From aperitivo moments to barbecues, cocktail hours and after-dinner drams, there’s a world of drinking opportunities for retailers to leave behind, says Jaq Bayles
The festive season may have the edge when it comes to drinking intensity, but when it comes to longevity and diversity, summer’s opportunities stretch like an endless golden coastline for producers, retailers and consumers alike.
Of course there’s no guarantee that a British summer will deliver the weather everyone is hoping for, but a gloriously warm and sunny Easter season has boosted hopes for a summer of picnics, BBQs, after-work get-togethers and garden parties.
The occasion, which has been a rising star in recent years, is the aperitivo, which has been brought to public attention largely by Campari’s Aperol and its classic spritz serve. It’s become an Instagram hit and other brands have tried to emulate that success with their own spritz versions.
London’s Doghouse Distillery co-founder Katherine Saunders says she and her Australian husband Braden originally put Aperol Spritz on a menu at their Brisbane bar in 2011 “and nobody drank it”. But she points out that social media has changed dramatically since then and “when an idea catches on, it just flies and goes global, which is what happened with the Spritz movement.”
To that end, Doghouse has launched what it hopes will be “England’s answer to Aperol” in its doppelganger Aperitivo.
“We’ve known the Italian aperitivo for a long time, but we really wanted to bring in the British. Doppelganger somehow takes inspiration from what the Italians did. They create incredible fluids. The whole point of an aperitivo is the fact that it’s easy to digest, it’s perfect for drinking in the afternoon before a meal – the herbs and roots in it help prepare your body for a meal.”
While Saunders points to the upcoming anniversary and Wimbledon as key summer drinking occasions, she also believes consumers are sticking to some of the habits they’ve acquired during lockdown, such as “drinking at home and not feeling guilty.” to have your own aperitif garden,” and says a Brit Spritz is the perfect way to “set up the rest of your evening, whether it’s a BBQ or dinner.” It’s the perfect sunny experience.”
While many consumers have been seduced by the simple serving of the spritz, others have discovered their inner mixologist and will seek to impress with their cocktail skills at summer celebrations at home, and this is certainly a trend to be seen at Master of Malts.
Brand boss Giovana Petry says: “Just in April, Master of Malt’s mixer category saw incredible sales growth, following the trend of preparing cocktails at home. Interestingly, vermouth has enjoyed steady growth throughout the year, with a notable surge in sales in the week of March 22nd when the UK experienced unseasonably warm weather. While vermouth is a crucial ingredient in many cocktails, it’s also a great low-alcohol option for people who want lighter portions or spritzes, which explains its popularity.
“At Master of Malt we use different spirits depending on the season. Recently and looking to the future, we have and will have a greater focus on rum in Master of Malt campaigns, as well as cocktail components and recipes, all of which are in high demand as the weather warms up and people seek to socialize.
“Our Easter landing page featured three cocktail recipes in video form, helping people get ready and inspired for the holiday weekend, while we’re also sharing more and more cocktail videos on our social media channels. Master of Malt also prioritizes bundles, especially those with cocktail ingredients. Here, too, bundle sales have not only been rising steadily since the beginning of April, but also seem to remain high.”
There are still many consumers who prefer the convenience of a ready-made cocktail, and Petry says, “As the year rolls on and as summer and warmer weather approaches, the bigger spikes we’re seeing in RTD and sales of pre-bottled cocktails – the Jaffa Cake Negroni was recently launched with great success and many others are following suit.”
Gin has been another popular summer drink for many years, so it’s not surprising that manufacturers like to release seasonal editions. Among them this year is Martin Miller’s, which celebrated its Icelandic and English roots by releasing a limited batch of Summerful Gin on April 21st – the first day of summer on the Icelandic calendar – which is a distillation of botanicals from England and Iceland Spring and summer season, arctic thyme and rosemary.
Kirsty Loftus, Area Manager for Western and Northern Europe for brand owner Zamora Company, adds: “We’re continuing the season with our World Bee Week activation at the end of May, where we’re launching initiatives with bars and restaurants in London, Manchester and Edinburgh around for our signature Bee’s Knees serve for Summerful. Every city will see honey supplied in the branded cocktail kits from local honey producers.”
She says the strategy is to filter from cocktails at bars and restaurants to retail purchases and recreate the moment at home.
“Each Bee’s Knees serving is accompanied by an informational leaflet and free thyme seeds for customers to plant at home and encourage their own thriving bee community.”
While gin is of course still very popular, there are signs that the saturated market is now leveling off. Aljoscha Wright, Purchasing Manager at Oxford Wine Co, said: “I think we’ve actually seen a significant drop in gin sales. Gin sales are down 37%, so let’s try to summarize that category a bit.”
But does he expect summer to change that? “The pessimist in me thinks no. I certainly don’t see much interest at all.”
Wright adds that recently the company has been promoting rum through Zoom and custom tastings, and has seen quite a surge in sales. He says, “We’re very focused on the occasion for drinking at home, whether it’s an after-dinner slurp or something to mix into a cocktail at a BBQ or picnic.”
THRILLS FROM THE GRILL
While generally associated with the cooler months, whiskey has carved a niche for itself in the BBQ.
Lauren Priestley, Head of Category Development, Off-Trade at Diageo, says: “Research has shown that whiskey and dining opportunities are increasing, with whiskey becoming more accessible to a wider range of consumers as people look for the combination of whiskey and looking for food. Pairing Bulleit Bourbon with a steak, burger or veggie alternative, for example, or enjoying a glass of The Singleton with chocolate or dessert for dessert can add something special to your barbecue.”
And Dan Prizeman, Whistle Pig Europe and UK Brand Steward, says: “As summer approaches we are expanding into BBQ and garden parties for consumption. Rather than focusing on traditional whiskey cocktails, we cruise more highballs and refreshing long drinks for summer services.
“We are seeing the trend for cocktails at home continue to grow – Covid has really cemented the concept of quality drinks to be enjoyed at home and now people don’t want to go back to drinking anything that isn’t premium.”
So it seems all the signs are pointing to a summer of opportunities to drink at home in the consumer environment enhanced by lockdown.