The cocktail market is now worth half a billion pounds in the UK, 1/3 of outlets have them available and it isn’t slowing down yet. 15,000 more outlets stock cocktails than did 3 years ago. Cocktails have proven to be a hugely beneficial addition to an outlet’s drinks range. They can differentiate you from your competition and increase your customers spend per head.
The cocktail market is constantly evolving. In the second half of the 20th century, cocktails fell out of fashion completely and the popularity of vodka and ready to drink serves started to grow. The cocktail rebirth or renaissance we are currently seeing in many ways is part of a wider movement of people becoming more interested in the provenance of a product, a ‘foodie’ culture and a desire for theatre on a night out that can’t be replicated at home.
There is huge opportunity to appeal more to general spirits consumers, moving them from serves with a mixer to higher margin cocktail serves but what is next year’s consumers looking for? Here we give our predictions for the trends set to continue developing in the New Year, moving from the preserve of the top cocktail bars and into mainstream cocktail consciousness.
We’ve seen the trend towards locally sourced products in both the nations’ bars and kitchens as people look to limit their effect on the planet. The next logical step has been a move to a ‘closed loop’. Cocktails made with ingredients people would usually throw away has been spotted in popular London haunts Duck & Waffle and White Lyan.
At the Heron Tower, cocktail supremo Rich Woods, released a daring cocktail menu last summer featuring banana skins, tomato stalks, avocado stones and burnt toast in order to shine a light on ingredients chefs and bartenders tend to throw away. It’s no secret that cocktail bars produce a large amount of waste but it’s a real challenge to implement a sustainable cocktail list. That said there are small steps that bars can take such as purchasing fruit locally unpackaged and then using every part.
In a similar theme, the work of the Plastic Pollution Coalition in reducing the number of straws finding their way into natural habitats is building momentum. JD Wetherspoon is the biggest group to publically announce it has stopped automatically putting plastic straws in drinks in a bid to save 70 million plastic straws going to landfill. All Bar One, Oakman Inns and the Liberation Group have also taken up the ‘Refuse the Straw’ campaign and we expect more to follow.
With people looking for a unique experience when they trade in their hard-earned cash, signature cocktails are to be found on more and more menus. Signature cocktails are those unique to an outlet, these can be completely original or twists on the classics. They go beyond what is usually expected, adding an extra layer to the drinkers experience and rumour has it, the opportunity for a higher price that is justified in the buyer's mind.
It’s no surprise, cocktails have always been about innovation and standing out from the crowd. Not only does putting your own spin on classics (or creating original cocktails) give consumers a unique experience and tie your drinks range more closely to your outlet style and menu (creating a fully integrated drinking experience) but it removes the possibility for like for like comparisons between your outlet and a competitor. If you and your competition both offer a Cosmopolitan for example, the consumer can default to choosing where to drink on price, placing pressure on your margins.
A modern take on the Classics
The impact of serves such as the Sex on the Beach, Woo Woo and the Blue Lagoon is undeniable. They are some of the trade’s most popular cocktails, but as the modern cocktail culture has evolved, more and more bartenders are dusting off the old recipe books. Inside they find, and then bring to life, some forgotten serves from the first cocktail era as well as those that have long histories in the trade.
It’s an easier task to bring an oldie up to date than it is to reinvent the wheel and consumers will thank you for it. Consumers enjoy hearing about the history of a drink with provenance increasingly the most important tool in selling a product. You don’t need to be an expert in cocktails to sell them, but customers are increasingly spirit savvy and increasingly turned off by perceived lack of knowledge by staff. Having a little bit of knowledge about a cocktail makes you and your outlet look more professional in the eyes of your customers and they will trust your offer.
The government is taking action on high-sugar drinks and the industry as a whole is working to reduce the average unit consumption. Add to that consumers generally becoming more health conscious, moving away from convenience for the good of their wellbeing and it’s clear to see that the market will move in this direction. Expect to see more ‘skinny’ and low alcohol cocktails in future and health becoming a keyword in cocktails.
There will always be a place for indulgence, most consumers still regarding dining and drinking out as an exception to their usual regimes. But for those everyday drinking occasions there is certainly a need for a few ‘skinny’ options on your list, consider changing up some classics to swap sugar for agave syrup or producing a less alcoholic version. Ensure that your staff know the approximate amounts of calories in each of your cocktail serves to ensure that you can correctly inform guests.