Gin, gin everywhere, and every drop to drink. Drayton’s food and drink specialist, Byron Beatty, plucks up a drop of “Dutch courage” and makes a tentative prediction about which spirit sector might boom next.
Gin was invented in Holland in the 16th Century as a medicine. The English caught on to the "Dutch courage" habit when fighting with the Dutch Republic in the Thirty Years' War. Nowadays, of course, it’s the Millennials’ tipple of choice. With, according to The Spirits Business, UK gin sales last year at “£1.9 billion,” a person, you might think, may need to partake of a little of the exact same “courage” to predict the end of the gin boom.
However, a conversation I had with a Scottish independent retailer made me think that the tippling times, with sincere apologies to Bob Dylan, may be changing.
“The problem with the gin drinkers at the moment,” he said, “is they’re not real gin drinkers.” As an individual who knows the trade inside out, he was, of course, referencing the cornucopia of colours and flavours now available to the British consumer. And, more tellingly, the gulf in product experience between say a simple Sipsmith’s Dry and tonic and a rhubarb-flavoured pink gin served in a chalice with the very latest mixer.
This kind of anecdotal evidence and the simple fact that, according to a recent BBC article, “1.5 million more adults drink gin today than four years ago,” alongside Harvey Nichols launching a gimmicky £4,000 bottle, suggest, to me, that, whilst in no danger of imminent collapse, the market might have matured to the point it will soon begin to plateau.
A recent Executive Search I undertook – a Sales Director for a well-known spirits company – backed up this analysis. With candidate after candidate talking about retailer resistance to “Yet another gin brand.” Which made me wonder what might come next? And, after due consideration, I’d like to put in a quiet word for rum.
Firstly, it already has a clear cultural provenance as a drink that’s mixed. Just as gin goes with tonic. Rum has traditionally played Starsky to Coke’s Hutch.
Secondly, Mintel agrees with me. The same BBC article quoted the research giant’s Alice Baker as saying: "It has the provenance potential - the story of which Caribbean island it originates from, and it doesn't dominate the drink.”
Which brings me to Fever-Tree. Everybody knows that the West London company’s meteoric rise was based on Charles Rolls’ and Tim Warrillow’s simple insight that the quality of taste experience of a G&T was almost entirely dependent on the quality of the tonic.
The same, I believe, is true of Rum and Coke. Most on-premise cola sales in this country – whether Coke, Pepsi, or a cheaper imposter – come straight off the gun. There’s no flavour differentiation in that. Or any meaningful branding. The customer orders it as a commodity – “Rum and Coke, please.” And that, for the most part, is exactly what they are given.
There are already some small players in the cola market, like Karma Cola, who might step up but I’m not underestimating the level of chutzpah needed to fashion a convincing business plan which includes, in the Key Competitors’ section, The Coca-Cola Company.
Especially as, at exactly the time of my finishing this article, a Campaign magazine email popped into my in-box headlined: “Coca-Cola is launching a selection of mixers designed to be paired with dark spirits.” Which quotes Ana Amura, senior brand manager at Coca-Cola Great Britain, as saying: "There is only one Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Signature Mixers marks an exciting time for the brand and expansion into dark spirit mixology."
But, I believe, there is still a clear market opportunity for someone to give the consumer a more authentic rum experience which offers enhanced subtly and variety of flavours.
Whether a different kind of cola or something totally unique. And, in doing so, do the exact same thing for the spirt that Fever-Tree did for gin sales. “What’s stopping them?” I hear you ask. Only, perhaps, a little drop of Dutch courage.