Gin goes back to classics

10 May, 2024

With interest in flavours waning, consumers are returning to more traditional styles.

Gin is a category that has been continuously growing for many years, driven by consumer trends and the introduction of a variety of flavoured expressions. But this growth is beginning to slow, with the sector entering a period of consolidation as drinkers look to quality over quantity.

Slowing down flavour

Ali Pickering, chief marketing officer at Drinksology Kirker Greer, says there’s still a “strong consumer desire to discover new experiences and tastes as people are looking beyond the classic London Dry gin”.

Consumers are wanting more than just a liquid as they search for quality, according to Pickering – they’re “very interested in where their gin comes from and how it’s made. There’s a desire to support gins with a story, those made with sustainable practices or with a focus on local ingredients”.

She continues: “The future belongs to brands that can off er something new and exciting. This doesn’t mean throwing out tradition entirely – it’s about finding ways to reimagine gin while maintaining its core identity.”

One brand aiming to stick to that tradition while mixing with the modern is Brockmans, which produces a range of gins including Agave Cut and Orange Kiss expressions (launched in 2023). The former is made with Brockmans gin combined with agave spirit, recommended to be served in a Paloma, while the latter combines Brockmans with triple sec.

Eric Sampers, global marketing director at Brockmans, says: “Gin has been a massively innovative category over the past few years and this gives us more opportunity to cross over boundaries into some categories. For example, gin and agave share certain characteristics, very natural ingredients, with traditional practices while also being very modern. When we launched Agave Cut we went for the twist on the Paloma, to encourage people to explore.

“There are lots of craft brands and new flavours, but I think now that experimentation with and exploration of flavours is slowing down. I think people are going back to things that are important.”

With consumers returning to more classic expressions of gin, drinkers are “looking for better products and higher-quality liquids with a focus on balance. With the increase of flavoured mixers, people tend to experiment more”, says Gabriele Sasnauskaite, UK brand ambassador for No.3 gin. “Aft er the pandemic more people are drinking better, higher-quality gins. The curiosity is still there, and consumers are willing to try new products, but they tend to favour timeless classics.”

Place in the bar

Th e question of flavour is particularly apparent in the bar scene as Ryan McFarland, chief commercial & strategy officer at Drinksology Kirker Greer, notes. “Flavoured gin might not be on every menu anymore, but it’s not disappearing entirely,” he says. “A core audience still enjoys these gins, and bars that cater to a cocktail-focused clientele will likely continue to off er a curated selection.

“It’s crucial to stand out in a more competitive market. This means focusing on quality, innovative flavour combinations, and a strong brand identity. Only the gins that deliver a special experience will secure that coveted spot on a bar menu.”

Bars are also beginning to be more selective about the gins they stock, adds Ally Martin, global brand ambassador for Hendrick’s. “In top bars there’s a lot of range rationalisation. It puts pressure on us but in a way it’s great because it forces us to create stuff that’s really going to excite them.

“I think the great thing about the category, in the same way as vodka and tequila, is that it’s versatile, and bartenders will always look to push boundaries in different ways,” Martin continues.

An obvious choice for a gin serve is the G&T, but as Sasnauskaite notes: “People are moving away from unbalanced serves with too much tonic. Consumers are choosing better-quality mixers. The Martini is another cocktail people are getting curious about. But in my opinion gin cocktails are still taking a lot of interest when listed on menus.”

Future prospects

The outlook for gin’s future varies from market to market, as Jean-Dominique Andreu, managing director of Brockmans, notes: “The gin wave has different levels of maturity around the world. You have a lot of markets around the Mediterranean that are growing. The more mature markets like the UK are seeing consolidation, as well as Spain. We have seen years of incredible growth, which can’t go on forever. Consolidation is healthy for the category and we are embracing this change in the market.”

General manager of Ramsbury Brewing & Distilling Nikolas Fordham says the UK gin market is still a “powerful and vibrant arena to work in”, but adds: “How to survive is becoming more complex due to the change in consumption and increasing variety. However, the global market is seeing opportunities to gain traction.”

With the gin category not growing at the same rate as in recent years, Salcombe Distilling co-founder and director Angus Lugsdin says: “There are still great opportunities for really well-made products, by brands with provenance and a true story to tell.

“Export markets can represent a great opportunity to diversify and chase the growth which brands may not find in the UK. It is also possible to win in some export markets, where the consumer is less familiar with UK brands. Bigger brands with large advertising and promotional budgets are able to invest heavily to build their brand image, although often without the underlying story. In the on-trade we are definitely seeing a return to London dry gin,” Lugsdin continues.

In international markets McFarland says Asia Pacific is an area with high growth potential. “Although the scale of the category remains relatively small at this moment, we do believe these markets will be a significant part of the growth story in the medium term.

“The UK remains a core market for many gin brands, both with new entrants and established favourites. It’s true the category is going through a period of consolidation, particularly within the flavoured sub-category, but gin remains the third-biggest spirits category, accounting for roughly 15% of total spirits consumed, so it’s important to consumers and customers,” McFarland continues.

“In short, flavoured gin is evolving from a trend to a more specialised category. Success will lie in offering premium products that cater to a discerning audience and a focus on innovation that keeps things interesting.”

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