Santa's coming: Your guide to the must-stock drinks this Christmas

08 October, 2015

As the economy finds its feet again and UK consumers start to loosen their purse strings a little, drinks suppliers and retailers are looking forward to an exciting Christmas, with fingers crossed all round for bumper sales.

The mince pies may be out in force in some stores already, but most retailers will still be finalising their line-up and getting everything in place for the most wonderful time of the year – so we have asked suppliers to tell us the top trends they have spotted for the season.

“If I were able to predict what’s going to be hot at Christmas accurately I’d be a very rich man,” says Paul Kruzycki, managing director of Ales by Mail, which is launching a craft beer advent calendar this year (see Gifting feature, page 29).

“The best advice I can give is that if things were successful last year in the beer world, they’ll go well this year too. If you want to expand on that range of successful products, start with a broad range in October and follow the trends – then narrow it down from there. The consumer will quickly tell you what they like.”

Trading up is the talk of the town.

With consumers feeling a bit less squeezed, this is the Christmas the trade has been waiting for, with producers and retailers at all levels laying on premium products to tempt shoppers looking to treat themselves.

“Christmas is the one time of year people trade up so I think we will see an increase in sales of wines over the £20 mark,” says Richard Volpi, national account manager at Armit Wines. “Customers treat themselves at this time of year, and how better to do so than by buying fine wine?”

HIM research in 2014 found that 42% of consumers planned to trade up to more premium food and drink for their Christmas shopping.

Brand Phoenix managing director Greg Wilkins says: “Consumers are not necessarily looking for deals and deep-cut pricing around the Christmas season, preferring to treat themselves and their family and friends to ensure quality. Brands such as First Cape will be popular among shoppers as a product they are familiar with, can trust and are prepared to pay more for.”

Continental Wine & Food marketing manager Amy Ledger says: “This year we have seen a marked increase in consumer confidence and, although many shoppers will continue to keep one eye on household finances, there is a definite trend towards spending more on the right products for the right occasions. We are starting to see a little more experimentation, particularly with wine choices – there are very few bottles of wine available for under the £5 mark. As a result consumers are more willing to try something different within their price range.”

“Christmas is a time when consumers think outside the box, looking for alternative drink options to impress friends and family,” says Neil Palmer, director of specialist organic supplier Vintage Roots. “It is here that off-licences have a point of difference when compared to the big supermarkets, as they have the opportunity to be flexible with stock, providing new and interesting wines, beers and spirits. Organic options can be seen as more luxury purchases, making Christmas an ideal time to educate consumers.”

The season is a particular opportunity for convenience stores, where growth outstripped all other retail channels last year – up 5% to give them 30% share of the market, according to Nielsen.

Debs Carter, marketing director for alcohol at SHS Drinks, says: “When it comes to alcohol sales, convenience stores were once again the star performers last Christmas. While off-trade total alcohol sales value was up by just 1.6%, convenience stores achieved growth of 5.1%, according to Nielsen.”

Nigel Paine, GB commercial director for out-of-home at Britvic, adds: “Busy lifestyles are expected to drive Christmas necessity shopping at c-stores in 2015, continuing the trend from 2014 that saw 60% of people shopping between December 22 and 24, with 22% shopping on Christmas Eve.”

So here are the top trends to watch out for:

WINE

With Prosecco continuing to put the fizz into wine sales, the Italian sparkler is the top tip for the festive season. But with many retailers reporting that they regularly sell out of the stuff even when it’s not a special occasion, there is a great opportunity for other sparkling wines too.

“Champagne has been performing a lot better recently, following a period of decline as the economy is recovering,” says David Tromans, marketing manager at Buckingham Schenk. “One sub-category which has seen renewed consumer interest is grower Champagnes, particularly in the on-trade, but in the off-trade to certain extent. We expect other sparkling wines to continue to grow as more consumers are seeking alternatives to Prosecco. Flavoured wines such as glühwein should also perform well in the off-trade.”

Chapel Down chief executive Frazer Thompson says: “We expect the English wine category – and sparkling in particular – to continue to create excitement as consumers look to make festive occasions a little more special than an anonymous Prosecco or own-label Champagne. However, I am sure we will see more people, and many more women in particular, joining the beer revolution and enjoying lagers and ales with more taste and interesting packages.”

Simon Bradbury, UK managing director for Codorníu, says: “The boom in all things sparkling will continue. At times of celebration, Cava does exceptionally well as people look for quality without breaking the bank and head for brands they trust.”

González Byass anticipates a boost for Cava as well as its top-end Champagne Deutz.

Brand manager Ben Wyse says: “We expect to see continued strong growth with our Vilarnau Cava brand on the back of general growth in the sparkling category and more particularly due to the eye-catching design of the new Gaudi-inspired packaging.”

Lisa O’Donnell, head of marketing for the UK and Ireland at Hacienda Zorita, says: “Vintage Cava offers exceptional quality and value for money, as well as pairing extremely well with Christmas canapés and desserts.”

She adds: “There are no signs that consumers are slowing in their quest to find that perfect Christmas bottle of red. We are seeing a strong demand for Rioja Reserva and Rioja Gran Reserva this Christmas, a softer, more rounded red wine due to the barrel and bottle ageing these wines undergo before they are released.”

MULLED, FORTIFIED AND SWEET WINES

Broadland Wineries marketing manager Ben Cameron believes fruit-flavoured wine drinks will do well and tips mulled drinks as another potential seller.

CWF’s Ledger agrees: “Mulled wine and ginger wine are to have massive sales as both will benefit from the usual UK-wide determination to have a really festive and celebratory Christmas and New Year with family and friends. Mulled wine has captured the hearts of UK consumers seeking the warming, spicy taste of the festive period throughout the cold winter months.”

