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Deseasonalise this!

Published:  23 July, 2008

Christmas is coming. Festive aisles have sprung up in shops and supermarkets nationwide, while the drinks industry
is rubbing its hands together in glee at the thought of all the bottles flying off the shelves to play their part in the celebrations. This is a vital time of year for every member of the alcohol family but none more so than the oft-neglected liqueur. Beer, wine and spirits stoically remain the drinks of common choice, but Christmas has traditionally given
the liqueurs and specialities category a chance to show off in style.

But do not make the mistake of relegating those colourful, eclectic bottles to a dusty cupboard by the second week of January. Christmas may still be the season to be truly jolly, but the past few years have seen a mighty push from brands big and small to keep liqueurs flowing all year round.

And has this been successful? It depends on a number of factors - namely product innovation, clever marketing and, most importantly perhaps, the rise and rise of cocktails.

Looking at the cold, hard figures, there doesn't seem to have been any major upheavals in the past year. With a 10% growth in value, Baileys is still the Lord Almighty. It's the UK's number-two alcoholic beverage brand by value and worth almost four times more than its nearest category competitors - Pimms and Southern Comfort (AC Nielsen). And considering that neither of these runners-up likes to be labelled as a liqueur per se, there's even more space for the Baileys giant to stretch out and make itself at home at the top of the tree.

But the king of cream isn't being allowed to get too complacent, with Diageo claiming that the brand could be even bigger still'. Sponsorship of the Sex and the City series was inspired, but now that the girls have hung up their heels for good, Baileys has had to look elsewhere. The newest advertising campaign continues to follow the theme of beautiful America, using a 30-something LA couple to introduce the idea of Baileys blended with ice. Not that different a concept to Baileys served over ice, the cynics might say, but brand manager Deborah Caldow is undeterred: We're confident the "Serve Chilled" TV campaign will resonate well with our consumers, making Baileys top-of-mind in the lead-up to Christmas and providing an ongoing platform to build on Baileys as a brand that can be enjoyed all year round.'

With Baileys charging on full steam ahead, there would seem to be little hope for any other creamy numbers, and this

is made all the more certain by a high brand mortality rate in the category.

James Rackham, chairman of Emporia Brands, remains positive. According to Datamonitor forecasts, the cream-liqueur category will have one of the highest growths in the total spirit market over the next three years,' he says. This theory is supported by evidence from the current marketplace, which has seen the launch of many alternative cream liqueurs over the past few years, each with a clear stamp of individuality.

The number-two position is currently held by First Drinks Brands' Amarula, and according to brand manager Andy Corris, the South African cream liqueur is going great guns, with volume increasing at more than three times the category rate, and value growing massively at more than 14 times the rate of the overall category'. Amarula's point of difference is its base of the South African marula fruit, and it's well placed to deliver deseasonalisation of sales, given that the brand comes from such a hot climate', Corris points out. In Rackham's view, another way to bring a cream liqueur on

to the shop floor with confidence is to use an established parent brand, and this is the case with Guylian Praline Cream Liqueur. Emporia Brands is the UK distributor, and with competitors sliding fast down the price competitive slope, [the answer is] a premium Belgian-chocolate liqueur, where the consumer already has trust in the quality of the brand', says Rackham.

An additional answer perhaps is to deliver something new and contemporary, which can be seen with two Scottish brands: the new-look Columba Cream from the Scottish Liqueur Centre, and JAGO's Vodka Cream from Blackwood Distillers (created by Tom Jago, of Baileys fame). The selling point for Columba Cream is its fresh ingredients of local cream and honey, and Kenny MacKay, managing director of the Scottish Liqueur Centre, is optimistic: Since its relaunch in June, we have managed almost to double sales through the classic on-trade and independent off-trade channel.'

JAGO's was launched in the UK at the end of October 2003, and it's also looking to capitalise on the current fashion for

fresh ingredients. Tara Benson, sales director for the brand, is not shying away from competition, revealing: On, three times more orders are logged for JAGO's than for Baileys. The bottle is determinedly contemporary and clean, with no visual reference to dumpy brown bottles.' The straight-talking brand is keeping pace with the deseasonalisation challenge with its Minty Bitch summer cocktail (muddled mint and JAGO's shaken over ice and served in a chilled Martini glass).

Orange is the new black

There's clearly been a lot of action on the cream-liqueur front, and with 67% (AC Nielsen) of the overall liqueur market share, it's the fat cat of the category. This said, the non-cream sector is actually growing at a faster pace by value (4% compared to 2%; AC Nielsen), and although this is partly due to the steep discounting of cream liqueurs, there is no doubt that non-creams are making a slow and steady impact. Tia Maria remains strong, with the fourth-highest position in the category by value - despite a 2% decline in the past year - and new owner Pernod Ricard is making the most of the newest offshoot from the brand, Tia Maria Orange, confirming listings with Asda, Tesco, Morrisons and Co-op in time for the countdown to Christmas.

