Daily Newsletter

20 February 2024

Daily Newsletter

20 February 2024

“There will be some consolidation” – Campari Group on the outlook for non-alcoholic spirits

Campari Group’s Julka Villa delves into the position alcohol-free spirits play in the group’s portfolio and the trends it expects will define the future of the market.

Fiona Holland February 20 2024

Campari Group’s presence in non-alcoholic spirits dates back far longer than some of its multinational peers. The Italy-based company has had a foot in the market since 1995, when it acquired the alcohol-free aperitivo alternative, Crodino.

Matching in colour with its spirits like Campari and Aperol, the company is keen to market Crodino as part of its aperitifs offering, as opposed to a separate segment.

While Crodino has been sold in Italy since the 1960s, Campari Group has taken the brand to other countries including Austria, Switzerland, France and, more recently, the UK in 2021.

That same year, the business also launched the non-alcoholic spirits range The Notes Collection, primarily designed for the off-premise, which it expects to release in the UK and central Europe later this year.

Just Drinks sat down with Julka Villa, group head of marketing at Campari Group, to discuss the position of non-alcoholic spirits position in the group’s portfolio, the challenge of explaining alcohol-free and what trends the company expects will help shape the future of the nascent market.

Just Drinks: What products make up your non-alcoholic portfolio?

Villa: Our main non-alcoholic offering is our Crodino, which is a non-alcoholic aperitivo. That was launched almost [60] years ago so it’s definitely not a reaction to the most recent movements of the market.

[It was launched] in Italy but is as well present and distributed in Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany and, most recently, in the UK and in the Nordics. [There are] expansion plans also in the US and Canada where of course… the low-alcoholic and no-alcoholic trend is quite strong and today very much addressed with the RTDs.

We really believe that a product like [Crodino] is a good answer [to what] young consumers mainly are looking for. We are not talking about people that are not drinking an alcoholic product at all. We are talking to people that want the choice… we know younger consumers are a little bit more conscious generationally of risky behaviours, so they want to stay far from any risk related to specific behaviours.

We completely relaunched the look and feel and the packaging of this product [by moving] to a more sizeable packaging. Today, we sell Crodino in a 17,5cl bottle. With the fact that Crodino is more drunk like a spritz on many ice cubes, you need more product, and it was also a need from consumers, they wanted more than just the 10cl. We believe that this will help to also offer a more compelling overall proposition to consumers.   

Just Drinks: When can we expect Campari Group to launch Crodino in North America?

Villa: We are currently working with a local team to make this happen. We are selecting the states so it’s in our plans.

Of course, it happens now because we really believe that the building of the expansion of Aperol spritz has opened the door, prepared the palettes to a bittersweet taste [which ensures] people can appreciate more a proposition like Crodino. They are definitely more ready than they [were] five years ago.

Just Drinks: Besides Crodino, do you have other non-alcoholic products in your portfolio?

Villa: Yes. It’s a two expression, non-alcoholic mixable product called the Bitter Note and Ruby Tone. It’s a brand that is present in Italy and starting from 2024 you will see it in other countries in continental Europe. Here, we are talking about a full-size product really targeting bartenders for mocktails, [but also] consumers that want very high-quality products to play with when they prepare cocktails at home. This is something that we are currently launching between the end of Q1 and around the beginning of Q4 this year. It will be distributed in central Europe after the UK.

women in black blazer, black hair and white shirt holding orange drink with Aperol bottle, indoors.
Julka Villa, global head of marketing at Campari Group. Credit: Campari Group

Just Drinks: Would you classify your Crodino as the non-alcoholic version of the Campari brand? Or do you choose to market it as an independent brand?

Villa: It’s not the non-alcoholic version of [either] of our big brands, and that’s why we believe so much in the product. It has a personability by itself that’s been crafted to address very quickly incoming needs on the market. It has been conceived and produced according to the same standards of Campari and Aperol, that’s something I can definitely tell you, but it has its own tasting profile. No one is the copy, the light version, the non-alcoholic version of the other, no, definitely not. That’s a big strength.

Just Drinks: Does the company not see value in developing non-alcoholic extensions of the alcoholic brands?

Villa: I mean, there are different ways that the industry is following to really address the low- or non-alcoholic needs of consumers and I believe all are valid. If you look at the big categories such as beer or cider, you will definitely see the 0.0% version. It’s not our case. I think we are lucky enough to have a product such as Crodino that is not the copy of anything… and also that’s part of the narrative that we want to share with consumers.

Again, we are not proposing a soda with some flavour, we are talking about a product that has the will, the dignity, and the production care of an aperitif, just without the alcohol, so it will be in our opinion a big differentiator on the market.

Crodino is the number one non-alcoholic aperitif in Italy and it's a big important role that Crodino has been playing over the decades. In Italy, there’s a reason if [it keeps] solid that position. That’s our way, but it’s not the only way of course in the markets.

Just Drinks: Besides Italy, where are the group’s other key markets for non-alcoholic spirits?