The company sells 10% abv Winter Warmer mulled wine and 8% abv Harvest Fruit, ready to warm and pour.

Ledger also advises retailers to cater for sweeter tastes. “Sweet wines are to show growth at all price points as more are being stocked by restaurants, giving consumers their first chance to sample this wine. They have been ignored for many years but are now being enjoyed by many consumers, especially those new to wine drinking,” she says.

“The new Orvieto Classico Amabile DOC from Barberani in Umbria is a wonderful example of this classic Italian sweet wine. CWF also sells the rare Ecru Passito di Sicilia made by Firriato from the Zibibbo grape grown in western Sicily near Trapani.”

Christmas favourites sherry and port will have their annual heyday.

Mentzendorff managing director Andrew Hawes says: “Christmas is timeless, so current trends may well be put aside in favour of a return to tradition. Port ticks all the boxes here. Within fortified wine it is the strongest performer, while its natural warmth makes it a perfect accompaniment socially and with traditional festive fare.”

Chris Richardson, customer marketing controller at Maxxium UK, says: “Sherry is synonymous with Christmas. Harveys is gaining momentum with a young adult audience as they begin to experience this complex fortified wine in cocktails being served in their favourite bars. Signature by Harveys, the latest product in the portfolio, is the ultimate expression of a rare cream sherry.”

Meanwhile, Eisberg brand manager Fran Draper reminds retailers to cater for the festive tastes of non-drinkers.

She says: “We see a significant increase in sales over Christmas as shoppers pick up a wider range of non-alcoholic options to cater for guests who may not be drinking alcohol.

“Over the winter season we also see an uplift in the sales of Eisberg alcohol-free Cabernet Sauvignon as customers look for warming flavours as the cold nights set in. One of our social media drivers is to position this as the base for a perfect alcohol- free mulled wine, and this has been so successful that we have seen significant year-on-year increases.

“Alcohol-free wine sales are up 42% (Nielsen, year to June 20) and Eisberg is leading the way with a sales increase of 76%.”

Amanda Grabham, marketing director for soft drinks at SHS Drinks, says: “More than one in five adults don’t drink alcohol at all, and with more purchasers than any other adult soft drinks (Kantar Worldpanel), Shloer is the most popular choice for adult soft drink shoppers.”

SPIRITS

Spirits offer a great opportunity to trade consumers up at Christmas by introducing them to simple cocktail ideas.

Maxxium UK customer marketing controller Chris Richardson says: “Cocktails are popular during the winter and whisky provides a warming element to drinks. Drinkers are looking to add theatre to their home consumption and this has fuelled a growth in people creating their own mixers, such as lemonade and ginger beer, as well as a growth in at-home cocktail making.

“According to a recent Mintel survey, one in four people said they would be interested in making cocktails at home using dark spirits or liqueurs.”

He also tips bourbon as a top seller this season: “Bourbon is a category that is on fire at the moment and doesn’t show signs of slowing down.”

Ibolya Bakos Tonner, global brand manager for Caorunn gin, says: “Gin cocktails are hot on trend and Caorunn has always had outstanding sales results in December. This year we developed a number of seasonal cocktails for spring, summer, autumn and winter, and will be pushing our Winter Spices Gin & Tonic.”

Catherine Meardon, brand manager for Red Square at Halewood International, says: “Following on from our new variants, Red Square Toffee and Red Square Sloe, which join the existing Red Square vodka, the brand will get into the festive spirit with the introduction of two festive cocktails – Toffee Mint Crisp and Very Berry Martini. Red Square will be supporting retailers during the Christmas period with POS kits featuring serving suggestions, including the new cocktails.”

BEER

Craft beer has taken the UK by storm, and retailers will be laying on extra, unusual stock to trade their customers into the market.

Greene King take-home sales director Neil Jardine says: “Premium ale will continue to be the standout category within beers, wines and spirits. Shoppers will trade up into multipacks and 5-litre mini-kegs, with the latter attracting younger shoppers and both formats great for social events, and speciality craft beers, such as Goose Island IPA, will no doubt be popular with drinkers looking to buy something special.”

Ales by Mail managing director Paul Kruzycki says: “We continue to see growth of the canned beer format and sour beers are growing steadily. Once again, it’s fair to say we’re being influenced by the American market and we’re expecting to see a lot of pumpkin beers around Halloween and towards the end of the year.”

Paul Halsey, managing director of Purity Brewing, says consumers are moving to highly hopped beers.

He says: “We always aim to create something at this time of year which offers something a little out of the ordinary. This year is no exception as we launch X, a bourbon cask rye IPA which celebrates the 10th birthday of the brewery. The beer will be beautifully balanced with a warming finish thanks to the use of the bourbon cask.”

CIDER

SHS Drinks’ Debs Carter says: “Christmas and New Year are the second biggest peaks for cider sales after the summer. What both of these periods have in common is the fact that consumers socialise more at these times of the year.

“That’s when sharing packs such as 75cl Merrydown Vintage bottles assume an even greater importance in the merchandising mix.”

Surging fruit cider will continue to drive sales in cider – but shoppers will trade up to drinks with more provenance and stronger flavours, says Westons head of sales Geoff Bradman. “Ciders which have a more robust flavour, which tend to be at the premium and more traditional end of the market, are more likely to do well in the colder months,” he explains.

Rekorderlig has released its Winter Cider for the sixth year running, and is marketing it as a drink to be enjoyed hot or cold.

“Premium cider has continued to perform well – consumers have been willing to pay a premium for quality drinks, and this is never more the case than at Christmas,” says customer marketing manager Linsey Adams.




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