The holiday season is the time for cordials and liqueurs. According to the 1997 Adams Liquor Handbook, nearly 34% of the category’s total sales for the year take place in that last, festive quarter.

At Sav-Way Liquors, a chain of six stores headquartered in Oak Brook, IL, John Malloy, one of the owners, sees his cordial and liqueur sales soar at this time of year. “The jump is significant,” he said, estimating that in his stores some cordial and liqueur brands do half of their yearly sales during the holiday season.

Suppliers confirm that the holiday season is the most important period for their cordial and liqueur brands. “Most cordials can sell from 35% to 50% of their volume during the holiday season,” said Scott Green, brand manager at IDV North America, which markets liqueurs such as Baileys, DiSaronno Amaretto and Romana Sambuca.

Why liqueurs? There are many reasons. In the colder weather, more people indulge in hot drinks, which can use liqueurs in coffees and hot chocolates. Because of the holidays, people are entertaining more often and more elaborately — such as holiday meals with all the trimmings, including after-dinner drinks.

And then there are gifts. People are looking for the perfect gift — high-quality, affordably priced items with wide appeal, upscale images and a festive feel that are easy to buy. And that’s where liqueurs and cordials can really shine. “You can’t go wrong by giving someone something sweet,” said John Vidal, manager of consumer development for Brown-Forman’s Select Brands Group. “And then there’s the whole palette of flavors [in liqueurs] from which to choose, almost more than you can count.”


Indeed, the flavors in liqueurs range from the traditional — sambucas, amarettos, cream liqueurs, coffee liqueurs — to different takes on the traditional. Examples range from Oblio Caffe, the espresso-flavored version of Brown-Forman Beverage’s Oblio Sambuca, to the downright different, such as one of Jim Beam’s newest lines, Tattoo, three primary-colored cordials that temporarily dye your tongue different colors.

And there are new options all the time. Other introductions this past year include Celtic Crossing, a liqueur made from Irish whiskey and French cognac, imported by Gaelic Heritage in St. Petersburg, FL; Paolina, a cappuccino-flavored liqueur imported from Italy, and McGowan’s Irish Coffee, a liqueur combining Irish whiskey, sugar and coffee, in both regular and decaffeinated versions, from Shaw-Ross Importers; and Caravello, a lemon liqueur that currently represents 35% of liqueur sales in its home country (Italy) and is being imported into the U.S. by Barton Brands.

Chocolate, coffee, cream, fruits, nuts, herbs: the key to liqueurs’ popularity as gift items is their flavors. “Nutty, chocolately: these are food flavors. They have a more universal appeal,” explained Leah Karliner, spokesperson for William Grant & Sons, the company behind Frangelico.

Retailers and suppliers alike find that the liqueurs most popular as gifts are the well-known, premium brands. “As with any gift, shoppers look for something that is unique and of high quality. People want to give a gift that makes them feel proud,” said Mike Mitchell, director of cordials for Jim Beam Brands.

In fact, brand-name recognition was an important consideration for Seagram Americas when it decided to call its chocolate liqueur Godiva. “You want your gift to impress and to have a certain stature,” said Cheryl Seraile, category manager at Seagram. “And if you’re giving a gift to someone you don’t know well, you want them to recognize it.”

The Gift Set Factor

If you want proof of how seriously suppliers take the role of cordials and liqueurs as gifts, you need look no further than all the special gift packaging and gift sets they provide for these brands. “Cordial sales pick up during the holidays, in large part, because of the gift items. It’s become almost a tradition,” said Rebecca Green, brand manager for Dr. McGillicuddy’s at the Sazerac Co. This year, that company will be offering a gift pack for its Feeney’s Irish Cream, with two cordial glasses and a 375 ml bottle.

Glasses are the most common item used in gift sets. “Over time, glassware has the most appeal, is the most universally appealing and is long lasting,” explained William Grant’s Karliner. “People are practical and they know that everyone always needs glasses.” This year, William Grant will be offering a gift package combining two glasses with a 375 ml bottle of Frangelico. In addition, the brand’s 750 ml size will be available in both a gift box and a gift tin.

“This is something that we grapple with every year,” said Brown-Forman’s Vidal. “We want our gift sets and gift packaging to encourage and inspire the impulse buyer and to help make the merchandise island most visible.” This year, Brown-Forman will be offering a gift set, for both Oblio and Oblio Caffe, that combines a 750 ml bottle with two aperitif glasses in a holiday carton.

