The redhead gene thrived as Celtic clans were isolated in the Scottish Highlands and breeding with outsiders was rare, but globalisation has apparently caused so many different ethnic groups to interbreed that the weak ginger gene will soon join the dodo on the evolutionary scrapheap.
Oddbins recognised the plight of ginger people in January by offering a 10% discount on certain wines to redheads in a month-long promotion, but the gesture is probably too little, too late.
But while ginger hair has receded, in recent years alcoholic ginger beer has shot up in popularity – kick-started by the launch of Crabbie’s in 2009.
And as pretenders to the throne have joined the burgeoning category, alcoholic ginger beer has suffered an identity crisis. Analyst firms have struggled to categorise it – alternately lumping it in with ale, over-ice cider and RTDs – and Crabbie’s marketing controller Al Cross admits retailers have been equally confused as to which shelf to put it on.
But to confuse matters further – in a bid to stave off the threat of extinction that all niche drinks categories fear – suppliers have started breeding ginger beer with drinks from different ethnic groups.
In March Crabbie’s launched Raspberry and Strawberry & Lime variants, joining Spiced Orange and the original brew in the range. This month the Scottish brand is following up with a new cloudy lemonade variant.
Claire Kelly, senior brand manager at Halewood International, says: “New flavour variants have the potential to reinvigorate the ginger beer market. They allow Crabbie’s to be enjoyed during differing occasions whether that be barbecues or higher energy events later in the day.”
This suggests that suppliers are trying to position ginger beer as a greater rival to the burgeoning fruit cider market rather than dwindling RTD market.
Kelly says: “The new fruit flavours are targeted at a younger audience, aged 25 to 35. The brand acquires consumers from other categories, most often premium lager and flavoured cider.
“Current statistics suggest that flavoured ciders only account for around 7.3% (Nielsen, year to November 10, 2012) of the cider market at present, and they are already outselling their pear-flavoured cousins. “Since the introduction of Crabbie’s, the ginger beer market has gained in popularity, and there’s now a demand from consumers for retailers to stock a variety of brands. “This demand, in addition to the increase in fruit ciders, has led retailers to review Crabbie’s position in-store. Just as in pub fridges, Crabbie’s is sited adjacent to fruit ciders, and take home retailers are increas- ingly looking at the relationship between fruit ciders and Crabbie’s.”
Nobody seems to know how much the ginger beer market is worth – although Halewood claims Crabbie’s is the market leader and worth “in excess of £100 million” – but fruit cider is worth £86 million (Kantar, year to March 17), RTDs £222 million (Nielsen, year to May 25) and beer £3.5 billion (Nielsen, year to May 25) to the off-trade, so there is plenty of market share to be snatched.
Emily Callahan, brand manager for new brew Ginger Grouse, says distributor Maxxium has no plans to launch fruit-flavoured variants but that “the cider and fruit cider markets are strong competitors for the alcoholic ginger beer category”.
Rather than stealing market share from the blended Scotch whisky category, where parent brand Famous Grouse lies, Callahan believes it will attract younger drinkers to both ginger beer and whisky.
She adds: “Ginger Grouse has been designed to appeal to a younger consumer group aged 25 to 40. For Maxxium, it’s all about keeping the brand relevant for a new and a younger demographic and adjusting to the drinking occasion.”
It’s survival of the fittest in the drinks trade, and only those that adapt will survive. Kelly adds: “The strong competition which has characterised the ginger beer category has been primarily driven by innovation, in addition to increased advertising and pro- motional activity. Halewood will continue to develop its market strategy in order to meet these challenges and offer consumers choice and quality.
“This has generated confidence among retailers to increase space in both fixture and fridge, as well as encouraging consum- ers to try new brands and products.”
The resounding message is that ginger beer is a tough, adaptive animal – happy to straddle various categories, as difficult to pigeonhole as a flying lemur or a blobfish, happy to branch out to survive – and that it won’t be joining the dodo or Geri Halliwell’s barnet on the scrapheap any time soon.