Without a doubt, the holiday season is the best time of year for selling cordials and liqueurs. In fact, according to the Adams Liquor Handbook 1998, about one-third of all cordial and liqueur sales occur in the last quarter of the year.
“Spirits, especially cordials, make good gifts for people, both those you know and those you don’t know,” explained Arlene Gerwin, director of event marketing for UDV. Consumer research done by UDV has found that people shop for beverage alcohol much more often during the holiday season than the rest of the year and that price is less important to consumers during the holidays. “If your aunt loves Baileys, you’re going to buy her Baileys as a gift and not a lower-priced competitor,” said Gerwin.
Besides gifts, there is the entertainment aspect. “During the year, consumers might buy wine and a couple of vodkas,” said Gerwin. “At the holidays, things likes Baileys and Goldschlager are also out on the table.” And, as with gift-giving, people who are entertaining or guests who are bringing something to a party are concerned with image and tend to reach for the more upscale — and for retailers, the more profitable — brands.
“For some brands, like our Basilica line of imported cordials, the holidays can represent 60% to 70% of their sales,” said Michael Avitable, vice president & director of marketing at Marie Brizard. Meanwhile, Sharon Keld, marketing manager at Barton, reported that fully one-third of her cordial sales are in the form of gift packs and other special packaging available during the holidays (the brands include Caravello, Heather Cream and the Di Amore line).
Why are liqueurs and cordials especially popular? “It’s a combination of three types of sales during the holidays,” explained Bob Ambrose, vice president, category director for white spirits and cordials at Seagram Americas — “regular users, people buying for a gift and people who are entertaining.”
“Whether for corporate or personal gift-giving, liqueurs are generally risk-free gifts,” said Steve Hissam, brand manager for Grand Marnier, at Schieffelin & Somerset. “The accessible taste profile of liqueurs has broad appeal.” Indeed, Grand Marnier sells about one-third of its annual volume during the holiday season.
Gift-giving is an especially important part of the popularity of liqueurs and cordials during the holidays. Many retailers, for example, find them to be the most popular spirits to put into gift baskets. V. Cirace & Son, an operation in Boston, sells between 4,000 and 5,000 baskets every holiday. “The only spirits items in our baskets are liqueurs,” reported Jeff Cirace, one of the owners. Diana Hurst, liquor manager for Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, CA, also finds liqueurs to be especially popular in gift baskets. “It might be a liqueur or two in a basket of wines and foods or liqueurs in a basket with a dessert or coffee theme,” she explained.
“If there is one category of spirits or wines that produces the most gift packs, it’s cordials,” said Jim Shpall, vice president of Applejack Wine & Spirits in Wheatridge, CO. “It tells you that cordials are really driven by gifts.”
These packages and gifts come in forms to appeal to all types of consumers and are usually available at no upcharge. They include gift boxes, tins, decanters, gift packs with glassware of all types (from shot glasses and oversized coffee mugs to aperitif glasses and insulated beer mugs) and, in markets where legal, candy, cookies and desserts.
The goal for many suppliers is to be different, and many are trying to move away from the more common glass packs, which first became available about 10 years ago. “We really think that consumers are a little spent on the idea of glasses,” said Eric Larsen, brand manager of the Irish portfolio, which includes Carolans Irish Cream and Irish Mist, at Allied Domecq Spirits USA. “Yes, [glasses] have value and are of use, but people are also looking for something different. This year, Allied Domecq is offering, for example, a gift set combining a 750 ml bottle of Carolans with a package of Irish toffees and is again offering a gift set combining a bottle of Kahlúa with a Sara Lee dessert, this year a White Russian Brownie cake.
“We’re trying food products because people often need a gift to bring to a party. That’s why glasses are handy. And with cake or candies, the gift can be opened right there and enjoyed by everyone,” said Larsen.
“People are looking for something in a box that’s wrappable,” said Applejack’s Shpall, “and it has to be something that gets consumers’ attention.” Said Barton’s Keld, “While people are looking for value, certainly, I think they also like to look like they spent more than they did. They are looking for something that they are proud to give.”
The attractiveness of the packaging is important, therefore, and, in the case of value-added gift packs, the extra gift has to strike just the right note. “These items have to be broadly accepted,” said Allied Domecq’s Larsen. “A lot of people say, ‘Why don’t you do Christmas ornaments?’ for example, but Christmas ornaments are really a personal statement for people; they don’t want their tree to be an advertisement.”
