Herbal Bitters: covering all bases

04 January, 2023

Spanning a wide spectrum of flavours, bitters is well placed to attract new consumers with variations on existing brands.

While aperitif-style drinks have been perfectly placed to capture nearly every recent drinking trend, and with Italianstyle amaros enjoying a moment too, their cousins in the herbal bitters category haven’t necessarily had the easiest time. But there’s opportunity here, with strong brands continuing to do well, and with room for innovation, both in terms of positioning and new product development.

The high-energy occasions associated with brands such as category leader Jägermeister aren’t particularly compatible with the prevailing drinking trends of the past five or 10 years. As Spiros Malandrakis, industry manager of alcoholic drinks at market research provider Euromonitor International puts it: “The one leading in growth rates, and capturing the zeitgeist – sipping culture, aperitivos, and more relaxed settings of consumption and socialisation – all of that is encapsulated by Aperol, and away from the nineties and noughties era of high-energy consumption.”

But that’s not to discount those going against the grain, and perhaps exactly for that reason. “Jägermeister is still growing, even if it sometimes seems misaligned when it comes to the latest trends in nightlife. It still embraces this side of the on-trade that seems to be mostly forgotten by everyone else. It’s exactly this unique approach that provides a competitive advantage,” says Malandrakis.

What’s challenging, of course, is for brands like this to branch out into other settings or usage occasions. “It’s extremely difficult to make that transition after establishing something for decades,” he says. “I think Jägermeister has largely acknowledged that, which is why it seems to have doubled down in this high-energy space in the past couple of years.”

Euromonitor International places Jägermeister as the number one brand by volume in the bitters category for 2021, ahead of Aperol in second place and Fernet-Branca in third. It reports that the global bitters category is growing, with 2021 volumes exceeding prepandemic levels, and accounting for 42% of the broader liqueurs category. Value is growing more slowly, recovering from a decline in 2020, but not quite back to 2019 levels.

IWSR Drinks Market Analysis separates bitters – brands like Jägermeister and Ramazzotti – from spirit aperitifs such as Aperol and Campari. According to its figures, total bitters rose in volume by 4% CAGR 2016-2021, with the sub-category of amari increasing by 5%, compared with an increase of 8% for spirit aperitifs. Forecasts for CAGR 2021-2026 see bitters volumes, as well as those of amari, continuing to rise by 4%.

“The herbal category is very diverse and offers consumers unique and varied taste experiences,” says Michael Eichel, vice president global corporate communications for Mast-Jägermeister.

“We see more and more consumers in new markets such as South Africa and Latin America, as well as in mature herbal markets.”

Eichel confirms that the brand remains committed to its core consumption occasion, while remaining open to others. “We are still expanding our strong position in the shot consumption heartland, while exploring new occasions and new consumers who seek unique taste sensations,” he says.

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