With brands dating back 190 years, Halewood is now the largest independent producer and distributor of alcoholic products by volume in the UK.

Brands include number one premium gin Whitley Neill, spiced rum Dead Man’s Fingers, plus Peaky Blinder, Pogues, Crabbie’s and Gelston’s.

These brands allow the company to provide a versatile artisanal spirits offer, hence the firm’s recent name change from Halewood Wines & Spirits to Halewood Artisanal Spirits.

James Stocker, Marketing Director, Halewood Artisanal Spirits, tells Wholesale Manager about the company’s evolution and what activity is planned to support the brands.

What are the key products in your range that wholesalers should be stocking?

Our core range of spirits includes Whitley Neill, the UK’s number one premium gin brand, which boasts a range of on-trend flavours, including our best-selling Rhubarb & Ginger variant, unconventional spiced rum brand, Dead Man’s Fingers – which we recently extended with the introduction of new Hazelnut, Raspberry, Passionfruit and Mango flavours and JJ Whitley Artisanal Vodka, which we are now distilling at our distillery in St. Petersburg. We are also strengthening our whiskey offer with quality products under our Peaky Blinder, Pogues, Crabbie’s and Gelston’s brands.

What is the value of the UK spirits market?

The value of the UK Off trade spirits market currently stands at £5345m. This is driven in part by gin – with total gin sales (including flavoured) up 15% over the last 12 months to £1.1bn – and impacted significantly by lockdown, with total gin sales during that period seeing 22% volume gain1.

Rum is also growing – over the last 12 months rum sales were up 8% in volume to £430m. Again, lockdown has contributed significantly to this upturn, with 38% more rum sold between April and June 2020 vs the same period in 2019, driven by the growth in the flavoured and spiced rum category.

In vodka, whilst unflavoured dominates, flavoured is seeing strong growth (up 83% between June and July2) currently making it the fastest growing subcategory. If growth continues at this rate, we could see flavoured double in size within a year3.

What trends are driving the market?

With the temporary closure of the on-trade, we’ve seen a huge increase in consumers looking to recreate the bar experience at home. People are becoming much more experimental with their drinks choices – looking for new, exciting serves, or new flavours of their favourite spirits. This is clearly demonstrated in the growing popularity of flavoured gin, rum and vodka over the past six months, and it’s definitely not something that we see slowing down any time soon.

Provenance also continues to be a key trend, with shoppers placing increased emphasis on the heritage and back story of the drinks that they enjoy. Providing products that deliver on this is central to our business strategy, as we continue to invest heavily in distilleries in the UK and globally – from the opening of our Vodka distillery in St. Petersburg, which is now the main production site for our JJ Whitley range, to the opening of a new £1m distillery at the Sadler’s site in Birmingham to become the new home of our award winning Peaky Blinder spirits.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted Halewood’s business and the spirits category?

As a business, our focus has increasingly been on growing our artisanal spirits portfolio, and that’s where £50 million of our investment has been over the past five years, either acquiring distilleries or acquiring brands within that main spirit space. The pandemic has very much accelerated this focus as we look to provide our customers with quality spirits with provenance at accessible price points.

How has the company’s portfolio of brands evolved in recent years?

We’re dedicated to growing our core spirits brands. We appreciate that brands are changing, lifecycles are short, so you do have to stay on top of it and spot the trends in flavours. We’ll continue to do this.

Since launching Whitley Neill a couple of years ago, the range now boasts 12 different flavours, all of which we have launched to the market based on the latest flavour trends, ensuring that they tap into consumer demands. This includes the latest additions to the range – Brazilian Lime and Strawberry & Black Pepper.

Similarly for Dead Man’s Fingers, since launching in 2018, we’ve built up really loyal fan bases who are incredibly engaged with the brand. With the spiced and flavoured rum category booming, we’re continuing to extend the range, listening to what our fans want to see from us in terms of flavour innovating and being quick to react to the latest trends.

Whiskey is also becoming a very central part of our portfolio, with our investment in Peaky Blinders, Gelston’s and Pogues – all of which enable us to provide our customers with a well-rounded, artisanal spirits offer. This is what led us to our recent move to change the name of the company from Halewood Wines & Spirits to Halewood Artisanal Spirits – as it very much signifies the direction in which the business is now moving.

How do the recent changes Halewood has made enable the company to provide wholesalers and retailers with an improved product offer?

Our continued flavour innovation under the Dead Man’s Fingers, Whitley Neill and JJ Whitley brands provides wholesalers with a solid, quality range to tap into the growing trend for flavours within the core spirits categories – rum, gin and vodka.

Plus, during these hugely uncertain times, we know that whilst shoppers are looking for quality products, accessible pricing will be key. Moving the production of our JJ Whitley vodka to our distillery in St. Petersburg provides us with access to superlative quality Russian grain and water, so that we are perfectly placed to provide the trade with a premium, authentic Russian Vodka which meets demand for both quality and value. The new Russian liquid has also achieved a Gold medal at the recent IWSC Awards, which really shows the strength of the new liquid.

What advice can you provide for wholesalers to maximise sales?

With constantly changing restrictions, it’s important to be flexible at the moment, so listening to retailers’ needs, adapting your range where possible can help boost sales – social media can be a great way of keeping on top of these trends.

Retailers are notoriously time poor, and even more so during these testing times, so eye-catching POS and posters which highlight upcoming seasonal events and gifting opportunities can be very effective to bring these occasions to front of mind. With more and more consumers preferring to shop locally at the moment, gifting is set to become a much bigger opportunity for convenience retailers. Instead of dedicated seasonal gifting options, premium spirits are perfect for tapping in to this opportunity as retailers can continue to sell any leftover stock if it doesn’t sell out on a specific occasion.

How are your brands currently performing?

We’re continuing to see strong growth across our core spirits brands. Dead Man’s Fingers is currently the no.1 Premium Rum contributing to total rum growth delivering +£8m YoY4. Whitley Neill continues to be the UK’s No.1 Premium Gin brand, driven by the huge success of our Rhubarb & Ginger variant.

JJ Whitley is also in growth, both within the flavoured and the non-flavoured category – with JJ Whitley Artisanal currently being the biggest contributor to MAT unflavoured growth, and JJ Whitley Raspberry 1l the biggest contributor to MAT flavoured Vodka growth5.

What brand activity do you have planned?

We’re running our biggest ever ATL campaign for Whitley Neill throughout November and December, as we look to raise awareness of the brand in the run up to Christmas, which includes high impact OOH and print advertising.

Social media is also a key focus for us across all of our brands. With the temporary closure of the on trade, inspiration and education are increasingly key, so we’re providing a host of suggested serves, video content and digital assets to tap into this – which will also be replicated on the posters and POS materials that we have available for our wholesale customers.

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