This advertising content was produced in collaboration with our partner, Edrington.
An abundance of options can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to spirits retail. When customers stroll into a liquor shop, be it boutique-sized or big box, they may well know exactly what they want. Or, they may look to retailers for in-the-know guidance, curious about market trends and faced with copious choices.
With current rising inflationary tendencies pushing average purchases into eyebrow-raising realms, consumers are demanding more for their dollars when buying spirits, scrutinizing quality, and asking questions. It has put topics like purity and provenance, as well as age and the simple notion of clean flavor in the forefront of demand.
And with more workers returning to offices, shoppers are on the lookout for more gifting opportunities, too. “Corporate gifting has been almost non-existent, but people are coming back to offices, schools are open, and we’re seeing a real excitement around gifting this year,” says Shyda Gilmer, CEO of Sherry-Lehman. “We’re definitely seeing people starting to use their expense accounts again, hosting people at lunch, having less zoom calls and more in-person meetings. That’s going to drive what I see as a strong holiday season especially from a gifting standpoint.”
Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights. Sign up for our award-winning Daily Dispatch newsletter—delivered to your inbox every week.
Whether your customers are buying to give or to receive themselves, it’s more important than ever to optimize your spirits selection for sales. SevenFifty Daily spoke to leading retail professionals about the top five trends driving spirits sales on-premise this holiday season and how to maximize your store selection in preparation.
Single Malt Whisky for the Win
The thirst for single malt Scotch whisky is near unquenchable, with one of the biggest over-year increases, according to data from BevAlc Insights. “We continue to see unbelievable growth in fine and rare single malts,” says Gilmer. “The rarer the better.” Producer of such coveted brands as Highland Park and The Glenrothes, Edrington’s single malt portfolio alone took a 17 percent grab of Drizly’s total gross market value sales in September—indicating how it can benefit spirits sales on the store floor.
“It used to be only blended whisky, with Johnnie Walker Blue being what everybody coveted,” says Andrew Whiteley, the spirits buyer for K&L Wine Merchants. “It’s the opposite now. Consumers are trying to find single malts and rare bottle vintages. And the more amazing thing is what we see in pricing. A 25-year-old Macallan has gone from $250 to $2,500 a bottle in a short period of time.”
The Glenrothes has experienced a similar boom; its share of the rare whisky auction market grew 39 percent last year, driven by growing consumer interest in the distillery’s vintage and exclusive single casks.
Age Statements Making a Comeback
When the whiskey boom began in the 1990s, producers weren’t prepared for the rapid way stocks were diminished, bringing about the rise in non-age statement whiskeys. But with time, of course, and better planning, aged stock—typically aged for more than Bourbon’s minimum of two years—have returned, with American whiskeys like Wyoming Whiskey introducing age statements onto their bottles, like the National Parks Limited Edition five-year-old straight bourbon, which can command a high price tag. “We’re seeing age statements coming back at premium lately, because everyone’s been expanding,” says Whitely.
In the realm of Scotch, the super-premium rare finds, like The Macallan Anecdotes of Ages Collection, a limited-release whisky and art collection with renowned British pop artist, Sir Peter Blakeg, are in high demand. “If you talk about Scotch, age statements did start to go away, but we’re seeing them come back and treated like a fine wine which is exciting,” says Gilmer.
Stocking these higher age statements can also encourage consumer confidence across the board; for example, The Glenrothes 12 Year Old more than doubles in velocity in accounts that also sell the Glenrothes Whisky Maker’s Cut or the 18 Year Old.
High-End Gin Is In
While gin’s performance in the value and premium categories suffered in 2021, an unexpected shift happened in the super premium slot for the spirit. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, volume sales of that category shot up nearly 122 percent last year. Why? With the advent of barrel-aging, regional differentiations creating dialed-in, super clean versions, and consumer education on the topic, juniper fans are looking for products that shine when poured neat, like No. 3 London Dry.
“Gin is on the same trajectory as tequila sales,” says Gilmer. “People are looking for much higher quality gin. Not the Gordons three-liter jug. They’re looking at botanicals and specific styles and flavors. They want it cleaner and straight. It’s not just about G&Ts anymore.”
Purity of Ingredients
The trend toward transparency is another driver for where consumers put their dollars lately. With spirits, there’s a less-is-more mentality. “Consumers now are looking for big quality names with a great reputation. Even more so, our customers are looking for spirits that are as unadulterated as possible,” says Whiteley, for example, Highland Park’s award-winning Single Cask Series, featuring whiskies with a natural cask-driven color without additives and non-chill filtered. “We constantly have people looking for natural color. They don’t want caramel color, chill filters, or proofed-down whiskies. They want the rawest form of a single malt that you have.”
Corporations with a Conscience
The COVID-19 pandemic brought an abundance of imbalances front and center. From social equity to sustainability, conscience consumption matters today. “I definitely believe consumers are much more aware and considerate of corporate excellence and commitments,” says Gilmer. “I think that it’s important.”
According to BevAlc Insights, over the summer alone, spirits brands owned by underrepresented individuals grew over 13 percent from 2021, showing a big push by consumers who are buying as much for conscience and as they are for craft.
“Sustainability is a huge part of that, too,” says Gilmer. “I do believe consumers are more knowledgeable now.” Research backs this up; according to IWSR, nearly half of alcohol consumers say sustainability practices influence whether they buy from a company or not. To that end, more and more spirits companies are looking at their sourcing, packaging, and give-back options for extra product value-add—and consumers want to hear about it.
One such brand, Noble Oak Whiskey, plants a tree for every bottle sold in partnership with the not-for-profit One Tree Planted, and so far has committed to getting more than three-quarters of a million trees in the ground across the continental United States. One of Edrington’s brands, the company has made a giving commitment across its portfolio; for the holiday season, when consumers buy a bottle from one of their brands, including No. 3 Gin, Brugal Rum, The Famous Grouse, Naked Malt, and Wyoming Whiskey, they can pick from a selection of charities, and Edrington will donate $5 to the organization of choice.
“Ultimately, quality never goes out of style. People always want to know when they’re giving, that they’re giving something good,” says Whiteley. “It goes back to authenticity. There’s a reason things are made the way they are; a reason bourbon and scotch have a set of rules. It ensures a level of quality. But people always ask us, ‘What’s good?’ and look to us for the expertise for authenticity. Our ultimate goal is to give something you enjoy drinking.”
Sign up for our award-winning newsletter
Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights—delivered to your inbox every week.