Insight from the 2018 William Grant & Sons Market Report

let’s begin

Insight from the 2018 William Grant & Sons Market Report is like Christmas for brand strategy people like myself... especially as the big outtake is that there is a new movement is on the rise; welcome to the Activ-ist Consumer.

This was the first time the report has been launched in Manchester, and as a new honorary Mancunian I am mightily pleased that they chose this city to include in their presentations – the energy in the room, the excitement of attendees and the quality of attendees was superb so am looking forward to welcoming WG&S back again in 2019!

For the eighth consecutive year, the Market Report provides a deep understanding of shifting attitudes, needs and desires by analysing changing behaviours, macro trends and data insights set to impact and develop the UK drinks industry into 2019 and beyond.

Interestingly the data for the report is pulled in February to be analysed to form trends which are then written through March, April and May before being designed and going to print.

In a world characterised by political, economic, social and environmental turbulence, today’s Active-ist Consumers have emerged primed for action, defined by three powerful characteristics:

  • Experience Optimisers – people who expect brands to help them optimise their health, work-life balance and experiences;
  • Impact Purchasers – using their wallets and social media presence to drive the social change they expect – they want to consume and enjoy life in a sustainable way;
  • Data Miners – digitally sophisticated, they value their trusted information sources and demand transparency, alongside a growing expectation of highly engaging and personalised experiences.

So what did I learn at the William Grant & Sons Market Report event?

Neil Barker, William Grant & Sons UK Managing Director opened proceedings by suggesting that it is worth us all thinking back just eight years to when the first William Grant & Sons Market Report was published; gin was less than half the size that the category is right now, DVD box sets were all the rage as Netflix did not exist yet, you’d have been looking for a Taxi rank not an Uber at the end of the report launch event… it made pretty much everyone in the room realise that over these eight years we have seen an amazing amount of change.

But the next eight years’ pace of change will be even faster than that, and consumer trends will shape the alcohol industry more than external geopolitical effects – they are crucial and have the ability to make and break brands more than taxes, political pressure and profit pressures.

So who is this new Active-ist Consumer

Fundamentally it signals a shift in balance in our societies whereby influence is now in the eyes of the masses not the minority.

Brands are expected to be as involved in activism as consumers are; their changing worlds and their evolving belief systems must be mirrored by brands in order for them to buy into their proposition. Attenborough is one… you are one… I am one.

This is not about age or classic demographics but a mindset, like I have always said to my consulting clients; what does it tell us about purchasing habits for whisky if a potential consumer is 32, has three dogs, lives in a W5 postcode and drives a BMW? Only that they are likely to have disposable income, but how do they think? How do they act? What are their drivers? That’s what real consumer understanding is about and is fundamental to everything I do on the consulting side of my business .

It is not everyone, these are a small proportion of consumers who are aware of their power and are incredibly aware of their ability to sway thought, consideration and purchasing. They have convictions about the world they live in and the life they want to lead.

Just think; how quick did single use plastics become a massive no no after Attenborough called them out on Blue Planet? Very freaking quick, that’s how.

They are extremely sophisticated digital users, impact purchasers, experience optimisers. Everything should be tailored to them specifically both in the on and offline worlds. They use their money, and social media presence to drive movements; they want to have fun but without being a drain on the planet’s resources. They want health, life and fun balance.

These consumers are much more considered, caring and conscious about their enjoyment and their affect on the world.

The William Grant & Sons Market Report identifies seven key lifestyle trends but, as with the event, I’m going to focus on three

Rooted Realness – exploring ethical and health ramifications of food and drink choices. This trend relies on influence and is built on their own narrative of what’s going on around them.

Multi-Sensory Masstige – exceptional, unique and entertaining experiences that engage the senses. This is all about escapist experiences.

Dreams of Extremes – embracing challenges to push comfort zones and drive social currency. To be asked things of them that are a bit challenging and different to have a story to tell.

The others are Always Optimised, Augmented Crafts, Tangible Transparency and Considered Living.

The consumer adoption cycle has never been quicker; and these consumers are at the forefront of ensuring the best survive and all are held accountable.

So what's been happening in the spirits market?

As we have all been witnessing, this has been another year of upheaval with Brexit uncertainty, regulation reform, bigger amounts of competition in the industry than ever before. But despite all of this there has been 2.5% growth in the alcohol growth in the last year, with spirits accounting for 50% of that growth. Incredible.

What is driving this growth?

More spend; the market is premiumising, premium spirits are growing faster than any other category.

More products; over eighty new brands in the gin market in 2017, Edinburgh Gin and Pinkster Gin added £50million to the category growth alone.

More people; 1.5 million people more choosing spirits out of home.

In the on trade (that’s bars, restaurants and pubs), it is even more critical to have a solid range and serve strategy; this is the biggest drive of location choice and why consumers actually go out… 3/4 waiting staff in the U.K. are EU national… pre-batch cocktails and value-added serves are increasing in their prominence and relevance too. People want the right food, right drink offering and a personable offer from all locations they go to… whilst being super-sustainable, convenient and on their terms. Good luck!

In the off trade (classic retail on and offline), there is now increased competition for a a relatively static sales base with a lower ability to pass on operating cost rises to consumers as there will be someone else retailing the product for a better price if you do. Premium gin contributed £150million additional revenue to the off trade. Premium spirits up 6%… and 18% up YoY in convenience grocery.

What else did the William Grant & Sons Market Report shed light on?

Since 2005 the number of claimed frequent drinkers has fallen by 50%, there has also been an increase in vegetarian and vegan lifestyle choices so when consumers do drink they want to drink in moderation so want quality, low/no ABV products and flavour.

In whisky, 75% of consumers claim little to know knowledge of the category, but their biggest purchase driver is flavour. There’s a challenge to brands here to engage, educate and empower consumers to explore and make the right decisions at shelf and at the bar.

In the William Grant & Sons Market Report press release, Caspar MacRae, Marketing Director of William Grant & Sons UK, comments:

“Our extensive research and analysis led us to coin the phrase “The Active-ist Consumer” for a new generation which is incredibly aware of its collective consumer power and its ability to drive change at scale and pace. From the #MeToo movement to single-use plastics, these consumers are determined to make very different choices to positively impact their world. With a very real level of expectation, brands and organisations will need to continuously innovate and adapt their experiences, ingredients and communications to ensure they meet the needs of this very discerning and powerful group.”

All in all, the William Grant & Sons Market Report spelled out a number of challenges, but also left me feeling like I always do about my work; it is an incredibly exciting time to be in the category, and the future is bright for the bra

Tags: Consumer trendsWG&SWilliam Grant & Sons Market Report
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My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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