In the U.S., gin’s success comes down to a coin flip: affordably priced brands or those over $25 a 750-ml. Lower-priced gins in the U.S. have faced headwinds for years, causing the overall category to contract while a smaller set of consumers trade up for super-premium labels. Consumer trends toward premiumization and widespread trading up at retail during the last two years have rewarded brands like Hendrick’s and Aviation, both of which have seen substantial growth, while category leaders like Seagram’s and classic brands like Bombay have faced an uphill battle. Last year, gin overall was down 240,000 cases to 9.18 million, according to Impact Databank. The top ten brands—making up roughly 78% of the category—faced challenging conditions, with only two brands seeing growth last year.
“On Drizly, percent of share for gin within the liquor category has steadily maintained over the past year, holding at 4% of share in 2021 and 2022 year-to-date,” says the e-commerce delivery company’s head of consumer insights Liz Paquette. “This is a slight decline from 2020, when gin held 5% of share.”
With gin facing challenging conditions in the U.S., brands have been pushed to innovate. In recent years, that has meant embracing canned cocktails. Amid a wider boom in spirits-based RTDs, companies like Diageo, along with major gin labels and craft players, have released a variety of canned gin and tonics to complement canned releases from dedicated RTD brands like Cutwater. While these brands have yet to catch fire like Spirit of Gallo’s vodka-based High Noon Sun Sips, portable and premade gin cocktails are a way to inject gin into a red-hot category.
This year’s limited edition, Neptunia ($40 a 750-ml.), is a coastal gin made with botanicals found on the Scottish seaside. The release comes with a sea foam green label and is available while supplies last. Neptunia follows previous Cabinet of Curiosities releases like Lunar, Midsummer Solstice, and Orbium, all of which expand on the brand’s cucumber-and-rose flavor profile. “Hendrick’s limited-time offerings typically see strong consumer interest on Drizly. Lunar, which launched in late January 2021, is currently No. 18 among the top-selling gin brands on Drizly, quickly followed by Neptunia at No. 20, which only just launched in March,” notes Paquette.
“Capitalizing on the trends over the last couple of years, we’ve had very strong business growth,” says Basford. “There are very nice trends from 2021 carrying into 2022. I think it’s a very encouraging Q1 start to the business.” He points to Hendrick’s as one of the company’s top performer’s so far for 2022, as well.
While William Grant & Sons has not yet entered the canned RTD market, they recently launched a line of bottled ready-to-serve cocktails under the Batch & Bottle brand, including a Hendrick’s Martini. While the new brand is, like most ready-to- serve releases, aimed at the off-premise, Basford noted that the company sees interest in on-premise accounts looking to streamline their cocktail programs. Hotels, too, said Basford, have shown interest in adding the line to mini bars.
“Hendrick’s has done a great job with their limited-time offerings that appeal to their current customers and they have the fan base to make it a success. From a retail standpoint, anything that brings demand or interest into a category is fine by us,” says Alexander Poreda, director of sales for Florida’s ABC Fine Wine & Spirits.
Gains At The Higher End
Behind Hendrick’s in the super-premium space is Diageo’s Aviation, the American gin brand fronted by actor Ryan Reynolds. Last year, the brand grew by 28% and crossed the 100,000-case mark for the first time, reaching 110,000 cases, according to Impact Databank. Though Aviation is a distant second to Hendrick’s, it’s a far newer brand and has seen substantial growth year-over-year since 2017. In 2020, the brand and former parent company Davos were purchased by Diageo in a deal worth up to $610 million. So far, Aviation has carved out a strong niche for American gin in a segment of the market where most of the major brands are imports, particularly on Drizly, where the brand is currently the tenth best-selling gin brand on the platform, according to Paquette.
In fact, Aviation is currently nearly as large as the other four leading super-premium American gins combined. Both Sampson & Surrey’s Bluecoat and Prestige Beverage Co.’s Snoop Dogg-backed Indoggo are at 33,000 cases each, while Caledonia Spirits’ Barr Hill is at 32,000 cases, and Deustch Family Wine & Spirits’ Grey Whale is at 25,000 cases, for a total of 123,000 cases between them. These four brands grew 96%, 13%, 32.5%, and 116.8%, respectively, last year.
“Traditional brands like Seagram’s and Gordon’s fell out of Drizly’s top ten brands list in the past few years, demonstrating a potential trend away from some traditional London dry offerings. Fastest-growing brands year-over-year include Monkey 47, Mulholland New World, Empress 1908, and Waterloo, suggesting that consumers may be branching out to craft options and trading up,” says Paquette.