Villa: We see a growing number of what we call ‘substitutioners’ that are growing much more than abstainers in a way, so people are really favouring the possibility of choosing according to their mood, their need, who they are with [and] what they have to do they day after. So, there’s more what we call flexible consumption. [That’s] a very strong and already established phenomena in the US but we start seeing this also in continental Europe.

When it comes to Crodino, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, [and] France, [though] France is probably not as well established as [for the] non-alcoholic spritz… it’s not yet a very sizeable market. But there’s a lot of interest in the UK for Crodino and Crodino spritz.

Just Drinks: How does Campari Group plan to grow sales volumes for the non-alcoholic segment this year?

Villa: Well again, our main focus will be the Crodino as a pan-European proposition because there are cross-country efforts in Europe in the countries I mentioned before. It will be part of our wider aperitif portfolio strategy; we have Aperol spritz, Campari spritz, Cynar spritz and Crodino spritz. We want to really gather all the spectrum of needs and tastes with our offer. That will help a lot. I would say that Crodino won’t just be helped but will complete the offering proposition to consumers.

Then, we will start seeing Bitter Note and the Ruby Tone in continental Europe as well, but to be very clear, the Crodino will be our focus. We are planning the communication campaign, point of sale visibility promotion in the on-trade which is so key for us to build the reach to really appreciate the product. The second part of the year will see the full deployment of the new pack [and] the new media.

Just Drinks: When it comes to the on-premise and off-trade, have you seen growing interest from one channel more than the other?

Villa: I think we are experiencing an increasing call for our product when it comes to the on trade and when it comes to the off trade… [in Europe] if you exclude the Mediterranean countries, off trade is more important... The better the climate, more people stay outside and go to the on trade. That’s why generally on trade is more important in southern Europe than central and northern Europe.

But, of course, in the moment that the freshly made cocktail is well established in the on-trade, then the off-trade will need less explanation [for non-alcoholic spirits], it will lead to better rotations. The on-trade in our business is the place where we explain our product, we show the best way to drink them, and we educate consumers so that they are interested in replicating at home what they have experienced in the off-trade.

group of friends outdoors clinking glasses of orange-coloured beverage, house and leafy garden in background.
Friends clink glasses of Campari Group's non-alcoholic aperitif, Crodino. Credit: Campari Group

Just Drinks: Long-term, how do you see the non-alcoholic spirits market developing?

Villa: I think that if we go back in time and compare the situation ten years ago and the situation today, it’s already very clear that the market is set to stay and is not a fad.

I can expect that more categories in the industry will make steps ahead in terms of the quality of the liquid, the shelf life of the liquids and the final experience that the liquid will be able to convey [to] the final consumer.

Not all the products are meant to stay in the market because the quality is not yet there

Today, the situation is also very fragmented. There are a lot of new products… coming and going and probably moving forward there will be some consolidation. The category is still quite new, there is a lot of interest but a lot of relatively low-entry barriers. But then, not all the products are meant to stay because the quality is not yet there, so consumers try [and] don’t repeat the purchase act. I believe that the improvement of quality, natural selection of players on the market and consolidation over time will be the main trends that we will observe.

Just Drinks: Would you say having big alcoholic brands behind you helps with the marketing of non-alcoholic spirits?

Villa: You have big brands but you also have an established way of consuming them that makes a difference because when it comes to a bitter taste, it’s very important how you drink it, because it is a taste you have to be a little bit accustomed to. So, the fact that you know the market already, know the reality of spritz [through] the Aperol spritz, plays such a big role.

One thing that is part of the success kit of the brand is the colour. Colour in the aperitif business is so important... aperitifs [involve] the sight very much, the taste, the smell sense... It’s a holistic experience that not all the categories, not all the serves can give you. There are colour serves and there are products that are not involved really [with] the sense of smell, so that’s a big part of the success of aperitif and the success of spritz and Crodino will absolutely leverage it to the full.

The challenges [with non-alcoholic spirits] are [around] explanation but the opportunity is that product is not alone on the market, it has been already helped by the presence and diffusion of spritzes. It's part of an established repertoire to put it in another way.

Just Drinks: Do you face any issues with the language used to market non-alcoholic products like Crodino?

Villa: So, language is definitely very important… We try to be as straightforward as possible because, at the end of the day, [consumers] dedicate very few seconds when they are in front of a shelf. On the one side, if we talk about the on-trade, when they are at the bar still, they look at the menu or they listen to a recommendation from a bartender, we need to be extremely clear about what we offer.  

Villa: They are not just looking for an alternative to alcohol, they are looking for a product with a personality from a sensorial standpoint, from a brand perspective. It’s not just drinking for the sake of identifying something thirst quenching, they want [a] product [to be] able to put themselves in the radar of a consumption occasion. That way they are already more selective about it. I think that the improvement of the [product] quality that we have been observing and we will observe more and more in the future is also a feature of what consumers are looking for. They choose and they will [continue to] choose more and more a non-alcoholic product with the same care they use to choose an alcoholic product.

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