White spirits and RTDs are a popular part of the UK drinks landscape, with 67% of adults drinking them. The market is often seen as more fast-moving and innovative than dark spirits, with brands such as Smirnoff and Absolut driving this image. Value sales rose by 2.5% to £4.3 billion in 2013 and are forecast to reach £4.7 billion by 2018. However, much of this growth is fuelled by inflation and trading up to the premium tier as volume sales are broadly flat.
Vodka remains the market’s driving force, accounting for 57% of value sales in the market. The spirit’s ‘neutral’ flavour means that it has been able to tap into the current popularity of flavour innovation to drive growth. As in many drinks markets, mixability is a key trend and younger drinkers in particular are now often drinking spirits such as rum and vodka with mixers, or looking for flavoured variants of their favourites. As well as the market housing a number of well-known brands, own-label vodka is also popular and enables consumers to engage with the market at lower price points.
Gin and white rum are also continuing to grow in value terms, while tequila/mezcal remains a small influence but one which may be ready to start making its mark in the UK. RTDs continue to struggle, although the newer type of pre-mix drinks in cans may provide cause for cautious optimism.
Vodka is the most popular type of white spirit in both the on- and off-trade, drunk by just under half of white spirit/RTD drinkers in both channels. Pubs/Bars remain the key venues for vodka, echoing their dominant position in the wider on-trade market, with 40% of these drinkers doing so here.
Gin enjoys rather strong out of home usage, among 35% of these drinkers. This falls to 28% for the off-trade, with older drinkers the most likely to drink gin in-home. White rum shows the greatest difference between on- and off-trade usage, drunk by 40% of white spirit/RTD drinkers out of home, driven by under-35s. Usage falls to 25% in-home reflecting the associations of the segment with mixed drinks and cocktails.