Cocktails “Back to Pre-Pandemic Levels

CGA’s upcoming Mixed Drinks Report, available from the 5th of November, shows that cocktails have picked up where they left off before the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst sales of cocktails fell by a quarter during the ongoing closure late of night bars and nightclubs.  The reopening of these heartland channels has seen the category return to impressive growth. The average rate of sale  for cocktails has been at least 44% higher than 2020 in every four-week period since May—a far better performance than categories like beer, wine and soft drinks.

These stellar numbers reflect consumers’ eagerness to celebrate the reopening of bars, pubs and restaurants with cocktails, especially since restrictions on the late-night sector were eased in July. They also suggest that consumers badly missed their mixed drinks during months of lockdowns and are now keen to make up for lost time. Despite their best efforts to mix drinks at home, it proved very difficult to properly replicate the cocktail experience that only the On Premise can supply.

The surge in consumption shows no sign of slowing. CGA’s latest research found that two thirds (67%) of consumers are drinking cocktails more often, or as frequently, as they did in 2019. With the festive period fast approaching, the market is well set for the rest of 2021 and beyond.

What are these cocktail consumers drinking? The Mixed Drinks Report shows that many have stuck to tried-and-trusted combinations since the On Premise reopened, with the Mojito remaining the nation’s favourite cocktail. Well over a third (37%) say they prefer classic cocktails—a much higher number than those preferring modern or new cocktails (22%) or signature options that are unique to particular outlets (19%).

There is strong demand for both staple cocktail serves for consumers who stay loyal to their favourites, and new cocktails for those who like to experiment. To cater for this wide market, operators may need to adjust their approach to hit three distinct segments of cocktails: classic combinations; new twists on old favourites; and new and unique serves. Suppliers have a crucial role to play here, by working with operators on range development and the positioning of spirit brands.

Another interesting dynamic in the post-lockdown market has been the growing polarisation of spending. However, the distance between value and premium is not as far as some might think. Those favouring value have an average expected spend of £8.98—just 70 pence below those who are looking for premium drinks (£9.68). This suggests that when people say they want value cocktails, they don’t simply mean low prices. Instead, they want a good return on whatever investment they are making in their drink.

With around half of cocktail consumers agreeing they are spending more on cocktails since lockdown (47%), or treating themselves by buying more premium options (50%), there are some excellent opportunities for operators and suppliers to encourage people to upgrade their cocktail serves and the spirits within it. Establishing the right range and price points, and finding ways to set the cocktail offer apart from the competition, will be key to winning this extra spend in what has become a highly competitive part of the market.