While whisky brands seek to make themselves more accessible to a wider pool of users through encouraging mixability and flavoured expressions, operators in the rum category are seeking to carve out a place at the premium and super premium tiers with aged expressions.
The financial crisis kick-started a period of decline for dark spirits, with volume sales of dark spirits and liqueurs falling by over 4% between 2009 and 2011 to 134 million litres. With rising prices masking the decline in volume sales, value sales grew by 1.9% over the 2009-11 period.
The decline in volume sales was reversed in 2012, but a return to the levels reached prior to 2009 is still some way off. Volume sales have been negatively impacted by the government’s tax escalator which until the Budget in 2014 has remained in place, despite being scrapped for beer in 2013.
The removal of the escalator is expected to see a moderate increase in volume sales but the market faces competition from other alcoholic drinks. The market is forecast to return to the 140 million litres reached in 2009 by 2017 with a combination of inflation and moderate volume growth seeing value sales reach £5.6 billion by 2019.
The number of people drinking dark spirits/liqueur fell by 7 percentage points to 61% in the 12 months to June 2014, with those in the high usage brackets of 18-24 and 25-34 the most likely to have cut back.
Whisky is drunk by four in 10 UK adults, making it the most popular type of dark spirit, on a par with liqueur on usage. Encouragingly for the whisky market given its attempts to rope in younger drinkers, usage among 18-24s remains broadly similar to 2013.
Despite single malt being perceived as better quality, few whisky drinkers only drink single malt, with almost half of whisky drinkers drinking the three types of whisky – single malt, blended and other whiskies like bourbon or Irish.