Spotlight:Youth Sector in high spirits

In white spirits, the traditional brand leaders maintain their dominant position and premium pricing. But changing tastes of younger drinkers are encouraging development, with new products, tastes and consumption patterns

White spirit purchase

Four out of ten adults aged over 18 bought at least one type of white spirit in the six weeks around Christmas and New Year. Vodka and gin were the most popular, with 20 per cent penetration; white rum was bought by about half as many people. Tequila is still a minority taste.

Under 25-year-olds are the mainstay of the market, nearly two-thirds of this age group had bought white spirits in this period. Purchase declines among the over-55s, reaching its lowest point among the 65-plus group.

The majority restricted themselves to one type of spirit; just over a quarter of buyers bought two or more – gin and vodka being the most popular purchase cocktail. Gin and vodka also take equal honours in the solus purchase stakes.

Gin has the most upmarket purchase profile of the four drinks, but is also biased towards older drinkers. This trend is seen most clearly among solus gin buyers, of whom 42 per cent were aged over 55, and contrasts sharply with the age profile for vodka, where 49 per cent all buyers, and 51 per cent solus buyers are under 33. Given the greater participation of younger drinkers in the market, this indicates that the national preference in white spirits is gradually shifting from gin to vodka.

Preference for white rum tends to be concentrated among middle-aged, slightly downmarket buyers, who probably formed the taste during its Seventies’ heyday and have stayed loyal to it.

Brands bought

A similar brand purchase pattern emerges in all four sectors; one major brand was bought by more than 50 per cent category buyers, and a large number of less significant brands with less than ten per cent penetration.

Smirnoff and Gordons were both bought by one-third of all product field buyers, Bacardi was the only other brand bought by more than a tenth of all white spirit buyers. This brand dominance means that demographic profiles for the brands are little different from the product fields.

Advertising recall

Forty-three per cent of adults could recall advertising for at least one brand; surprisingly, this figure hardly increases among purchasers. However, the shortfall can be largely assigned to the older age groups; only a third of the younger purchasers could not name any advertising. Recall largely follows the purchase pattern, with only Smirnoff, Gordons and Bacardi achieving more than ten per cent awareness.

Reasons for purchase

Loyalty, the most prevalent influence on purchase, helps to explain the strength of the major brand within each sector, and is bolstered by the reinforcement of on-trade drinking, especially among younger drinkers.

Little brand choice was prompted by experimentation or impulse purchase, especially among the over-55s.

Nearly one-third of buyers attributed their choice of brand to relative cheapness, of these, 59 per cent were aged over 45. This factor may account for the relative success of Tesco Vodka and Gin, which seem to be out-performing some of the minor brands.

Advertising wields a strong influence on younger buyers. In the first year that the voluntary ban on television advertising has been lifted for spirits, 22 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds acknowledged its contribution to brand choice, 13 per cent had been swayed by press and 11 per cent by poster campaigns.

Southern buyers are more susceptible to advertising in all the media, and are twice as likely to have been influenced by press or posters than those in the rest of the country. Vodka advertising seems to have been especially successful; nearly two-thirds of all those influenced by TV or poster campaigns were vodka buyers.

Pack promotions have a more general appeal in terms of age and social class, although they also seem more popular in the South. This profile seems to indicate that promotional activity in this market is more concerned with adding value or interest to the product, than with point-of-sale price advantage, as is often the case in other markets.

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