Juniper Rising: Gin Makes Gains on Menus

Whiskey may be the spirit getting all the attention lately, but another category with pre-Prohibition roots is making what could be the start of a comeback. Following years of declines, gin volume increased in 2014, according to Technomic’s soon-to-be-released SpiritsTAB report. Though the growth was nominal (0.1%), the change in trajectory is welcome news for many cocktailians and fans of the juniper spirit (myself included).

Since the advent of the classic cocktail renaissance, gin has been “the next big thing” that never really came to be, much to the frustration of those who recognize it as an indispensable spirit in any serious drink-making arsenal. Finally, it seems, the American palate is ready to again embrace the herbal spirit.

Several of the leading brands, including Seagram’s, Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire, grew last year. Beefeater shed volume, as did most of the value brands. Contributing to the momentum are brands with unique points of differentiation, including cucumber-infused Hendrick’s, small-batch Uncle Val’s and handcrafted Crater Lake, as well as super-premium selections such as Citadelle and Martin Miller’s. A number of high-end, boutique gins are coming to market and garnering attention from both consumers and the trade.

With the shift away from super-sweet spirits flavor profiles, the herbal, floral and juniper characteristics of gin are ever more appealing to American consumers, particularly Millennials. SpiritsTAB finds nearly one-quarter of consumers (23%) report drinking gin off-premise at least once a month and 35% order gin on-premise that frequently. Millennials overindex by more than 10 points for regular consumption in both channels. Surely, gin is no longer solely a spirit for the older set.

At a recent visit to Spyglass Rooftop in New York, I was delighted to see gin as the star of what turns out to be one of the venue’s most popular cocktails. The Empire State features Hendrick’s Gin, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, ginger juice, simple syrup, and lemon and lime juices, garnished with a basil leaf. General Manager and resident drinks guru Joe Goglia calls it a “fan favorite,” noting it appeals to everyone from 20-somethings to the Boomers who frequent the indoor/outdoor hot spot on the 22nd floor of the Archer Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

Many other on-premise operators also are showcasing gin. At leading and emerging restaurant chains, gin mentions on spirits menus rose 16.3%, according to MenuMonitor, while mentions of gin as an ingredient in specialty cocktails rose 12.1% in the first quarter of 2015 as compared to the same period in 2014. These are not your simple gin-and-tonic quaffs (no offense to the classic refresher): gimlets, Collins and fizzes are showing up on drink menus across the country. And as testament to operators’ and consumers’ willingness to take it to the next level, menu mentions of the Negroni rose 80% at these chains.

These trends attest to the changing American palate, but also indicate gin may well be poised to shine yet again. Today’s consumers are interested in authenticity and unique, interesting flavors profiles, as well as the opportunity to explore variations and expressions with in a category. Gin easily checks off all those boxes.

Will it be the next big thing? Given that vodka is nearly seven times its volume and whiskey is on a tear, that’s doubtful. But with the advent of stylistically interesting expressions, a corps of bartenders able to work with the unique flavor profile and a consumer willing to explore, a new day may be dawning for gin.

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Donna Hood Crecca

A veteran of the foodservice industry, Donna Hood Crecca leads the firm’s Convenience Store Practice and is active in its Adult Beverage Practice. She develops research-based insights and recommendations for leading and emerging supplier and operator companies to enhance their go-to-market and product development programs and strategies.

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