Martyn Fisher outlines key changes in the mixers market, and looks at the moves brands are making to align with the ‘less but better’ trend
Time was when the mixer was an optional secondary consideration to go with whichever spirit brand you asked for down the local.
However, consumers seem to be moving away from this thinking in increasing numbers, and it’s a trend that wholesalers would be well advised to get to grips with. Evidence from numerous recessions experienced in the UK suggests that consumers substitute big outlays with smaller treats after financial paradigm-shifters.
Added to that, a recent survey of 21-35-year-olds conducted by Heineken found that 75% of respondents drink in moderation on a night out. Taste (41%) and quality (32%) were chief priorities when choosing an alcoholic drink, while searching for ‘new experiences’ (49%) was cited over the ‘same old great entertainment’ (39%) as being the foundation of a good night out by those questioned.
Changing consumer preferences
“The premiumisation of the mixer category is a huge talking point,” says Luke Benson, national wholesale manager at mixer brand Fever Tree. “Tonic and mixers are no longer seen as an afterthought, but as a principal ingredient in their own right. The recent boom of premium and craft spirits, in particular gin, has influenced the mixer market hugely, and barely a day goes by in the on-trade where the gin boom isn’t discussed. If a customer is already willing to spend money on a quality gin, why then pair it with a poor quality, artificially-sweetened tonic when, for just a little bit more, you can offer a much better drinking experience?” he says.
Leading London mixologist, Felix Cohen, who is head bartender at the Manhattans Project, shares Benson’s view, and also notes that bitter lemons and dandelion and burdocks are enjoying a “halo effect” from the success of premium tonics, which are themselves proving popular in a range of different flavours.
For Chris Miller, from export platform Craft Beer Clan of Scotland, this unstoppable momentum in mixers is an “entirely consumer driven trend”, and he also highlights the importance of the story or the ethos behind the brand.
How are brands taking advantage
Such desire to seek brands that have a touch of quality and a unique selling point has benefitted small-scale producers like Bermondsey Tonic Water (BTW).
BTW produces a completely natural tonic water. The golden sunset colour in its hue is because BTW extracts the quinine for the tonic using a natural process, rather than the more common chemical extraction. Co-founder Lawrence Mason says: “Choice was not much of a thing in the industry until recently, nor was there a niche, artisan industry for mixers. But people are much more aware now of what they consume, and that has trickled down to soft drinks. People want to go out and have something different, and which reflects their values.”
Britvic’s commercial director for wholesale, Trystan Farnworth, points to evidence that backs up the ‘less but better’ trend. CGA Strategy data for the year to 20 February, 2016 shows that the value of on-trade carbonates soft drink sales grew by 1.4%, but volumes in this period were down by 2.3%.
Teetotalism is a trend that has been given traction by health-conscious millennials, while September, October, and January all have charity-backed campaigns encouraging Brits to stay off the booze for a month. Thus, it is important that wholesalers and their alcohol-selling customers not only get their soft drinks range right, but that wholesalers also equip the on-trade and retailers with the right products for drinks such as alcohol-free mocktails.
As Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca Cola European Partners (CCEP), notes: “Mixers are growing in popularity, whether consumed with or without alcohol. This is partly due to the popularity of cocktails and non-alcoholic mocktails as consumers look to enjoy an indulgent evening drink that differs from what they would enjoy day-to-day.
“Because of this, retailers should consider the importance of mixers alongside their alcohol ranges, enabling people to stock up on everything they need for their night in.”
CCEP has revamped Schweppes’ pack design, with a “bold, effervescent new look to showcase its premium credentials to adult consumers.” Burgess adds: “The striking black labels demonstrate the brand’s long-standing heritage, and the new design is also peppered with adult wit and humour designed to appeal to target 30+ consumers.”
Britvic’s Farnworth adds: “It’s important that the dynamism of mixers matches the dynamism of spirits going forward. It’s also very pertinent to remember that we’re seeing the start of a trend here in terms of premiumisation, and the NPD that goes alongside satisfying that trend.” Britvic is hopeful that its Purdey’s range of soft drinks can ride the crest of the premium mixer wave, and the company is expected to launch a range of premium mixers later this year.
What does the future hold for mixers?
It would appear that this trend is here to stay. Mixologist Cohen says: “Luxuries have shifted, and upselling on drinks is now vital. Having a range of stuff is key, as people are now way more open to trying new mixers.”
But are wholesalers on board with the trend? BTW’s Mason says that on soft drinks, wholesalers have been a “little bit behind”. But, he adds: “I can understand that – tonics have been seen as filler, so there’s not been that much of a concern around them. Wholesalers used to give us a direct ‘no’, even as recently as a year and a half ago. Now, though, they are coming back to us to enquire.”
Alan Dawson, of drinks wholesalers Matthew Clark, says: “We are involved with the premium stuff now, as it’s clear consumers are demanding a better quality drink. The only problem is that there’s only so much space to list these niche mixers, although you are seeing a lot of them around now, and the companies behind them are presenting their products to us. A lot of the growth is being driven by them, and we have to adapt to what our customers are looking for.”
Fever Tree’s Benson, adds: “In the past wholesalers have been responsive to what their customers want without often looking at wider category trends. More and more, wholesalers are starting to actively advise their customers on trends to offer a better service. We try and work as closely as possible with our wholesalers to offer them cross-category training on premium spirits and mixers, as well as working with them to help create their end-customer’s mixed drinks menus, that are proven to boost sales.”
Britvic’s Farnworth, meanwhile, urges wholesalers to not just focus on premium tonics either: “It’s vital that wholesalers take time to really keep abreast of all the latest developments – this involves time and effort, but it will be worth it. For example, one of the interesting trends we’re seeing at the moment is the growth of darker spirits, especially rum, which will in turn see a surge in demand for appropriate mixers including ginger-based mixers, and premium colas. Wholesalers who, for example, just focus on getting premium gin and premium tonics right, will miss a trick in future. Keep looking ahead. In summary, as supplier and wholesalers, premiumisation should mean only one thing – a greater profit pool for all.”