
In Scotland, beer only accounts for 24.3 per cent of offs sales value, compared with 27 per cent in GB. Ale is comparatively small.
By April 21 this year, cider had overtaken ale, in value in GB off-trade, (OLN, June 1), making it the fastest-growing part of the offs market, with £102 million in extra sales and growing at 29 per cent.
So we can see tastes varying enormously across regions. These realities, as in the huge variations in global drinks markets, need careful consideration by brand owners and retailers , crucial in maximising sales mix, sales volumes and profits for marketers and buyers in new product launches and range extensions.
Figures quoted are from GB Offs Scan*Track 2006 and Year to April 21 2007, based on indexing regional markets to highlight drink categories under and over-performing the GB average.