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Master of Malt shares key trends at first trade press session
Master of Malt
19 February 2019
Best-selling spirits, future trends, and drinks eCommerce: Master of Malt shares its insights on the future of drinks and drinks retailing.

Multi-award-winning online drinks retailer Master of Malt has unveiled its key trends for 2019 and beyond, from disruptive ecommerce developments to the fastest-growing spirits categories.

This is the first time Master of Malt has issued a trends report. After bolstering its internal analytics and PR teams, the retailer is now able to provide bespoke in-depth category and trend reports to members of the press.

The Master of Malt team has identified three key eCommerce trends set to disrupt the online drinks retailing space for 2019, 2020 and beyond.

Voice search, personalisation and meaningful content are three key drivers already shaking up the online commerce space, and the retailer believes over the next 12-to-18 months they will come to the fore in drinks. 

“The drinks sector as a whole is notoriously behind when it comes to eCommerce. There are all kinds of reasons for this, from regulatory challenges to a historical lack of consumer acceptance,” said Master of Malt editor, Kristiane Sherry. 

“What we’re seeing now is a game of catch-up. Consumers are completely used to shopping for grocery online, and the lines are blurring between social, content and eCommerce. 

“Customers also now expect a tailored experience when shopping online, a retail space that is now a natural habitat. Drinks retailers will increasingly need to take this seriously as shopping for beverages online catches up.”

When it comes to voice search and shopping, others are already disrupting the marketplace. As customers get accustomed to speaking rather than typing commands, drinks players need to step up. 

“At-home speaker systems are becoming commonplace, and more and more people are using these devices to shop for grocery,” Sherry continued. “Drinks shopping is a next logical step, and it’s something we will be looking at in due course.

“Ultimately, it’s all about providing customers with the best drinks experience possible, and that starts way before the bottle arrives in their hands.”

Drinks trends for 2019 and beyond
In addition to highlighting three major shopping trends, Master of Malt has also shared its own data on the fastest growing and most popular drinks categories.

From February 2018 to February 2019, the fastest-growing categories in volume terms across Master of Malt trade and retail were syrups (+78.6% year-on-year), vermouth (+75%), mead (+64%), sake (+59%) and rum (+56%). 

None of the categories grew from a particularly small base (with rum in particular ranking as one of Master of Malt’s top-selling drinks), and demonstrate the strength in cocktail-related sales. Bars account for 41% of Master of Malt’s trade accounts, and adventurous consumers are increasingly willing to try their hands at at-home mixing.

“Beyond rum, none of these are what you’d call a ‘main-steam’ category, and so to see such impressive sales growth is not only testament to some of the new products and initiatives driving these categories forward, but also to the willingness of consumers to try new things,” said Guy Hodcroft, Master of Malt’s head buyer. 

“There’s now absolutely no reason that customers can’t get their hands on the same top-quality liquids as professional bartenders, and we’re seeing this in the purchasing decisions that our customers are making”. 

The biggest-selling spirits categories for Master of Malt Retail in the last 12 months were whisky, gin, liqueurs, rum and vodka. 

In whisky, single malt sales were up 16% year-on-year, while American whiskeys soared by 26%. English whisky, a relatively new category, is gaining traction, with sales up by 24%.

“There’s strong interest coming through for new Scotch whisky distilleries,” Hodcroft continued. 

“Looking forward, we’re expecting to see increased momentum behind Irish distilleries as more of their own liquid comes on-stream. There will be further innovation to come in Scotch, from new and existing distilleries alike, and we’ll certainly see more crossover between whisky and entertainment – for example, like we saw with Diageo’s Game of Thrones collaboration with HBO.”

Gin remains a significant category for Master of Malt, recording a 41% volume increase year-on-year. Flavoured gins and gin liqueurs are dominating, especially violet and rhubarb variants. While UK-produced gins hold the largest share, Japanese and American gins are growing rapidly, with sales up 27%.

“Gin is a democratic category – a brand doesn’t need to be owned by a large company for it to do well,” Hodcroft continued. 

“For the remainder of 2019 and into 2020, we expect largely more of the same. Gin has not waned, and we don’t expect it to any time soon. ‘Local’ is a significant purchase driver for gins, and we expect this, and the importance of gin liqueurs, to continue to be key themes. I also think we’ll see more expressions released in the Japanese gin category.”

Rum is emerging as an alternative to premium whisky, with unique, limited expressions in the £50+ bracket proving increasingly popular. 

Spiced or flavoured ‘rums’ soared over the past year, with volume sales climbing 53%. UK-produced and UK-blended rums grew at 46%, perhaps overlapping with the consumer interest in local gins. 

“Rum is an increasingly interesting category for us, and while we’ve seen significant growth, this hasn’t been across the board,” Hodcroft said. “I think this means we’re seeing pockets of opportunity emerge – particularly for a premium spiced rum, retailing at £40+.

“We’ve also seen a gap emerge for good, unaged rums. At present only 4% of our top-sellers are unaged or ‘white’ rums. Looking ahead, I expect to see further interest at the premium end of the market, along with UK-produced rums. Spiced rum is only at the beginning of its growth trajectory; expect more diverse flavours to come through.” 

Master of Malt has seen the liqueurs category climb 53% year-on-year, largely due to the extraordinary growth in gin liqueurs. Whisky liqueurs are suffering slightly, however, due to the global demand for whisky. Coffee and herbal liqueurs are performing well. 

“I predict even more sweet, gin-based liqueurs to come on to the market in 2019-2020, especially those made in a ‘sweet shop’ style. Contrastingly, I also expect to see growth in drier, mixable liqueurs,” said Hodcroft. “Amaro styles are also set to increase.”

While vodka at large suffers from competition from gin and is largely flat, Master of Malt has seen its category sales climb 36% year-on-year. 

While flavours remain important, ‘straight’ vodka is performing best, with a significant trend narrative concerning base materials and countries of origin. Big brands continue to dominate sales. 

“While our vodka category is faring better than the wider market, I do expect challenging competition from gin and gin liqueurs to start to take effect in 2019,” Hodcroft commented. 

Low- and no-alcohol spirits, Tequila, mezcal and vermouth are four other ‘trending’ categories where Master of Malt expects to see further significant growth in 2019/2020.