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Consumers looking to premium spirits to express themselves, says Waitrose report

Published:  02 November, 2016

Self-expression and defining "who you are through what you drink" were the key drinks trends to come out of Waitrose's Food and Drink Report 2016 released today.

Self-expression and defining "who you are through what you drink" were the key drinks trends to come out of Waitrose's Food and Drink Report 2016 released today

"Anything goes" was the feedback from the retailer, particularly when it came to spirits, with consumers increasingly leaning towards adventurous ingredients and garnishes to make their own cocktails.

"Drinks are no longer necessarily served in a tumbler over ice; people are creating their own signature cocktails with fresh fruit, garnish and herbs," Pierpaolo Petrassi MW, head of buying for beers, wines and spirits, said.

"It's all pretty funky and it's all absolutely acceptable. Whether people like Japanese whiskey, premium tequilas or niche bourbons, they are enjoying expressing themselves."

The trend for healthy eating also tipped into the drinks sector in a big way this year, with Waitrose stocking alternatives like zero-alcohol spirit, Seedlip, for the first time.

With beer, Waitrose continued to collaborate with craft brewers who were able to bring in visitors from their local breweries and vice versa.

"More than ever, people enjoy visiting and having a direct experience of the brewery, cider-maker, vineyard or distillery. This sense of place is central to their story-telling, and is an important part of their self-expression," Petrassi added.

Customers continued to pick up classic wines, but also showed a willingness to explore new regions. Gavi, Grüner Veltliner and Albariño grew in popularity, as did stalwarts from the Côtes du Rhône and also dry rosés.

Healthy eating and drinking was a common theme, with more emphasis on lighter eating styles and finding healthy and fresh alternatives.

But while research shows that consumers are more focused on their health when it comes to their regular purchases, they are equally extreme when they want to indulge.

The "occasional extreme indulgence" is gaining traction even with the health conscious, with concoctions like the Baileys' Irish cream cocktail at London Cocktail Week, piled high with whipped cream sugar, cinnamon, and spice, becoming popular for weekend burnouts or treat days.

But gin has been the real success story this year.

The retailer now sells 43 different types of gin, and during the summer, announced that the top three best-selling spirits were all juniper-based.

Premium gins are doing particularly well, with Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin, Copper House and Audemus leading the category.

Mixers and aromatic tonic waters also allowed consumers more opportunities to personalise their drinks.

"Increasingly, people want to find flavours of their own volition, rather than be told what to drink," said Anne Jones, category manager for beers, wines and spirits.

"The humble G&T is fast becoming the ultimate vehicle for self-expression."

The fourth annual report, published today (November 2), is based on "millions of purchases" in Waitrose shops and online.