As Christmas looms, sales of wines and spirits will spike – both for gifting and consumption at home. Gin, currently the UK’s most popular spirit and showing no signs of decline, is sure to be on many a grown-up’s Christmas list. Chrissie Rowell, Lecturer in Marketing and Advertising at the University of Derby, discusses her recent research into the purchase and consumption of gin, and how it shows the extent to which women are driving the popularity of the spirit.
The UK gin industry has been experiencing a exponential growth since 2008 and was valued at an estimated £3bn in 2019. This period of growth has lovingly come to be known as the ‘ginaissance’ – the revival of this much-loved spirit with its rich and complex history and chequered past, resulting in more than one attempt to outlaw it. Gin’s heritage has been tied to women since the 1700s, at least in the UK, where it was blamed for the social ills of the time and it is still referred to by many as ‘mother’s ruin’.
A lack of research on gin purchase
Despite its dominance over the spirits category, little academic research has been conducted on the marketing of gin or the behaviour of its consumers. In recent years, the number of gins marketed at females has noticeably increased, and industry research conducted in 2018 found that twice as many women than men prefer gin to other spirits, which lends credibility to the ‘mother’s ruin’ label and suggests that the continued rise in gin’s popularity and consumption may be fuelled by women. Considering also the fact that women appear to do the lion’s share of gift shopping at Christmas (according to YouGov research), this new data could be vital to retailers hoping that gin factors as a present of choice for friends, relatives and colleagues.
To find out more about consumer behaviour in this area, a survey of 496 women aged between 18 and 65 was carried out, together with more in-depth interviews with 15 women representing the same age spread; all of whom drink gin at home at least once a month. The survey was designed to discover what decision-making factors motivate women at the shelf, when they buy in an off-licence or supermarket scenario.
Breaking the gender stereotype
One of the findings relates to women’s preference when it comes to the type of gin they buy for themselves. It’s not difficult to see how gender stereotyping is being used in the marketing of gin – a stroll down the gin aisle of a local supermarket quickly evidences the extent to which women are being targeted with pastel coloured gins (especially pink); elaborate and floral bottle designs and an abundance of sweet varieties, including gin liqueurs. Not to mention the novelty shimmering and glittering gins of many weird and wonderful flavours. Yet according to my research, 64.4% of women prefer a standard, clear, full-strength gin rather than a flavoured, coloured or liqueur variety. There is also a distinct difference in the gins preferred by different age groups, with the majority of those aged 18 to 40 preferring sweeter, flavoured varieties and those over 40 preferring traditional gin.
Price matters but so does intrigue
It is a cut-throat market and as the gin category becomes more saturated, brands will have no choice but to compete harder with each other. Women are savvy shoppers when it comes to gin, as finding a good price or special offer was the most popular reason for choosing their purchase, with 39% using this as their leading decision-making factor. That being said, with 25% of women stating ‘the new or unfamiliar’ as their reason for choosing a gin, there’s an adventurous segment that’s interested in more than great value.
Just behind this reason comes ‘bottle design’, with 24% of women stating that they make a purchase decision based primarily on the aesthetics of the gin, unsurprising given how elaborate, intricate and unusual many gin bottles are, allowing them to stand out from the competition. With only 20% of women being loyal to a particular brand or variety, brands relying on a single type of gin may need to continue to innovate by introducing new gins to keep customers interested.
Consumption is on the rise
It may come as no surprise that consumption rates are increasing, as my research also found that 57% of women have increased their consumption of gin in the last two years. This figure represents the spirit’s popularity pre-Covid and doesn’t reflect a lockdown consumption spike. The research indicates that younger women (40 and under) have taken to drinking gin more recently, whereas women aged 40+ have enjoyed drinking gin for longer and are less likely to have been influenced by the ‘ginaissance’ trend. Of the women surveyed, the age group most likely to consume gin every day are in the 46 – 65 age bracket.
Weighing up the risk of unfamiliar purchases
With 315 gin distilleries in the UK and most of them distilling small-batch, craft varieties, there is a definite emphasis on the unusual and the hard to come by, with local gins cropping up everywhere, from garden centre shelves. to independent retailers. and even some supermarkets. When buying for themselves, 47% of women said they would be more likely to try an unfamiliar brand of gin in an on-licence setting (a bar or restaurant) than off-licence (a supermarket or other shop, by the bottle). This is evidence of their perception of risk – women would rather try a new gin by the glass than buy a whole bottle and potentially waste money on a gin they don’t enjoy. This provides important insight for pubs and bars as it suggests they should seek to expand their range of craft and lesser known gins, which account for a large proportion of the gin category and could tempt female customers.
With consumption and demand still increasing, it’s important that gin distilleries and retailers understand their target market and are able to innovate and satisfy demand in order to keep a thriving industry profitable and be able to offer new and exciting varieties of our beloved national spirit, for women who are proving to be not only curious and experimental consumers, but integral to the continued growth of gin. Because now more than ever, we are in great need of thriving British businesses to support the economy.