Bitters: Wind back in its sales

27 June, 2014

These versatile brews are growing in popularity at a rate of knots as they become a vital part of the bar call. Patience Gould investigates

THE BITTERS MARKET boasts one extraordinary anomaly and that is despite the taste of these bitter brews, it is big business and, more importantly, a growing one. Indeed, these herbal concoctions are a reminder of the close links alcohol used to have with the world of medicine – and that’s a nice way of putting it. Nevertheless the sector continues to grow. Over the decade 2002 to 2012, the global bitters category posted very solid 3.39% growth moving from 17.619 million cases to 23,117 million cases (IWSR).

The leading mights championing bitters are the German brew, Jägermeister and the Italian brand Fernet Branca. In the five-year period 2009 to 2013 their respective volumes grew from 6.4 million cases and 3.3 million to 7.2 million and 6.2 million cases, and growth in 2013 was 12.5% and 88% respectively (Drinks International’s Millionaires').

Clearly there’s a goodly head of wind in Fernet Branca’s sails, furthered by the huge amount of work the company has put into the cocktail arena, highlighting Fernet’s versatility. Also its distilling hub in Argentina has performed well in recent years and Fernet & Coke has become so popular that the mix actually has its own dedicated song, while over in the US the brand has something of a cult following, notably in its chief stamping ground of San Francisco.

Fernet’s success underlines the necessity for bitters to move out of the traditional digestif serve at the end of the meal, indeed it would seem that in the old strongholds in east and western Europe the category is increasingly under pressure. In short bitters’ consumers are ageing and producers must find ways of attracting newcomers to the fold. 

“Exploring alternative occasions and ways of drinking bitters rather than as a digestif has created a nice way out of this bottleneck,” says Averna’s export director Michel Jordens. “Versatility is the name of the game but not all of them have these mixology essentials. A new world is opening up for a beautiful liquid such as ours with lots of heritage, authenticity and nice narratives thanks to a growing international cocktail trend. 

“Bartenders liking for products underpin this development and we see that more and more embrace us. We have started to make inroads in that direction and have it as a foundation for those markets where no real bitter tradition exists such as Britain for example. The US is obviously in the driving seat when it comes to mixology and cocktail trend. The flavour explosion is in full swing and we have made the Italian bitter, amaro prominent in the bar scene due to its fresh flora, anis and bitter orange notes and warm, bittersweet medley of herbal, spicy and earthy flavours. We are flooded daily by new interesting cocktail serves cropping up around the country.”

Averna has of course been in the news recently following its acquisition by its Italian compatriot Gruppo Campari. The move enriches the company’s Italian specialities range which, along with Averna now, includes Aperol a low alcohol bitters aperitif and the more traditional bitters brand in which artichoke is at the fore, Cynar. “We do believe that this good cultural fit and their stronger route-to-market will give us several opportunities in all the international regions that they cover,” says Jordens. “Notably the strength of their distribution network in North America, will position us to benefit from the market’s growth potential, particularly in the US, where mixologists and local consumers are showing growing 

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