Will gin be the next vodka?
Will gin capture the imagination and aspirations of consumers? Will the category experience explosive growth? Will there be a plethora of new products? Will there be the kind of breakthrough advertising that transcends the category, gets consumers talking and becomes a pop culture icon?
Some of these developments are already taking shape in the gin category. Whether gin consumption will ever again be greater than vodka consumption remains an open question. Currently, vodka consumption swamps gin by about 3:1–a ratio that applies to total category consumption, as well as the domestic and imported segments.
Like its odorless, colorless, neutral grain spirit relation, vodka, gin boasts several high-image, high-performance imports that exemplify the category’s carefully cultivated prestige. And like vodka, the gin category is serving up a variety of flavored offerings in an effort to broaden its appeal and expand its consumer base. Just as important, the gin category seems ripe for the kind of ultrapremium and boutique entries that are generating so much interest, excitement and profitability in vodka.
Although total gin consumption has been trending down for more than a dozen years, several brands are stronger than ever and the category may be on the verge of experiencing a revival fueled in part by something old (classic cocktails), something new (new products and flavors) and something blue (Sapphire).
Perhaps no other gin has been more adept at capitalizing on the continuing classic cocktail craze than Bombay Sapphire. With its simple and elegant advertising, Sapphire has adroitly cast itself in the role of Martini gin. Sales of Sapphire, which was acquired by Bacardi-Martini USA last year, have more than doubled since 1995 and gained almost 15% last year to 2.4 million 9-liter cases, according to Adams Business Media 1999 Liquor Handbook.
While some distillers have wryly observed that today’s Martini is defined more by the shape of the cocktail’s glass than the drink’s ingredients (gin, after all, and not vodka, rum or cognac, is the prime ingredient of a traditional Martini), Bacardi executives happily leverage Sapphire’s classic connection and superpremium image.
The success of Sapphire and other leading importedbrands also demonstrates the continuing validity of the drinking-less-but-better dynamic. Tanqueray, the best-selling imported gin (with sales of more than 1.3 million cases, or about five times the volume of Sapphire), continues to grow its business by emphasizing its premium image and distinctive taste.
Taste, of course, is one of gin’s great strengths as well as its big weakness–consumers tend to either really like it or dislike it. It is a dilemma that Tanqueray, for example, is accommodating with its line extension, Malacca, a gin formulated to be consumed with ginger ale, juice or straight up. Long recognized as one of the most intensely flavored gins, Tanqueray is embraced by many gin aficionados and avoided by consumers who have yet to acquire a full appreciation of gin’s special attributes.
So while Tanqueray recently introduced a new ad campaign featuring strong, typically British imagery (a bulldog, for instance) that plays up tradition, Malacca has rolled out a campaign intended to draw attention to its lighter, more subtle flavor (a tight shot of a woman’s mouth outlined in bright orange lipstick in one ad). The strategy enables Tanqueray to be Tanqueray; and Malacca to be, if not Tanqueray Light, then a more mixable version of the London classic.
Which is part of the way the entire category is working to appeal to a broader mix of consumers. It is also one of the reasons gin may never be confused with vodka. “The heritage of gin and the power of the category has been challenged by the strength of vodka,” notes Carolyn Ellison, senior brand manager for Tanqueray. “Some of vodka’s strength was driven by Absolut, but it was also the versatility of vodka and the ability to mix it.”
To bolster gin’s versatility and to capture some of the taste-driven sales generated by flavored vodka, several distillers are introducing flavored gins. It is not without some irony, however, that while vodka seeks to add flavor to its odorless, colorless, flavorless profile, gin, which by definition is a richly flavored spirit, is concocting flavored derivatives to mask its gin-ness. That said, the strategy seems to be working. At least judging by the success of Seagram’s Gin.
Long the category’s dominant brand, Seagram’s Gin (which accounts for more than one of every four bottles of gin sold in the U.S. and has more than 40% of the domestic gin business) is shoring up its leadership position with clever entries on two fronts: a line of fruit-flavored pre-mixed cocktails under the Seagram’s Gin & Juice banner (the latest is “Seagram’s Gin & Juice Blue Beast”) and citrus-flavored extensions for its core brand. Introduced several years ago, Seagram’s Lime Twisted Gin has been well received by consumers and the trade. Building on that acceptance, Seagram’s Grapefruit Twisted Gin was added to the line earlier this year.
Despite the appeal of new flavors, much gin consumption remains centered on tonic as the mixer of choice. It’s evident in the advertising and promotion of brands such as Gordon’s (the country’s third best-selling gin at more than 1.1 million cases), Gilbey’s (#4 at about 700,000 cases) and other leading brands. In fact, Gordon’s advertising has featured the bottle against a large background of tonic, ice and a lime. And, rather than run away from the unique aroma and taste characteristics inherent in gin, Gordon’s has used a scratch ‘n’ sniff scented panel on labels of its 1.75’s to enable consumers to “experience the essence of the juniper berries.” The brand also urged consumers to discover, “Why Gordon’s is the world’s most popular gin.”
Another world-renowned gin, Beefeater, has continued to embrace traditional usage (for instance, it recently ran a classic Martini promotion with logoed cocktail shakers and etched glassware) while simultaneously working to freshen its image. While the “Live A Little” ad campaign has helped Beefeater update its image and craft a cooler persona, more changes are anticipated.
New advertising, new products, new flavors and classic drinks. It all adds up to new opportunities for this venerable and sophisticated spirits category. Will gin be the next vodka? It will borrow the best and forget the rest. Gin doesn’t have to be vodka; gin just has to be gin.
The Next Gin Thing: Ultrapremiums & Boutiques
The gin market may be ripe for a new level of ultrasophisticated, hand-crafted, high-profit brands. If so, it would parallel similar developments in the vodka, tequila and rum categories, as well as in the single malt whisky and bourbon categories.
Two of the brands that may be in the forefront of this emerging trend are Citadelle and Desert Juniper — one imported, the other domestic.
Positioned as a connoisseur’s gin produced in France by Gabriel & Andreu, Citadelle is made one cask at a time in a traditional copper pot still. Based on a recipe that its producers say is more than 200 years old, Citadelle is triple distilled and includes 19 botanicals. It retails for about $20 per 750 ml.
Distilled in Oregon, Desert Juniper is “micro-distilled from 100% natural grains, fresh Northwest botanicals and wild hand-picked juniper berries (and) pure mountain spring water and filtered through crushed volcanic lava rock.”
According to the distiller, “Desert Juniper meets customers’ desire for a unique, hand-crafted, superior-quality, American-made gin that is dry and smooth.”
Brands such as these are likely to be the next thing in gin.