Written by Ailsa Wheeler Aldridge, Account Director.
Over the past ten years, we’ve seen gin hit fever pitch, shaking off its ‘Mother’s Ruin’ nickname to become the spirit to be seen drinking by the millennial generation. Once confined to the back of Granny’s cupboard, and neglected in favour of other spirits with a more premium and exciting image, the past few years have seen the market place become a very noisy place to play in. So much so, that Ryan Reynolds has even got in on the action…
315 gin distilleries are now registered in the UK, which is more than double the amount there was five years ago, with 42 new distilleries opening in 2017 alone. We’ve seen sales boom – reaching a total of £1.5 billion in the 12 months leading up to March 2018, according to the WSTA – but just how long will it last? Can the gin category keep up with its drinkers? Or does there come a point where what goes up, must come down?
It’s fair to say that the fierce competition in the category has meant brands continue to push each other in terms of innovation. From distilling Asian flowering legumes, and using savoury botanicals like watercress and coriander, to creating gins that change colour with the addition of tonic, there are some weird but incredibly wonderful things going on in world of gin. The category has reached a level of innovation that no other spirit has been able to, and this looks set to continue, with brands like Edinburgh Gin and That Boutique-y Gin Company producing new expressions at an astounding rate, and even supermarkets like Marks and Spencer getting in on the act with great innovation in own brand products.
Not only does the sheer volume of gin brands out there mean that boundaries are being pushed when it comes to the liquid, it also means that creativity has to come through in comms. – brands need to tell a story in order to resonate with consumers and ensure that they stand out. Sipsmith plays on its London heritage and the history of gin, and The Botanist focuses on its story of foraging and 22 botanicals, while Bombay Sapphire has made a move into the art world with its latest campaign, #StirCreativity, working with up and coming artists.
Gin has the advantage of being a very accessible spirit; it doesn’t require the same level of understanding in terms of the aging process that Scotch does, and has the advantage of being easier to drink (for the majority of consumers) than bourbon, Tennessee whiskey or rum.
The popularity of cocktails has also contributed to its success, as bartenders across the board feel comfortable playing around with gin in cocktails because its flavour profile is much easier to mix and match with other tastes.
But is the bubble about to burst? It’s unlikely that the market can keep growing at the rate it has been, or that every new brand popping up at the moment will still be on the scene in another decade.
The backlash among the industry has already started, with some beginning to protest that their fellow distillers are bending the rules too much. Hayman’s has just started a ‘Call Time on Fake Gin’ campaign, pushing for industry regulations to be obeyed across the board. EU law states that a gin must have a strength of 37.5% with a predominant taste of juniper – it’s the juniper rule that many are bending, by adding different botanicals with much stronger flavour profiles. It leads many to pose the question – is the over saturation of the market changing standards?
Finally, the press are starting to make noises around looking for the next big thing. The articles about the renaissance of rum and the bourbon boom keep coming, as the media strives for a new spirit to wax lyrical on.
So, to answer the question – have we reached peak gin? We don’t see any signs of the gin industry slowing down, but to be successful, brands will need to work twice as hard. PR can play a valuable part in helping brands forge out their own space in the sector and connect emotionally with consumers, while partnerships with like-minded brands, bartenders and influencers can generate talkability. It’s all about making sure your brand is the one that people remember, when ordering a G&T after a hard week!