tonic water trends

Tonic water's refreshed approach in 2020

08 April, 2021

Like other categories, mixers have had to look at the way they operate. Oli Dodd reports on recent trends and what’s in store ahead.

The great gin and tonic revival of the previous decade birthed a stable of high-quality, premium tonic brands, resulting in surging sales as increasingly astute G&T drinkers sought quality mixers. It’s a category that has really flourished in the on-trade, and despite bar closures and widespread disruption throughout 2020, has remained in the ascension.

According to Euromonitor, global tonic water and bitters sales grew by 3.4% last year, surpassing 2.2 billion litres. This performance is even more pronounced in Europe. According to Research & Markets, the European tonic water market is expected to enjoy growth of 9.9% CAGR between 2020 and 2026. However, this only tells part of the story.

Last year, tonic brands’ performances were fundamentally decided by their ability to quickly establish themselves within the on-trade.

“Historically, our brand has been 50:50 off-trade to on-trade, so it was quite a blow when we got that announcement from Boris that everything was having to shut,” says Andrew Ronald, UK general manager of FeverTree. “We were fortunate in doing a very good job in pivoting quickly into the off-trade and really pushing our off- trade business much harder.”

The Berlin-based Thomas Henry brand witnessed the disparity between its markets with and without established o-trade links. “For us, the German and Austrian markets were by far the most developed in the off-trade and in these markets, we only had a loss of 2%,” says Sigrid Bachert, managing director of marketing and sales.

“Then we have markets like Italy, where we are only in the on-trade. There we had a loss of about 30%, but that’s only because of the good months of January to March [2020]. In the hard lockdown months, we had zero sales there.”

As the shockwave of the pandemic lockdowns spread internationally, larger, more established brands with expansive ranges were able to navigate the challenges and remain active in the market.

“Our business is extremely diverse, operating across over 85 countries with a range of both so¡ drinks and mixers in both the on-trade and grocery channels,” says Neil Donachie, trade marketing manager at Fentimans. “This allowed us to divert resources into areas of the marketplace, both channels and countries, that were still open to reach consumers.”

For others, the ability to be light-footed and change tack quickly kept them moving forward. “The impact of Covid-19 required us to adapt our plans for 2020. When lockdown was announced, our pipeline of exciting experiential events and collaborations for the summer of 2020 were paused while we moved our world online,” says Ounal Bailey, co-founder of The London Essence Co.

The UK-based brand, which is owned by Britvic, went on to enjoy great success in 2020 after quickly taking advantage of the shift to off-trade sales. As a result, the brand enjoyed “a year-on-year increase of over 1,000% within [British] retail” for its Indian Tonic.

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