Everyone seems to love gin – either as a drink, or as an important contributor to on-trade profitability. However, there’s so much happening in the gin category, it’s easy to lose track of the latest innovations.
To help understand how the world of gin has changed in recent years, and to look at the future, Take Stock talked to Leanne Ware, white spirits director of Halewood International, home of top selling brands like Liverpool Spirits and Whitley Neill – this year’s fastest growing alcohol brand in percentage terms.
Five years ago, did you see the gin boom coming?
Yes, we’d seen a serious upsurge in interest, which is why we’d invested a lot in developing our portfolio. The biggest change and major contributor to the gin boom has been demand for flavoured gins, where brands such as Whitley Neill have propelled gin to the popularity level that it is today, taking the whole spirits industry by storm in the process.
And in those five years, what’s happened to your gin range?
We have seen Whitley Neill emerge as a firm favourite, as it has become a brand that is agile and quick to respond to flavour trends that are emerging. As such our range has grown to 11 variants, including the number one premium gin, rhubarb and ginger, as well as other flavours such as blackberry and raspberry. We’ve also developed flavours for specific markets, such as Protea and Hibiscus for South Africa. Aside from Whitley Neill Gin, Halewood Wine & Spirits have curated an enviable gin portfolio with gins that transcend all price points from standard – such as JJ Whitley – to super premium, such as City of London Distillery Gins. The range also has a number of different styles should a customer wish to segment their range in this manner. For example, we have Liverpool Gin and Marylebone Gin that satisfies the trend for local gins, along with Whitley Neill Original for those who prefer drier styles. There’s also our flavoured ranges in many of the brands.
It’s your flavoured gins that have really driven sales. How do you decide what flavours will appeal to drinkers?
For our flavoured gins, we keep our finger on the pulse with flavour trends that are emerging, as well as listening to our customers who also have great insight into what consumers are keen to buy.
With the increased awareness of healthy living and provenance, where do you see the market going in terms of gin strength, styles and flavour?
There is still headroom for the flavoured gin category to be explored and expanded further so we will likely see more innovation here. In terms of ABV, there is legislation for all gin to be a minimum of 37.5% so as consumers expand their repertoire and explore the various styles of gin, this may mean they try gins above 37.5% to see how this impacts flavour and they may go for more traditional style gins. ABV lower than 37.5% enters into the gin liqueur segment, which has also seen growth, and this is an area which may also see innovation in terms of flavour too.
If you had one piece of advice for on-trade businesses, what would it be?
Listen to what your customers are after. Stimulate that discussion by having a range of gins at various price points, so you can satisfy their current desire for a particular request, but also help educate and take them on a gin journey. The category is full of so many different styles it’s worth guiding your customers if you can. For example, if someone likes Whitley Neill Blood Orange Gin and therefore likes citrus gin, it may be worth showing them City of London Six Bells Lemon or Murcian Orange to show them how citrus can vary.
What’s the next big thing in gin?
Food pairings are certainly growing in popularity. For Whitley Neill Gin, we have developed pairings inspired by the region that the flavours come from. For example, we have South African inspired dishes and cocktails for Whitley Neill Original, and Italian inspired dishes and serves for Parma Violet and Blood Orange. We are also likely to see more experimentation with mixers. Tonic will always be number one, but we’ve seen consumers moving away from strongly flavoured mixers, to soda and lemonade, so they can enjoy the fl avour and botanicals within the gin itself.