Suppliers try, of course, to come up with gift sets that match their brand’s image. “The traditional Kamora consumer enjoys — and expects — the Kamora holiday gift mug, while the traditional After Shock consumer is more interested in a shot glass gift pack,” said Beam’s Mitchell. This year, both After Shock and Beam’s Avalanche Blue, its blue-colored peppermint schnapps, will have shot glass gift sets available. And Kamora will offer two blue, faux-marble holiday gift mugs with a 750 ml bottle. In addition, Beam’s DeKuyper Peachtree Schnapps will be available in both 750 ml and 1 liter gift boxes.

Suppliers often offer other items that match or enhance their brands’ images. This year, for example, Drambuie, in keeping with its upscale image, will be offering a crystal-glass decanter from Italy with a 750 ml bottle. Meanwhile, Celtic Crossing, the new Irish whiskey and cognac brand, will be offering a limited-edition ceramic crock, filled with 750 ml of the liqueur. While the brand normally retails for under $20, the ceramic pot, which is based on the three-legged cooking pot used in Ireland in the 1800s, will retail for $80.

Sometimes, a certain gift pack becomes associated with a brand. Baileys, for example, will again be offering gift packs with its signature “face” mugs, or Yum cups, available in male and female versions, as well as packs containing matching creamers and sugar bowls. Baileys brand manager Green noted that these items will also ben used in the brand’s advertising, which focuses on using Baileys in coffee.

In addition, IDV is offering four gift packages for DiSaronno this year: a 750 ml bottle in a gift box and a gift tin, a set of two stained-glass-design glasses with a 750, and a single glass packaged with a 375 ml bottle. The company is also offering a special package for its Romana brands: a gift set containing a 375 ml bottle of Romana Sambuca, a 375 of Romana Black and two sets of espresso cups and saucers.

Often, suppliers use holiday gift items to show how their brands can be used. In addition to a two-glass gift set with its liqueur, Tiramisu, Shaw-Ross is offering a pair of espresso cups and saucers with Sambuca by Strega and a pair of ice cream cups with Liquore Strega, its herbal liqueur.

Meanwhile, Marie Brizard Wines & Spirits is offering ice cream sundae glasses with its Chocolat Royal. This will inspire consumers to try the chocolate liqueur poured over ice cream in an “adult sundae,” noted Michael Avitable, Marie Brizard’s director of marketing. His company will also be offering a pitcher, with measurement marks for different drink recipes on its side, with its Marie Brizard Watermelon Liqueur.

Focusing On Education

Like many suppliers, Marie Brizard focuses on education even during the holiday season sales bonanza. Avitable pointed out that his company’s gift packages include recipe booklets, meant to teach consumers everything from how to make truffles and anisette cookies to how they can pour the watermelon liqueur over a fruit salad or use Marie Brizard Anisette instead of sugar in coffee. “It’s all part of our endless effort to educate,” said Avitable.

Other holiday-themed packaging from Marie Brizard includes a coffee mug packaged with its Ashbourne Irish Cream, two crystal-cut rocks glasses with Glayva, its whisky-based liqueur and pairs of shot glasses for its Wintergarten Schnapps products, available in peach, peppermint and raspberry flavors. In addition, this year, the company will launch its first limited-edition gift tin for Marie Brizard Anisette.

Some suppliers use the fact that liqueurs are often used in baking and desserts to draw attention to their brands. This year, for instance, Hiram Walker & Sons will offer a value-added pack for Kahlúa pairing a 750 ml bottle of the liqueur with the Kahlúa White Russian Brownie, a dessert made by Sara Lee and packaged in a decorative tin. Heaven Hill Distilleries is bringing back its popular tin of Lazzaroni almond cookies, the cookies from which Lazzaroni Amaretto is actually made, paired with a 750 ml bottle of the spirit. Like all of the Heaven Hill liqueur brands in holiday packaging, Lazzaroni’s pack will include a recipe booklet.

Heaven Hill is also offering a pair of logoed rocks glasses paired with O’Mara’s Irish Country Cream. The company’s gift set for Harlequin Orange Liqueur, a pair of tall cordial glasses, will be accompanied with a tear-pad offer, in markets where legal, for a crystal snifter and the opportunity for consumers to buy up to three additional glasses for $3.95 each. Its other liqueur gift sets are a coffee mug for Copa De Oro Coffee Liqueur and a pair of mini-mugs, done in the same delft-blue Dutch style as the brand’s ceramic bottle and tulip top, for Vandermint Chocolate Mint Liqueur. A recipe for making an espresso with Vandermint is included in that package.