Cointreau is also firmly ensconced in the category's top 10, and its latest adventure is a joint project with Getty Images Gallery in central London. The Be Cointreauversial exhibition is a photographic display of stylish and iconic women over the past century, and it is running throughout November. As shown by the success of Cointreau, as well as the introduction of Tia Maria's new baby, orange is a flavour that is very much in vogue, not only for the straight-serve liqueur, but also for inclusion in cocktails. Dale DeGroff, renowned American mixologist and author of The Craft of the Cocktail, comments: One group of liqueurs that gets a lot of play these days are the orange-based liqueurs like Cointreau, triple sec, and even Grand Marnier. This is partly due to the growth of interest in Tequila in the UK and also due to the return of the classic cocktails that use these liqueurs, such as the sidecar.'

However, Cointreau had better not rest on its laurels, according to Giles Fisher, spirits buyer for Waitrose. After Baileys, Cointreau is the best of the rest in terms of sales value terms, but it looks like it will soon be overtaken by Disaronno, which has enjoyed very strong growth this year.' This vote of confidence is taken further by Andy Corris, brand manager for the Italian Amaretto at First Drinks. Disaronno has had a phenomenal year, currently growing four times faster than the total liqueurs category, making it the fastest-growing top-10 liqueur brand in terms of both value and volume,' he reports.

Overhauling the category

Traditionally, liqueurs have often been seen as the hallmark of sophistication - the civilised end to a civilised meal. But with all the recent relaunches, new looks, innovations and revamps, there's been an image overhaul for the category as a whole. This is partly due to the cocktail craze, but it's also thanks to the drive to modernise certain drinks, which for years have been written off as little more than antiques. Brandy-based liqueurs are a prime example of this, and Cognac has been one of the first movers and shakers with Aliz, which has been marketed as a drink for those in the know'. Its established appeal in the United States has been led by a star-studded following from the R&B and hip-hop clubbing scene, with artists such as Missy Elliott and Snoop Dogg named as fans. Lavinia Hirst-Jones, brand manager in the UK, states: These figures are brand leaders, and our UK consumers have picked this up and have got behind the brand.'

Not to be outdone by its neighbour, Armagnac has also seen the need to keep up to date, and the Gascon company Fivigers has just launched a new range of Armagnacs called Les Armagnacs Contemporains, which includes Gascon Mix - a modern Armagnac liqueur in three flavours. Another Brandy-based liqueur, Tuaca, has recently hit the party scene in Leeds, Bristol and Edinburgh, following a successful breakthrough in Brighton. Poul Jensen, managing director of Tuaca's sales and marketing company, says the product is now the biggest thing since sliced bread, with iconic status and Smirnoff-like distribution in Brighton'.

Talking of parties, few contemporary celebrations would be complete without the presence of cocktails; and while most of the liqueurs mentioned so far have been suitable both for mixing and for drinking on their own, there are many cordial-line brands for which cocktails are key. One of the front-runners here is the Bols range, which continues to feature prominently in cocktail lists. But competition in this region is growing fast with brands such as De Kuyper from First Drinks, Valeska Schnapps from Independent Distillers and the new range of S' Fruit Liqueurs from the Scottish Liqueur Centre.

So, are cocktails the main hope for a deseasonalisation and growth of liqueurs? Kevin Armstrong, head bartender at the Match Bar Group, certainly thinks this is the case. I do genuinely and generally believe that the days of drinking liqueurs on their own have passed. It is rare to find someone caressing a snifter of Chartreuse or nursing a large Crme de Cassis. In Europe these drinks are enjoyed naturally, but in the UK, where the dining and drinking culture is less formal and ritualised, the cocktail market is vital,' he comments.

And it's not just the on-trade that is looking to cash in with cocktails - the market for home cocktails is another area to watch. Hirst-Jones, brand manager for Aliz, says: There is definitely a market for home cocktails. Our Web research has shown that more and more consumers are staying in to socialise, and this is a trend that Aliz has tapped into by offering an "Aliz Night In" prize to those who make the best cocktail at home.' Kirsty Loveday, brand ambassador for Pallini Liqueur, agrees. We are currently working on a range of cocktails that are suitable for home mixing,' she reveals, including simple classics with a twist, such as the Lemon Sherbert Collins [using Limoncello].'

Giles Fisher of Waitrose is also aware of this growing trend. We've done some work this year in our publications with cocktails, and we have more and different activity planned for 2006,' he says. Jill Wilson, spirits and BWS gifts buyer for Asda, is developing in-store recipe solutions to make home consumption and trial accessible for the consumer', while Tesco's BWS buyer Simon Dunn is striving to ensure we offer great deals on liqueur lines, as well as new ideas on how to serve consumer favourites'.

There is no simple box into which the liqueur category, present or future, can be suitably placed. The three main factors driving the category forward are quality, innovation and communication - and this is relevant to cream, non-cream, straight serves and cocktail favourites. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the liqueur market is its versatility. Christmas is golden but the opportunities certainly don't end there.