Prepare to raise a glass to premium

Bar operators need to “raise their game” to cater for a new breed of customer seeking premium spirit serves.

That’s the message from drinks firms, who said consumers expect operators to provide at least one or two options regardless of the location and type of premises.

Customers are willing to ‘trade-up’ to premium spirits and classic cocktails, drinks firms said.
Customers are willing to ‘trade-up’ to premium spirits and classic cocktails, drinks firms said.

Carlo Valente of VC2 Brands, whose portfolio includes Boë Superior Gin, said it is important to give consumers the option to ‘trade-up’ to premium spirits.

“There is no point in putting high-end spirits into establishments to gather dust,” said Valente.

“That being said, establishments where premium products are less suitable may offer one or two high-end brands that may appeal to a few regular customers; offering choice is always a good thing.

“It does make sense for town centre or city centre bars to be offering more premium lines due to the nature of their business.”

A spokesman for Proximo Spirits, whose brands include Tincup whiskey, Jose Cuervo tequila and spiced rum The Kraken, suggested venues offer “a varied selection of house, premium and extra premium spirits” across most categories.

“Obviously location is important – if there is an opportunity with your demographic to increase the spend per head and also introduce them to some interesting brands, that’s good business,” he said.

“The staff have to be trained on the range you stock and understand where each brand sits and its value to that category. Only then are they truly in a position to best advise on what their customers should be trading up to and drinking.”

Dan Bolton, managing director of Hi-Spirits, whose portfolio includes Blackwoods gin, Buffalo Trace bourbon and Cognac-based liqueur Hpnotiq, said there has been growth in “distinctive spirits” and reckons consumers are willing to spend more on high-end serves.

Authenticity and innovative serves are vital when it comes to maximising sales of premium spirits, he said.

“In a crowded spirits market, many customers are looking for a genuine point of difference when they trade-up to a premium brand,” said Bolton.

“There is clearly huge consumer interest in authentic cocktails, but innovative serves are also important.

“Cocktails are now the price of entry rather than a point of difference for operators.

“In a market where customers can order a Mojito in every venue, top-end bars in particular need to raise their game in terms of the premium brands and serves they offer.”

Other spirits producers and distributors also noted an increase in demand for premium spirits and cocktails.

James Wright, head of spirits and agency brands at Halewood International, whose brands include Whitley Neill gin and the Lamb’s range of rums, said cocktails are helping drive the premium spirits market north of the border.

“Over the past year, Halewood International’s spirits brands have seen steady growth in Scotland, indicating that there is a market for premium spirits and, in turn, cocktails,” he said.

“Cocktails continue to be an important component of any pub or bar’s drinks offering.”

Wright said it is essential that operators observe drinks trends when developing their drinks offer, which should also be influenced by the bar’s clientele and season.

“It is important for brands to create signature serves and cocktails that are in line with the time of year and also ingredient trends,” said Wright.

“Publicans and bar owners should look to their clientele to decide what premium spirits and cocktails should be on the menu.

“Outlets should consider including tasting notes to encourage consumers to trade-up.”

Simon Green, marketing director at Global Brands, whose brands include Teichenné Schnapps, said: “Premiumisation is an established trend that has helped to increase demand for premium brands in the spirits category. 

“We have seen consumers choose to ‘treat’ themselves and spend more on better quality drinks. It is therefore no surprise that cocktail culture is growing year on year.”

David Beatty, Diageo Reserve brand ambassador for Ketel One vodka, said that while the frequency with which people visit bars has reduced, consumers are experimenting more with premium spirits.

“There is a real trend at the moment with consumers going out less but spending more – on higher quality drinks – when they do,” said Beatty.

“This is a perfect opportunity to get consumers experimenting with premium spirits in cocktails, and is a great way for bartenders to up-sell and communicate the qualities behind each unique premium brand, including tasting notes and the heritage.”

Ashley Moore, category development manager at Diageo, urged bar operators not to forget about classic serves which can be given a premium ‘twist’ through an alternative mixer or seasonal garnish.

“Something as simple as a gin and tonic can be brought to life using creative and interactive serves,” said Moore.

“Perhaps a DIY gin and tonic serve which is beautifully presented, along with a choice of mixers, seasonal garnishes and some seasonal fresh herbs to make it a unique and memorable experience that customers can personalise themselves.”