101 Gins from 2020
We were recently asked to comment on what’s occurred in the world of British gin over 2020. Now, we’re never shy of a quote or two and usually pour our insight into the Gin Annual at this time of year but how does anyone comment on anything in 2020? Everything is upside down, inside out, caveated and contradictory! We thought the best way to put any theory to the test was to line up as many new releases we could and compare them side by side.
Have a look at 101 gins made in the UK to see the state of the category and what our local craft distillers have been up to. It’s not a complete set for the year – we counted around 150-160 made and released – these are just those where we could find usable images and information. In our opinion, it shows a good snapshot of what the last 11 months have produced.
So, what have we learned? Here’s the top line insight about the year so far:
Pink is out, Orange is in.
Following three years of stratospheric growth, Flavoured Gin hasn’t just slowed its advance overall (the genre represents a stable 35% of the Gin category for the fourth quarterly report in a row according to Neilsen), it’s also shifting from berries and bright pink, to other fruits and shades of the rainbow.
When it comes to releases, it seems that many of the established distilleries mined the same focus group for feedback, seemingly deciding that the passion fruit, guava, pineapple and all things “tropical” was the new battleground to compete for the attention of flavoured gin enthusiasts. There were dozens of flavoured and infused gins with an orange hue of some form, where as only slightly less than a dozen pink tinted bottles – the least there’s been in the past three years. What will be the flavour of 2021? At this rate, we’ll just be glad the world hasn’t ended by then so no predictions from us…
More depth, less width.
Most of the new entries into the market came from existing distilleries, rather than newbies making their debuts.
While this may seem predicable at first (who would enter a saturated market during a pandemic?) it’s actually the opposite of what happened last time there was a major global crash which saw a huge rise in entrepreneurship, and the opposite of what we expect to see next year as the bigger players contract around their variants doing the bulk of the volume.
Interestingly, for the first time in a decade the average amount of gins per UK producer is now clearly over 3, and another clear marker of how the category has grown in depth over the past 18 months. It’s now highly unusual for a distiller to only have one gin. Why does this matter? It makes it harder for newbies to get noticed as existing distilleries with established routes to market fulfil the demand for new long before freshly established distilleries and their brands have the chance to get noticed. This compounds the difficulties they have in breaking through.
It also makes it harder for other established distilleries to get new listings, as many in the trade are weary of trying something new from an untested brand name even if they have heard of it, compared to taking a gamble on a new variant from a brand they already know sells well and already have a relationship with.
In this regard, 2020 releases show how the category and the market further compound the advantage going towards to the incumbent, not the challenger (newcomer or not).
Many absurd, but markedly fewer illegal entries than most years.
Gin fans are used to seeing candy cane releases masquerading as Gin. This remained true in 2020 and the absurd concepts continued this year, arguably best highlighted by an ‘Elemental’ series of releases in the supermarket (who knew that Gin could taste of wind or water?). Some have been better than most though, with Jaffa Cake Gin, or Christmas Pudding Gin both providing interesting flavour journeys through the medium of something at least paying lip service to the idea of gin (all-be-it the juniper lite version).
What’s clear to see however, is far fewer wrongly labeled and illegal products being brought to market. Gins that should be Liqueurs, Gins that are less than 37.5%, those sold with low cal messaging, reckless irresponsible drinking taglines, grossly misleading statements or just missing duty stamps (or other usual HMRC infringements) were few and far between in 2020. Let’s hope this continues!
A good year for those with supermarket listings.
While it’s hard to tell just looking at products side by side (as they just look like new gins!), if you track how many were made for a retailer, or by retailers, you can see the tip of the iceberg that forms the big story of the year. The big retailers have had a bonanza year compared to previous years, taking advantage of being open during lockdown and the result of which dramatically impacts what NPD made it to market. Never before have they directly accounted for more 15% of new releases.
Retailer own brands or retailer exclusive variants aside, not all producers have done badly out of the lockdown. Some, in fact have had the best year on record by quite a long way going to show that while we may all have been weathering the same storm, each has had a very different boat that they were trying to keep afloat.
It’s more granular than suggesting the big boys did well and the small firms plummeted though. Direct-to-Consumer sales and the margins that affords (a big part and parcel of smaller producers business models for 18 months already), and a rally around local purchasing both helped smaller distilleries hugely. Meanwhile, it was the larger brands that were more exposed to a crash in bar and restaurant sales as it was they, not the small one-man-bands, who had those accounts and valuable routes to market.
That said, while the large operations may have seen their trade orders decimated, those craft producers who had followed the trend of active direct to consumer operations but had also achieved a national listing reaped the best of both worlds and the record sales coming from supermarkets.
The big differentiator is just how much distance there is between the mid scale operations pushing north of half a million bottles a year, to the vast majority of “small” operations who are in fact tiny, doing less than 60K a year. Anyone caught in the middle will have taken a beating that they will not likely recover from for years, if ever. 2020 has ensured there are now very clear volume tranches and very different sized operations in the UK and far less ‘transitioning’ brands.
Talking of which, those looking to take the next step and bridge the volume gap and become an established name now have a much more empowered, financed and savvy incumbents to knock out of the way. In this light, the established big names of British Craft Gin are a list of brands that will not change for the next few years. Congratulations to those who made it to the promised land, commiserations to those whose investments into growth will be fruitless as a result of the pandemic…
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