Palm Bay International’s Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish gin is another recent success story of higher-priced gins. The brand has grown from 5,000 cases in 2017 to 64,000 cases, including 21% growth just for 2021. The brand is made with a blend of traditional botanicals and uncommon additions, including tea.
Last year, the brand launched a new extension, Sardinian Citrus. Retailing at $37 a 750-ml., the newcomer is made with the rare citrus monstruosa fruit, or “Sa pompia,” as it’s known in Sardinia, where it grows only in the Sinsicola region of the island. The new gin is intended to be served over ice with premium tonic and a generous amount of fresh red grapefruit, or in a long summery cocktail. It hit retail shelves nationwide last fall.
Other leading gins priced above $25 a 750-ml. are also showing major growth.
Maison Ferrand’s Citadelle gin ($25) grew 33% to reach 69,000 cases last year, while Rémy Coin- treau’s Botanist ($40) increased 32% to hit 63,000 cases and Beam Suntory’s Roku ($28) jumped 34% to cross the 50,000-case mark at 51,000 cases. Both Roku and Botanist have been substantial successes for their parent companies, with Roku contributing to Beam’s single-digit U.S. growth for fiscal year 2021, and Botanist helping to boost Rémy’s Liqueurs & Spirits division 28% for the company’s latest fiscal year.
As the higher-end of the gin category has been building a strong foundation and taking greater market share, more affordably priced brands, ranging from budget priced domes- tics to some of the biggest names in the category, have struggled or stagnated. Though these brands are facing overall challenges, names like Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, and Beefeater remain retail staples that anchor liquor stores’ gin sections. “Sales are still dominated by category leaders Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, and Hedrick’s in both the 1.75-liter and 750-ml. sizes. But Beefeater, Seagram’s, and Gordon’s are still holding their own in the 1.75-liter format and Empress 1908 has shown incredible growth over the past year and is moving up the leader board,” says ABC’s Poreda.
At the top of the category by volume is Pernod Ricard’s Seagram’s. Last year, the brand declined by 11.8%, to 1.61 million cases. Seagram’s, which has roughly an 18% market share of the gin category, has long been the leader, though that has trended downward since 2005, when Seagram’s held nearly 30% of the market and was more than double the size of the second largest brand. The brand is also active in the flavored gin space, offering a variety of fruit-enhanced gins, including Watermelon Twisted gin ($11 a 750-ml.), which launched last summer.
“We have a few premium items that have decent sales, but I wouldn’t call it a ‘hot’ category,” Poreda notes. “Perhaps with the on-premise picking back up a few specialty cocktails on drink lists will increase demand.”
While Pernod Ricard’s gin portfolio is seeing stronger growth at higher price tiers with brands like Monkey 47 and Malfy, the company’s second largest brand, Beefeater, held steady in 2021. While Beefeater, including its small portfolio of offshoots, declined by fewer than 1,000 cases, staying at roughly 429,000 cases overall for 2021, the brand’s flagship gin actually grew 0.4%. In 2020, Beefeater gin (exclud- ing the limited and seasonal releases) was at 419,000 cases, and for 2021 the brand tacked on an additional 2,000 cases. While growth was muted, showing any growth bucks the category’s wider trend for its largest releases in the $15-$25 tier. Overall, Beefeater is the seventh largest gin brand in the U.S. At ABC, Beefeater remains a force in the gin category, specifically in larger formats, with Poreda noting that 1.75-liters of Beefeater are “still holding their own” in the chain’s stores.
Behind Seagram’s is Diageo’s Tanqueray at 1.45 million cases. The brand was one of the two top ten gins to grow last year, eking out a 1% boost. Among the largest brands in the U.S., Tanqueray is one of the category’s continued success stories, having adding roughly 120,000 cases since 2010, a period of considerable headwinds for gin. For e-commerce platform Drizly, Tanqueray has been their No.-2 best selling gin for a number of years, holding up the top of market alongside Hendrick’s and Bombay, in first and third, respectively.
In 2020, Diageo pushed Tanqueray into the RTD space with a trio of canned gin cocktails using the brand’s flagship, Rangpur, and Seville Orange expressions. All three are at 6% abv and come in 4-packs of 12-ounce cans.
While Tanqueray has managed to stay afloat in stormy seas, Diageo’s other top ten gin, Gordon’s, has faced greater challenges. Last year, the affordably priced brand dropped 6.5% to 435,000 cases, dropping to roughly half of its 2005 volume after a difficult decade-plus. Despite its challenges, Gordon’s remains the sixth largest gin brand in the U.S. Like Tanqueray, Diageo has launched an RTD gin and tonic for Gordon’s, one using the brand’s flagship gin and the other using its pink gin offshoot.