And suppliers also need to be aware of the different reasons people have for buying their gift packs. Not all end up as gifts. “There are two types of consumers: those who are looking for gifts that are nice, easy, already in a package and offer extra value, and there are the traditional cordial drinkers who know that gift packs will be available during the holidays and so buy their regular brands then,” said Marie Brizard’s Avitable.
Indeed, many suppliers find that their gift packs, especially tins, become collectibles. “We’ve had people — and even bars — buy up our gift packs in stores because they collect our glasses,” reported Bill Thompson, vice president of brand development for Sidney Frank Importing, the company behind Jägermeister.
Helping consumers with their entertainment needs is also a big part of many suppliers’ strategies. Many provide brochures containing drink recipes, cooking and baking recipes and entertaining tips. “We encourage retailers to use recipe shelf-talkers and booklets,” said Susan Overton, group marketing manager at Heaven Hill, a company with several liqueur brands, including Lazzaroni Amaretto and Vandermint Chocolate Mint Liqueur. “There are a lot of people entertaining [at the holidays] who normally don’t, or they are entertaining lots of people who have different tastes.”
CLASSIC CORDIAL GIFTS
Most retailers and suppliers report that the most popular liqueurs are [(1) the cream and coffee liqueurs as well as amarettos and sambucas, and (2) the most well-known, classic, proproetary brands. “It’s the classics,” said Hi-Time’s Hirst, who reported that her operation’s most popular liqueur brands at the holidays are Kahlúa, Baileys and Grand Marnier, “especially if it’s a gift.”
Applejack’s Shpall has observed the same thing. “If they are buying something as a gift, they are going to go with something tried and true,” he said.
The overall trend toward superpremium products (the “drinking less but better” phenomena) is, if anything, stronger during the holidays than during other times of the year. “People choose the imported over the domestic; usually, the more expensive, higher-quality brands,” said Chris Morris, marketing manager at Brown-Forman, which markets Southern Comfort, Oblio and Oblio Caffe.
Jeff Cirace of V. Cirace & Son has seen the superpremium trend grow in general, and in particular, during the holidays. At his store, which now focuses almost exclusively on upper-end products, even things such as the 150-year-old Grand Marnier product sell briskly. He advised retailers not to be afraid to bring in even these higher-priced brands. “People are looking for something that is more unusual, a little different,” he said. “And at the holidays, people are more willing to spend money.”
Grand Marnier’s Special Cuvees retail at $90 for the 100-year-old and $160 for the 150-year-old.
CENTER OF THE ACTION
Gift centers, where all of an operation’s gift basket offerings as well as suppliers’ holiday packaging and gift sets are on display, also offer customers a one-stop option. “We encourage holiday centers because they make for very easy shopping — and they generate a lot of impulse buying,” said Heaven Hill’s Overton.
Sidney Frank’s Thompson also sees the connection between gift centers and impulse purchases. “Customers coming in to buy whatever they regularly buy will see the array of gift packs and think of the gifts they have to give — to the mailman, their garage, the bank manager,” he pointed out.
Displays throughout the store in general also serve to remind customers of their holiday needs. “The more displays, the merrier, it seems,” said Barton’s Keld. “People seem to enjoy being overwhelmed with displays.” And, she pointed out, it pays to remember that the holiday season starts earlier and earlier. “The beginning of October is not too early to put up holiday displays,” she said. “People have been conditioned to start shopping early.”
Marie Brizard’s Avitable sug gested using supplier materials and your own decorations to spice up your store. “The first thing you have to do is get people to stop and look,” he said. Then, the next step — highlighting individual brands within the “ocean of products” available — can be handled with suppliers’ promotional materials. “When suppliers make case cards and shelf talkers informative, they can be silent salespeople for those times when your staff doesn’t have time to interact with every customer,” said Marie Brizard’s Avitable.
Allied Domecq’s Larsen is a firm believer in displays. “Displays are key,” he said. “When an item is on display, even without a price reduction, its sales are three times higher — and when you are offering a value-added pack, such as a gift pack, sales might climb by four or five times.”
Both retailers and suppliers agree that the best way for a retail operation to take advantage of the holiday surge is to make the shopping experience an easy one for customers.
Even for retailers who do not get into the gift-basket business, offering gift-related services, such as gift-wrap and delivery, can make them a one-stop option for customers and boost their gift business.
For beverage alcohol in general — and for liqueurs in particular — it pays to get into the holiday spirit. After all, said retailer Cirace, “This is our season.”