Bottles of spirits look very eye-catching under the bright lights of a pub back bar, but nowadays they are more likely to be sold on an ordinary supermarket shelf than in the on-trade. In 2015 the off-trade generated nearly 80% of UK spirits sales, while the country’s six major supermarket chains— Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Morrisons, Aldi and LIDL—accounted for almost 70% of total alcohol sales in the same year. 
At Hunter we believe this gradual shift towards the off-trade is a key trend for the spirits and packaging industries to ponder and act on. It reflects the fact that people are staying in more, but they are not necessarily trading down or always looking to save the pennies. On the contrary, these aspirational consumers are celebrating thriftiness and conscious spending by turning to brands that offer something more to them — the opportunity to conspicuously associate themselves with brands that project their values. In fact, according to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), sales of spirits by value in the off-trade were up 3% to stand at £3.97 billion in the 12 months to the end of April 2016. And just early this year, Diageo’s president Europe indicated that “There’s a good trade up element to premium and luxury spirits and these are growing disproportionately in the off-trade“
And let’s not forget that people are also increasingly shopping for spirits online either through the websites of bricks-and-mortar supermarkets and specialists off-licences or via pure play operators such as thedrinkshop.com or whiskyexchange.com. According to a recent report by IbisWorld, the online alcohol retail market in the UK is currently worth £416m and has grown at annual rate of nearly 16% between 2011 and 2016.
Premiumisation as a way of bridging the gap between the desirable luxury world and the mass market
Spirits packaging also has to reflect the premiumisation trend that has swept through the spirits business. It has to be able to stand out in this crowded, competitive shopping environment and to disrupt the consumer’s shopping journey in order to communicate product and brand information in an effective, engaging and emotional way.
In this age of instant gratification, more and more shoppers are turning to spirits as a present to the person who has it all
Gifting is more and more of an important driver of sales, and this is even more apparent in the own-label supermarket spirit brands, which are performing well and getting good press by picking up gold and silver medals at major international drinks competitions. And this isn’t a new phenomenon. Back in July 2015, William Grant & Sons predicted strong growth for premium spirits fuelled by a polarized market where “value can mean many things from functional benefits to packaging and personality.”
Value is more than just value for money
At Hunter we have extensive experience in developing premium packaging for major retailers and high street brands. Our philosophy is to work with brand owners and suppliers on packaging solutions from the outset of the project and throughout the supply chain, sourcing the right materials and creating the optimum design in as cost efficient and environmentally sustainable as possible.
Recently Hunter was commissioned to source, produce and deliver gift boxes for Lidl’s own award-winning Ben Bracken range of 22 year old, 25 year-old and 27 year-old single malt whiskies. Working to an extremely tight lead-time, Hunter was able to incorporate luxury cues such as highly detailed foil, textured craft paper and ornate bespoke hinges into the finished design.
We successfully communicated the reassuring appearance of luxury and quality for an own-label range without the stock cues of provenance, tradition and heritage typically associated with named brands and distilleries. How did we do this? We understand that it is vital that every packaging commission is a unique, tailored project, which tries to ensure that product and packaging are borne out of the same creative process.
It’s not just in spirits where we are working with brands looking to premiumise their offering. We have had great success in the transfer of our packaging experience and expertise to other seemingly unrelated sectors.
Take REN Skincare, the British skincare brand now owned by Unilever, which thanks to a skilful use of premium packaging went from niche to the window displays of Liberty’s and other luxury retail outlets. One of our latest collaborations with REN was for their Christmas 2016 gifting offer.
As it is usually the case for brands looking to premiumise their offering, the brief called for a packaging solution that spoke of luxury and contemporary appeal through the use of signifiers that lift the product to a different level. All of this within a very tight budget, and in the case of REN following very strict environmental requirements around use of energy and other ecological aspects. The finished gift boxes were extremely well received by the specialised media, giving the brand higher visibility at a crucial time of the year.
If you’d like to hear more about the ways in which these key trends are affecting the spirits sector and how they are likely to impact your packaging needs in the future, feel free to contact us. We’re always listening.