Most white spirits categories have seen healthy growth in recent years, with sales of vodka and rum showing consistent, significant increases. Tequila has also grown dramatically in the past decade, though its sales were affected in 2000-2001 by a serious agave shortage from which it is now recovering. Only gin has stagnated, its performance more down than up throughout the 1990s; however, current consumption trends appear to be favoring the juniper spirit. Indeed, despite a decline in recent years, the gin category managed to post a modest 0.1% gain nationally in 2002, or about 12,000 9-liter cases (on the other hand, gin sales in control states were off about 1.6% in 2002 from the previous year).

Still, the modest growth nationally has been fueled in large part by a couple of trends. First, for the past several years, classic cocktails like the Martini have been fashionable again. They confer upon consumers an aura of sophistication and sense of romance that harks back to different times.

“The gin category is in a similar dynamic to vodka, but not on the same scale,” said Phil West, brand marketing director for Beefeater. “Consumers continue to trade up to higher-end imports at the expense of domestics. New product introductions and the cocktail craze, including traditional cocktails like the original Martini and Gimlet, are driving sales.” West added that as younger adult consumers’ taste profiles become more sophisticated, gin’s popularity should increase.

Tanqueray is highlighting the basics with its Tanqueray & Tonic point-of-sale materials.

Consumers also have shown a willingness to experiment with flavors. And while vodka, rum and even tequila have benefited tremendously from this trend, many feel that gin’s time may be arriving. Consumers, as the argument goes, may well turn to bolder flavors like gin for a change of pace.

“Vodka is a superbly versatile mixing drink, but it doesn’t have much flavor on its own,” said James Bruton, ambassador of peculiarity for Hendrick’s Gin, imported by William Grant. “Gin has great character and a bit of flavor to hang things on.”

Finally, premium products continue to gain ground across all product categories as more consumers “treat” themselves. Even when money is tight, people will spend money on relatively inexpensive luxuries like spirits (versus cars) because of the image these brands project.

“Consumers are becoming more savvy, and they’re definitely drinking less, but better,” said Bruton. “There’s now a superpremium set that wasn’t around a few years ago, like Tanqueray 10 and Hendrick’s. We’ve seen a real resurgence in the last 10 years, and I think the time is right for gin.”
An Acquired Taste

A more acquired taste than vodka, rum, or even tequila, gin hasn’t yet taken off with younger drinkers the way other white spirits have. To a degree, gin is still perceived to be “your father’s” drink. Some of that old-fashioned image, however, is starting to attract more consumers.

Allied Domecq Spirits recently debuted the pear-infused gin, Wet by Beefeater.

“There is some evidence that more upscale drinkers are moving across from imported vodka to imported gin, led by three things,” said Nicholas Blacknell, of Plymouth Gin. These are: “a desire for more traditional, old world products with real heritage, not just a fancy bottle; a demand for spirits with more taste, yet that are still mixable; and a concerted effort by some of the major players to revitalize their brands.”

Indeed, category leader Seagram’s Gin is now benefiting from a focused marketing effort. Even with the disruption of being shifted from Seagram Americas to Pernod-Ricard last year, the brand posted a sales gain of 7.8% nationally to nearly 3 million cases. In large part, the gain is due to Seagram’s turn-around strategy of the past few years to “urbanize” the brand.

“We’ve been trying to contemporize the Seagram’s brand,” said Paul Campbell, group director, gin and vodka, for Pernod-Ricard. “It had gotten stale and we’ve been trying to make it more relevant.”

Seagram’s “urban elegance” ad campaign and urban music tour sponsorship have gotten bigger in the past few years. A new tour, with local market radio promotion tie-ins, kicks off in September. In the meantime, the company is running a summer sweeps with a beach house weekend as the prize in five regions. Consumers also will be able to write in for a 9-liter party bottle with pump.

The high-end Plymouth Gin was re-launched last year.

Tanqueray was up about 1.4% nationally in volume last year. The brand continues to focus on programs that build on its strengths. This summer it will heavily promote the alliterative Tanqueray and tonic. Consumers will see new executions in the “Distinctive since…” ad campaign. One features actor Lawrence Fishbourne, who starred in “The Matrix: Reloaded,” which debuted in May. Tanqueray also got good product placement in the movie “Down With Love,” starring Renée Zellweger and Ewan MacGregor.

Beefeater is another brand that has spent the last several years making itself look more contemporary, resulting in a sales gain nationally of 2.5% last year. The brand’s “Bold Spirit” campaign has brought in new users, the company says.

Beefeater promoted its “bold spirit” early in the summer with the help of a global sponsorship of an around-the-world solo sailing race that ended in April. With the race winner as spokesperson, the brand got its name out to consumers in an unusual way.

Now, Beefeater is partnering with Rose’s Lime Juice on a clamshell co-pack offer to push gin Gimlets. The “Gourmet Gimlet” program puts a “bold new twist” on the classic cocktail, according to Beefeater’s West, with recipes for new drinks like the Green Gimlet with Hiram Walker Apple Schnapps, and the Violet Gimlet with Hiram Walker Blue Curacao.


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