Drinks companies give their predictions on what’s next for gin

Can the tidal wave of gins continue? 

The gin category has rocketed over the past few years, with growth predicted to continue

WILL 2020 be the year the gin category starts to settle, or bring another explosion in new products?

In the past couple of years the number of new gins and gin-based liqueurs has been staggering, with  the spirit now out-selling Scotch and imported whiskey in Scottish pubs and bars and poised to overtake vodka across the UK.

As sales have rocketed businesses looking to cash in on the phenomenon have flooded into the market, with wholesalers, licensees and the public alike struggling to keep up.

Graham Taylor, managing director at Crafty Distillery, producer of Hills & Harbour Gin, said he reckons the category is becoming “saturated”.

“Whilst the broad growth of the gin market continues to thrive, that growth will struggle to support the increased levels of all the new products launching,” said Taylor.

“This is creating a situation where wholesalers and the on-trade are simply not able to cater to them all.

“Equally the consumer will struggle to keep up with new products, making it hard for new brands to make their mark. In short, the gin market will continue to grow, but the volume of new products will need to slow, and I suspect we may start to see that happen this year.”

We can’t deny this activity has made gin ‘front and centre’ for a new generation.

Neil Everitt, chief executive of Brockmans, was also sceptical that the current rate of innovation can be maintained.

He said: “It’s evident that the recent tidal wave of launches can’t continue indefinitely.

“It’s possibly also true that some new brands and extensions have probably gone beyond what any normal person might consider ‘natural’ for gin in terms of flavour profile.

“But we can’t deny that all this unprecedented activity has made gin ‘front and centre’ for a whole new generation of consumers, and will continue to have a positive impact on gin’s development for a long time to come.”

Other companies predicted that launches will continue apace throughout 2020, but may be focused on particular sub-categories of gin.

The gin market will continue to grow, but the volume of new products will need to slow.

Alisha Goodwin, brand manager at Loch Lomond Group, producer of Ben Lomond Gin, said that although the category as a whole continues to grow, “classic distilled gin has begun to see some signs of slowing, with the flavoured category taking off in its place”.

“2020 may be the year where the gin market begins to condense, seeing smaller, less developed brands falling on the wayside,” said Goodwin.

“This challenge will force existing brands to invest in innovation and range expansion, particularly in the flavoured gin category, to remain on-trend and in growth.”

As the number of available brands continues to grow, it will be those offering genuine points of difference that will stand out, said Philip Craig of Crossbill Distilling.

He predicted that the on-trade will follow a trend that he has already seen happening in the off-trade.

“Although off-trade specialists remain optimistic, and with Crossbill we continue to grow, many were saying prior to Christmas that they plan to maintain shelf space in 2020 but reduce choice and focus on driving growth through brands that offer a clear point of difference.”

Ben Ko-Nkengmo, spirits category buyer for Star Pubs & Bars, agreed, saying there are “only so many ‘me too’ gins that a category can take”.

“The winners this year will be businesses that innovate: unusual botanicals (with a point and flavour of difference, not just style over substance) always attract interest,” said Ko-Nkengmo.

“I do feel that the true victors however will be those that really push the envelope.”

He added that, with the environment important to so many consumers, a gin that is 100% carbon-neutral or one that is packaged in fully biodegradeable material could almost certainly find a market.

Others, such as Jonny Lyall of Pickering’s, were less convinced of a slowdown in new gins this year.

Lyall reckoned the innovation will continue – and will attract new customers.

“I feel with any market as it begins to become more saturated there will be a natural slowing of new products,” he said.

“However, as there appears to be no significant slowing in the demand for gin and its evolving popularity, I think there is still a place for new and unique gins to fit into the market.

“It has been said for years that the rapid expansion of the gin market had to have a contraction at some point, however that point has not come yet.

“As new and innovative products are released it uncovers new customer bases and allows a brand new group of consumers into the market.”