Another London Dry gin, Bacardi’s Bombay, also showed declines. After a five-year period of overall growth from 2015 to 2020, Bombay declined by 4.8% in 2021 to 1.22 million cases. The brand, however, is still near its peak, having tacked on roughly 400,000 cases since 2010, despite last year’s setback. The brand was an early entrant into the gin-based RTD space, launching a gin and tonic and light gin and tonic made with Bombay Sapphire in 2021.
Paquette notes both Tanqueray and Bombay RTDs have grown on Drizly in 2021 and 2022. “The resurgence of classic cocktail flavors offers increased opportunity and awareness for gin-based RTDs,” she says. “Year-to-date, seven of the top ten fastest-growing RTDs on Drizly boast classic cocktail flavors, including the Bombay Sapphire Gin & Tonic.”
While the world of gin-based RTDs is led by branded offshoots from the category’s biggest names, craft distillers and RTD-first brands have also embraced gin. Gin is a limited player in a portfolio as wide as RTD giant Cutwater, but the company still offers a gin and tonic. Canteen Spirits, while mostly known for its vodka sodas, launched three flavored gin spritzes last September, bringing gin to the Impact Hot Brand’s portfolio. The three spritzes pair gin with fruit and sparkling water, making them quite comparable to the widely popular vodka-and-fruit-based seltzers available to consumers.
Craft producers like Oregon’s Freeland Spirits and Brooklyn’s Greenhook gin are
also using RTDs to get their gin in the hands of consumers. Both offer a gin and
tonic—though Freeland’s is made with rose tonic—and, in addition, Freeland also offers a canned French 75 made with wine from a local winery. Stepping beyond classic cocktails and gin and tonics, Rogue Spirits offers a Cucumber Lime Gin Fizz, showing that while the range of gin-based RTDs is limited at the moment, there is innovation bubbling up from the deeper reaches of the category.
Finally, there’s The Long Drink Co.’s namesake beverage, perhaps the strongest sign that gin has a future in the spirits-based RTD market. The Long Drink, an Impact Hot Brand, is made with citrus, juniper, and gin. Last year, the brand saw explosive growth, more than doubling in size to reach 467,000 cases. The Long Drink was only at 20,000 cases in 2018. Though an outlier in the spirits-based RTD world for now, The Long Drink’s quick success could point to a future for gin in an explosive category. The brand’s range includes Traditional (5.5% abv), Cranberry (5.5% abv), Zero (5% abv, with zero carbs or sugar), and Strong (8.5% abv) expressions and retails at $12-$14 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans, depending on the market.
“While many of the top-selling RTDs on Drizly feature a vodka or tequila base, we are seeing growth for gin-based varieties,” says Paquette. “The Long Drink Co. has scaled over 52% of share from 2020 to 2022 year-to-date—growing from the sixteenth best-selling brand to No. 9 on Drizly.”
As the Finnish Long Drink continues to build out its footprint, the company has brought on industry veterans Rudy Costello as president and chief sales officer and Danny Mandelbaum as vice president of marketing. Costello has held senior roles at Beam Suntory and also previously led Stoli’s U.S. business, while Mandelbaum was previously vice president of marketing at Davos Brands—known for Aviation gin. “Like in Finland, we believe The Long Drink can be an iconic main- stream brand, and Rudy and Danny will be key to helping us achieve that,” co-founder and CEO Evan Burns recently told Market Watch sister publication Shanken News Daily.
Even as smaller and more boutique brands slowly take market share and build audiences, the backbone of the gin category at retail is mass-market brands with wide name recognition. Of the brands priced about $25 a 750-ml., only Hendrick’s currently has enough distribution, availability, and popularity to make waves nationally in retailers.
And though brands like Tanqueray, Bombay, and Beefeater are facing headwinds nationally, they’re still the biggest names in gin in the U.S. and retailers say that seems unlikely to change any time soon, though it seems that higher-priced gins will continue to steal momentum from the biggest names in the industry. “Guests have been trading up over the past few years in most spirit categories and gin is no exception,” says ABC’s Poreda. “Gin aficionados are an experimental bunch and have no issue trying a new gin from Japan, Ireland, or Canada. Trends have been positive on gin the last few years and I see no reason for this to stop with interesting innovation and premiumization.”