Giving and Receiving

One interesting aspect of gift packs is what suppliers refer to as “self-gifting,” when consumers buy the gift packs for themselves. “A lot of people do that,” said Meg Syberg, director of marketing for David Sherman Corporation. Her company will be offering a set of rocks glasses with its Saint Brendan’s Irish Cream and a cordial glass with its Caffe Lolita Coffee Liqueur. During the holidays, Syberg believes, the quality of the gift packs offered might sway a consumer to try one brand over another.

Other suppliers also see the value of gift packs in encouraging people to experiment with their brands. “A lot of people do want the glasses for themselves,” observed Susan Overton, group marketing manager for Heaven Hill. “It’s a good motivation for them to try a brand.”

What can retailers do to encourage customers to think of liqueurs — and other beverage alcohol products, for that matter — as gifts?

The overwhelming answer from suppliers: set up a gift center. “The idea of a gift center is very appealing: all the gifts are in one place, it is very visible and it can inspire someone who is not automatically thinking about beverage alcohol as a gift,” said Seagram’s Seraile. Brown-Forman’s Vidal agreed. “When entering the store, a customer may not know which way to go. A gift center can inspire an impulse buyer,” he added.

Vidal even suggested having more than one gift center. ‘Cordials, fine wines, champagnes, single malts, bourbons: if you try to put them all together, the customer can get lost,” he pointed out. He explained that for display ideas retailers look to how department stores set up their gift merchandise, in several clearly defined areas near each other. “Gifts can also be arranged with a price point in mind: gifts below $10, above $10, above $50,” he said.

Marie Brizard’s Avitable advised retailers not to be shy about highlighting their gift centers. “Really decorate this area in a holiday theme,” he said. “If you just stick the gift sets on the shelf, they will not have as much impact.”

Other ideas include listing gift items and packages on an in-store flyer or specials board. “The gifts can be itemized on a simple handout form, like an index or glossary,” said Vidal. “Then, if customers can’t find something while in the store, they might bring that list home, think about it and come back.”

Other suppliers advised retailers to remember to mention gifts in their ads. “Advertising your gift section may be an advantage because people are specifically looking for gifts,” said Marie Brizard’s Avitable. “In choosing whether to go to one store versus another, they will be more willing to go to a place that they know has gift sets.”

Marketing liqueurs and cordials as gifts: if you give it your all, these suppliers say, it can really pay off.

Cheryl Ursin is contributing editor to Beverage & Food Dynamics and Cheers magazines. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times and other publications.

Nifty Gifts

For retailers who make their own gift baskets, adding liqueurs and cordials can be just the right touch. Here are some pairing ideas from retailers and suppliers:

  • CANDY. Of course. For instance, the Sav-Way chain, Oak Brook, IL, makes its own fudge and often pairs it with liqueurs and cognacs.
  • COFFEE. A natural with all the coffee liqueurs on the market but also with other types of liqueurs, such as Irish creams, sambucas and anisettes.
  • AS PART OF A MEAL. Don’t forget the after-dinner drink when putting together a basket containing all the ingredients for a meal. One example from Barton Brands: Caravello, its Italian lemon liqueur, in an Italian-themed basket with Italian wine, pasta, pasta sauce, etc.
  • THE NAME GAME. Suppliers point out that many of their brands have had their names licensed by gourmet food companies. Package the candies, desserts, jellies and other foods sharing a liqueur’s name with the liqueur itself as one gift.
  • THE NONTRADITIONAL. Use the fact that liqueurs and cordials are ingredients in some of the trendiest drinks. Seagram’s Cheryl Seraile gives the example of teaming up Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, a bottle of vodka and a set of Martini glasses for a Chocolate Martini basket.

Given the Opportunity

Encourage customers to shop for their gifts at your operation by making it as easy as possible. Here are some ideas:

  • Set up gift centers.
  • Put gifts, including miniatures, which are popular as stocking stuffers, near the check-out lane as impulse purchases.
  • Decorate with suppliers’ p-o-s materials and other holiday items to give your store a festive air.
  • Where legal, offer your own gift wrap. Even something as easy as a gift bag for a bottle or a complimentary bow is appreciated by harried holiday shoppers.
  • Where legal, offer gift certificates for the shopper who truly can’t figure out what to get someone. You may end up getting two long-term customers in the process.
  • Mention gifts early and often in all of your marketing materials, from ads to catalogs to store hand-outs to signage. The goal: when people think “gifts,” they’ll think of you.


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