Comment - Wehring's Way - There's No Geeing Up Gin
Yesterday evening, the Worshipful Company of Distillers hosted a debate in London about gin. Up for discussion was the question: “Gin: A tortuous history with a brilliant future?” The panel featured, Ed Pilkington, global category director for vodka, rum and gin at Diageo, Maurice Doyle, global marketing director at William Grant & Sons, drinks writer Tom Sandham and Trevor Stirling, senior analyst at Sanford C Bernstein.
I'll spare you the details of the evening, which are nicely summed up, I feel, by my peer Christian Davis at Drinks International. But, what struck me throughout the debate, and subsequent Q&A session, is that the gin category is stuck in limbo. While it may want the sales - both in volume and speed - of vodka, it also wants to boast the history and provenance of whisk(e)y.
The problem is that, without picking a side, the gin category just isn't performing as well as it could. To back me up before I even start, our white spirits commentator, Chris Mercer, pored over the numbers earlier this year and came to the same conclusion.
To justify my position, I offer two pieces of evidence.
Exhibit A: 'London Dry Gin'. I'm referring to the term, here. Do you know what is meant when a bottle has 'London Dry Gin' on the label? Or rather, what do you think the consumer thinks is meant when a bottle has 'London Dry Gin' on the label? As I'm sure you know - and I'm sure the consumer doesn't - the term refers to a method of production: It has nothing whatsoever to do with location.
To me, this makes no sense, and seems to be stuck in the afore-mentioned middle ground, between vodka and whisk(e)y.
Indeed, when one questioner asked about the appeal of a 'denominacion de Origen' equivalent for London Dry Gin, the response in the hall yesterday was one almighty, collective shrug. To me, this is a missed opportunity.
Exhibit B: India. Of the four BRIC markets, India is the only one that, I believe, offers the best potential for international white spirits. Brazil (with cachaca), Russia (vodka) and China (baijiu) are flooded with their respective domestic white spirits categories – not India. And, with its climate and its historical relationship with the UK (for good or bad), the UK gin brands should be falling over themselves to break the market.
As I recall, India was not mentioned once yesterday evening. Another missed opportunity?
In 2011, gin accounted for 3% of both the volumes and value in the global spirits market, and offered a CAGR of 3.4% between 2001 and 2011, by far the lowest of all the international spirits categories.
I'm sorry, gin-meisters, but I don't see those figures changing any time soon.
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