For over half of adults planning to drink alcohol at Christmas, the tipple of choice is spirits, according to research undertaken by Britvic last year, which focused on festive drinking habits. 

The same research showed that 63 per cent of those spirits drinkers use mixers, so you can see why mixed drinks are a key part of the Christmas drinks offer.

Maybe you are thinking you already have a pretty good range of mixed drinks – a decent G&T, a vodka & cola that flies off the bar or a whisky & ginger that brings the range up-to-date.

But people expect a little more at Christmas, as Russell Goldman, commercial director at Britvic, points out.

"They expect to be delighted by great experiences, surprised by hidden value and tempted to be more adventurous. They are happy to treat themselves but only if they feel it's worth paying more for," he explains.

And so, what do we expect will be the things punters are willing to pay more for this Christmas, we wonder?

 

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Up your garnish game

"Presentation should not be forgotten," says Russell. "Interesting glassware and garnishes are small investments in time and money, which can really help to enhance the drinker's experience and inspire repeat purchase with large groups in particular, so make sure you add theatre to your serves with fresh fruit and seasonal herbs such as nutmeg and cinnamon sticks."

Ed Hartridge, sales and marketing director of soft drinks producer Hartridges, agrees that these days, "drinks need to look good too."

Put effort into your garnish game, he says. Choose some garnishes that fit well with the season he suggests, "such as trading lime and lemon wedges for zesty curls or switching half-moons of freshly cut orange for crispy dehydrated slices."

 

Add some spice

Adding seasonal flavours to your mixed drinks is also encouraged by Katie Hewitt, spirits category manager at Distilled, the spirits arm of Carlsberg.

"Bartenders shouldn't be confined to standard serves," she says. "Take gin for example – why not try heating things up and making a hot G&T sharing punch?

"Challenge and excite consumers by using flavoured gins such as sloe, spiced and orange, or bring other taste profiles into the mix through syrups, complementary fruits or even other categories – gin, port & ginger ale together, for example, create a wonderful festive ruby red mix."

 

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Festive renaissance

It's not all about gin, of course (although the category looks set for another strong Christmas). There are several other spirit trends worth making note of, including fortified wines, such as vermouth and Sherry, says Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners. This is in part because drinkers are looking for an alternative to stronger spirits as they seek lower-alcohol options when choosing a mixed drink.

"Sherry and vermouth are now routinely served with tonic as a less alcoholic, innovative twist on the classic G&T," says Amy. "A Fino sherry mixed with Schweppes 1783 Tonic Water and served over ice with an orange peel twist is a delightfully dry and floral drink.

"Cognac is also experiencing something of a renaissance and is likely to be a very popular festive choice. With exports reaching record highs, growing by 14 per cent in 2017 (Figures from the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac), it is being tipped as the next hot global trend. Serve it the "French way" mixed with a measure of tonic with a squeeze of fresh lemon," she suggests.

Rum is also worth noting here, with sales up 11 per cent last year (Waitrose Food & Drink Report 2017).

"This trend shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, rum sales hit the £1bn mark for the first time last year, a milestone gin achieved in 2016 (Wine and Spirit Trade Association). Mirroring the 'ginaissance', a key factor in this resurgence is the wide variety of rums now available on the market, catering to consumers' appetite for new flavours and experiences. The premiumisation trend has also been key to this growth, with premium rums growing by 15 per cent (CGA to 22.04.2017)," Amy says.

 

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Play your positions

Ah, premiumisation. There's only so far into a feature about Christmas drinks you can go before we have to address the ongoing premiumisation trend – for if drinkers are treating themselves to better drinks the rest of the year, as the research shows, then they will almost certainly be looking to do it when the Christmas decorations are in full force.

Happily, Faith Holland, head of category development at Diageo, has some advice: "Licensees can promote up-trading at the bar through the way they display spirits," she says.

"Position premium products at the top of the fridge to make the most of the profit margins they offer; try multiple facings to draw the customers' eye to certain lines along the back bar, as consumers admit that visibility influences their decision, and keep the bar clear and clean so as not to block the view of the back-bar.

"This should also be a consideration when placing point-of-sale – obstructing the fridge will only hide what you have on offer."

 

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Go premium

As well as premium spirits, for course, there are premium mixers to think about these days.

"The continued rise in the popularity of premium tonics is another trend operators should be thinking about when planning their stock range for Christmas," says Andrew Jackson, marketing director at Fentimans.

"Listing a range of quality mixers to match the spirits on offer is key. The Going Premium report by CGA revealed that more than two in five consumers now chose high quality drinks or say they are more than likely to upgrade to one when drinking out of home.

"Pubs must ensure they are listening to consumer demand when planning their ranges. Our award-winning Rose Lemonade is made with otto oil from the Valley of the Roses and doubles as both a soft drink and also as a mixer for vodka and gin, providing a premium and diverse option for licensees."