Better informed people will choose to drink better drinks

By Gordon Davidson

Sales of premium spirits brands are said to be weathering the economic downturn, because despite consumers going out less, they are ‘trading up’ when they do.

The main beneficiaries of this trend appear to be emergent premium brands in the tequila and rum categories, although vodka is also enjoying a resurgence at the top end of its market, where it is thought to be benefitting from consumers’ turn away from gin. 

Eugenio Litta Modignani, founder of Tovaritch! Vodka, said that with regard to the global trend towards premiumisation, Scotland was no exception.

Tovaritch! ‘all-European’ vodka

“Many people are drinking less but better,’ noted Modignani. “Vodka has bounced back after a low period during Covid. Whilst the overall vodka category continues to remain fairly static, the premium segment – which includes brands such as our all-European Tovaritch! Vodka – has developed positively with an increase in volume by 6% in comparison to the previous year. 

“After a decade or more in growth, gin has been static for a time and remains so. Vodka is able to take advantage of the space that gin is leaving and is set to make a strong comeback.

“The growth of the premium category is driven by consumers’ preference for higher quality drinks,” he said. “People are increasingly better informed about choices and are choosing to drink better. Vodka is capturing drinkers who are new to the alcohol category. Younger drinkers like its versatility and pure, natural character.”

“People are better informed and are choosing to drink better”

Modignani added: “Vodka was long associated with Russia and for the past two years agile vodka brands have been creating their liquid outside that country. Tovaritch! is a good example. Within days of the war breaking out, we moved production, sourcing and bottling to Europe.”

Deborah Ernst, director of international sales for ultra-premium Suave Tequila, agreed that premiumisation had gone ‘hand in hand’ with consumers wishing to drink less but better.

“Tequila and rum continue to grow whilst vodka has made a comeback, often at the expense of gin whose popularity has plateaued,” ventured Ernst.

“Many customers have a desire to move away from traditional spirits categories and experience something new at the same time as getting to know new spirits that represent excellence.

Suave Tequila

“One of the biggest performers in premium and premium-plus spirits is tequila. It’s been a hot topic for a while and continues to be buoyant. Summer is the time when this category really comes into its own,” she said.

“Education has played an important part in making those who thought they knew tequila reconsider the category. Those less familiar with tequila are the new generation of drinkers who are enjoying fine 100% Blue Weber Agave Tequilas with no preconceptions. The audience is broadening and operators can take advantage of this.” 

An advantage of moving in this novel ultra-premium spirits space, where customers are less encumbered with expectation about traditional serves, is the room it allows for innovation.

Looking to the summer trade, and the anticipated trend towards frozen and chilled drinks, Modignani’s brand is offering its top customers a branded cooler machine which chills without diluting the vodka – and draws customers’ attention to the brand with a stylish piece of kit. 

“Well chilled vodka is a must, whether this is for classic cocktails such as the Vodka Mule or Martini or contemporary cocktails such as a Cucumber and Mint Cooler,” he said.

“The introduction of new mixers including tonics and ginger beer has played a significant role in the resurgence of the vodka category,” added Modignani. 

“The diversity of these mixers allows for the creation of innovative and interesting cocktails, with vodka being a lighter option that complements the flavour notes of the mixers.”

“If your venue is offering high end cocktails, why would you list cheap spirits?

For Ernst, innovation comes not in the form of gimmicks, but in the form of creating excellent, artisanal products – with improved sustainability and a back-story that consumers will love. 

“For a high proportion of Scottish drinkers, provenance and purity are of great interest,” she said. “Suave is a good example as it is one of only three tequilas to have been awarded a Butterfly Mark by Positive Luxury, underlining the combination of luxury and sustainability credentials.

“Stocking premium spirits will elevate the tone and reputation of the venue,” she promised, “but of course operators must consider the customer base. A brand such as Suave is undoubtedly more expensive due to the care taken in growing, harvesting, and preparing the agave and distilling the liquids.

“However, if your venue is offering high end cocktails, food, and ambience, then why would you list a cheap range of spirits?”

She encouraged operators to be adventurous with tequila and not just ‘rely on margaritas’.

“Serve fine tequilas neat, on the rocks. It’s a serve that Scottish consumers, more than most people, understand well because of the fine whisky heritage.

“Be customer-led but also prepared to lead those customers to their next great experience.”