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Why people will be drinking better this Christmas

Vladimir Kazimirov, the head of Bacardi UK & Ireland, explains what drinking trends he thinks we'll see in the UK this festive season

Vladimir Kazimirov Bacardi UK & Ireland

How are you expecting sales this Christmas period to differ from last year?

Celebrations may be different this year, but our insights show people still want to celebrate in style, and they are approaching this festive season with a new mindset. It's been a challenging year, and they are looking to treating themselves and their friends and family more than ever. For us, that's really significant, as we're seeing sales of our premium spirits grow, particularly for our range of gifts like our new Bombay Bramble gift box, our Bacardí Ocho and Cuatro aged rums, and our Patrón x Grey Goose espresso martini cocktail kit.

A second trend at play is the growing interest in at-home mixology, which began during lockdown as people learnt new skills, and has continued to gain momentum. As we enter the hosting season, whether get-togethers are virtual or in person, our research shows one in five (18 per cent) see serving incredible cocktails as a crucial part of their celebrations. 

Over the coming months, with restrictions still in place, we expect sales in the off-trade to perform strongly as people enjoy celebrations at home. This has been the trend since the pandemic began, and as a result, we have seen total spirit sales growing at +12.3 per cent in value to £4.2 billion in grocery multiples and, as people looked to avoid crowds and stay closer to home for their shop, by +15 per cent to £1.8 billion in the UK convenience channel too. For that reason, we've been working closely with our retail partners to make sure our premium spirits brands are on shelves early, ready for the busy festive and gifting season.

How have people's drinking patterns changed in 2020? What products and/or brands are you expecting to be the year's winners?

With bars closed during lockdown, the way people are socialising with friends and family has changed, and now virtual toasts and happy hours are the norm. In fact, our research found that one in five (20 per cent) will be hosting virtual cocktail parties with friends and family this Christmas.

When it comes to drinks trends, though, it's not just the 'how' but also the 'what' that's changed this year. We've seen a shift to premium spirits as people look to recreate cocktails from their favourite bars at home, impress guests and treat themselves to something special.

When we asked people across the UK to tell us which spirits and cocktails they will be enjoying during the festive period, gin came out as a clear favourite with the G&T and the Gin Fizz topping the list of Christmas cocktails. We always see strong sales for Bombay Sapphire during this season, and this year we launched our Bombay Bramble. Its berry flavour and vibrant crimson colour are perfectly on trend for the season, so we're expecting strong sales for its first Christmas on shelves.

We also recently launched Bacardí Spiced in the UK, which taps into the trend for warming spiced flavours at this time of year, so that's another key focus for us right now and one we expect to perform strongly.

Interestingly, we've seen ready-to-drink (RTD) experience a real leap in popularity this year, too. We launched our Bombay Sapphire & Tonic RTD earlier this year, and as we see 90 per cent of RTDs currently being purchased to enjoy at home as people look for convenient ways to serve cocktails for guests, that's also a product we're expecting to do very well this Christmas.

Last but not least, we believe strongly that this January will be the biggest Dry January ever. The 'mindful drinking' trend accelerated during lockdown as people experimented with low and no-alcohol alternatives, and after the indulgence of Christmas, we believe people will be looking to drink less but better, both during the festive season and in the new year. This isn't a new trend - in fact it's been something Bacardi has promoted for a while now - but Covid-19 has grown the level of interest considerably. Just this year we launched our Martini Non-Alcoholic, which along with our portfolio of no and low drinks and serves will be a key focus for us over the coming months.

What changes have you seen in people's purchasing habits this year?

It's digital, digital, digital for the spirits industry right now. During lockdown people woke up to the fact that they can buy spirits and cocktails online, and as a result, according to Kantar, online spirits sales have grown by +140 per cent in the last six months. This offers a significant new opportunity for spirit sales, and we're ready. We always knew that buying spirits online was going to represent a significant part of our business in the future, but the pandemic has accelerated this trend - what would have taken years has happened in a matter of months as people swap shopping in stores for shopping on screens.

As we enter the Christmas period, two-thirds of people are expected to purchase their festive gifts online and we want to make their shopping experience as seamless as possible, while offering some really special gift options, online exclusives, personalised products and experiences to choose from. We're working closely with all our online partners, from Amazon to grocers, to boost the visibility and ensure availability of our range of premium spirits and gifts on their sites.

Last month we also became the first spirits company to introoduce lighter, reduced-waste packs with Amazon, redesigning our Grey Goose vodka and Martini Non-Alcoholic Aperitivo gift packs to cut packaging by 25 per cent to ensure we're taking care to protect the environment at the same time as accelerating our e-commerce business. 

How is Bacardi going to support the on-trade over the Christmas period?

It goes without saying that it is going to be an extremely challenging winter for our friends in the bar industry. To help however we can, we're 100-per-cent committed to continuing our support through our #RaiseYourSpirits initiative, to ensure they get through this crisis and come out the other side stronger.

Over recent months, we've been helping bars to explore new revenue stream such as cocktails to-go, while helping them adapt to the 'new normal' with QR codes on menus to maximise cocktail orders, for example. We also launched our 'Work From Bars' initiative, which prior to the latest lockdown helped drive footfall to bars during the traditionally quieter daytime hours.

On top of this, we've been helping support bar owners and bartenders virtually through a new suite of digital cocktail-led educational tools, from a Digital Menu Creator platform that helps bars streamline their marketing materials to the new SPIRIT.ED app that delivers a bartender-first approach to category training.

Do you have any predictions on drinking trends for 2021?

Into 2021, we fully expect the mindful drinking trend to continue to grow, as well as the trend for making cocktails at home, purchasing cocktails to-go from local bars and online, and a continued increase in interest in premium spirits as people continue to hone their mixology skills.

It's important to remember that experimentation with ingredients amongst the bartending community hasn't stopped during lockdown, with 'how to' videos posted online by bartenders more popular than ever. There are plenty of exciting new trends and innovations that will excite and delight people when they are eventually able to get back to the bar, so watch this space.

4 December 2020