Even customers who never buy into the category during the rest of the year get the Christmas spirit, so c-stores need to make sure they have the right stock

It may come as a surprise to some c-store retailers, but the Christmas spirits category is second only to wine in December, at £416m in sales. According to Diageo half of all households buy spirits at this time of year, with one third of annual spirits volume sold in the last 12 weeks of the year. What's more, the category delivers more value than turkey, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts and chocolate confectionery combined. Intriguingly, this time of year also sees new customers to the category, with half of buyers purchasing only once or twice a year and 62% buying once, and that's at Christmas (Diageo).
However, some c-stores find spirits a tricky category at the best of times, but even more so at Christmas, with pressure from discounting in the supermarkets as well as the everyday issues of crime.
Diageo channel director routes to market Paul Downing says that c-stores should take supermarkets out of the equation: "Don't get too hung up on the grocers, you're not directly in competition with them. You should be working on a fair price, not the grocery price, and make sure that the products are on display and out from behind the counter. Price is not the most important thing customers want from a c-store, but they are looking for value for money."
Diageo is, for the first time this year, putting pricemarked packs on four of its core lines: Smirnoff, Gordon's, Bell's and Baileys.
According to Pernod Ricard commercial director Simon Thomas c-stores should be looking beyond price: "Those c-stores with good availability of key brands as well as clear signage and attractive deals will maximise their sales opportunities. One particular area of opportunity is to provide a good selection of gift packs, which give added-value sales as well as drawing interest towards and improving the look of the fixture." This year Pernod Ricard has increased its gift offering.
Downing also says that small retailers have got to get their orders right, making sure there are no out of stocks: "Getting the availability right is key, and it's the biggest crime in a
c-store not to have the core range available in the last two to three weeks."
However, according to Pete Segal, director at market analyst HIM, while key brands are important,
c-stores should be using their local knowledge to offer customers exactly what they need: "You've got to have the core brands but create some interest as well and have the right range for your store. It's not a one-size-fits-all scenario. If, for instance there are a lot of Polish people near your store then doing something like upping the vodka offering is a bit of a no-brainer."
Like most categories, spirits see some really good sales when they are cross-merchandised and put in high traffic areas. However, many retailers are reluctant to put such a high value item within easy reach of shoplifters. As readers will be aware, the FWD Blueprint Putting Leaders on Display (PLOD) programme has had great success in tackling this issue in trials.
The initiative, which the FWD say will 'revolutionalise' the spirits category in c-stores, is designed to encourage retailers to move spirits from behind the counter and into the main aisles of the store. Security is provided by special caps which are fixed to the bottles and can only be released by the retailer. One store which trialled the caps saw a 26% rise in sales volume and a 20% rise in value. The FWD says that while no date has yet been set for the roll out of the scheme, it's simply a matter of getting a schedule together that's agreeable to the many suppliers and parties involved. Downing says that he expects to see the scheme implemented in some stores before Christmas. "There is nothing bigger than this opportunity, nothing else is going to grow sales to this extent." Downing says he expects there to be a small charge to the retailer, but that most of the costs will be absorbed.
Segal says that even if retailers are nervous about putting all spirits on display, they should definitely look at putting some of the key lines out at Christmas: "For instance can you bring out Baileys, if only temporarily, because even then you will benefit from it."
Segal says that retailers also need to be creating a bit of interest at Christmas: "Even if you leave your spirit offer behind the counter you've got to make them shout out to the customers a bit." He suggests that retailers should be asking the manufacturers for help and suggestions with this: "It's worth asking the question, especially at Christmas."

Quick tips

1. Create some interest - give your store a Christmas feel
2. If you can't bring yourself to put all your spirits in the main aisle, try it with the big Christmas sellers
3. Many people like to give spirits as gifts so don't forget gift packs
4. With RTDs don't forget the chiller for party moments
5. Make sure you've got the core brands but also take note of your local customers. Diageo says that 50% of Johnnie Walker drinkers come from the Asian community
6. Remember to plan for the days between Christmas and New Year
7. Keep promotions simple and watch out for
out of stocks.

Get your timing right

Pernod Ricard UK commercial director Simon Thomas says that timing is key for spirit sales at Christmas.
October: Whisky sales build gradually with high levels of repeat purchasing throughout the Christmas period.
November: Liqueurs and vodka also have a long build of sales, with strong repeat purchasing.
December: Brandy, cognac and gin tend to peak towards the end of the Christmas build-up, therefore off-shelf placement should be closer to Christmas.
Christmas Fortnight: Rum tends to peak during Christmas week so there's little need to place a focus on it early. Fewer consumers will repeat their purchases over the Christmas period.

Products and promotions

Diageo's campaign for Baileys is aimed at the party season. The 'Baileys and Ice Shake It' £6m campaign starts at the end of this month and covers TV (November) and sampling, and includes 400,000 shaker giveaways for the new serve with crushed ice. The brand also has new 70cl single bottle gift boxes for c-stores. Smirnoff is to benefit from £3.5m marketing with a new consumer campaign to win the holiday of a lifetime in the Maldives. Smirnoff Red and Black both have newly-designed gift boxes this year. In whisky, Bell's will be backed by a new campaign called 'Rich with Flavour, Full of Life' running in selected magazines. Johnnie Walker Black Label has new gift box packaging for Christmas. Gordon's Gin is continuing its Gordon Ramsay campaign.

Pernod Ricard UK has increased its offering of gift pack bottles by 25% over last Christmas. Packs include Martell VS 70cl gift box, Martell VS 70cl with mini VSOP and Martell VS 70cl in a canister. Also available is a Jameson gift box and tin, a Chivas 12YO tin and The Glenlivet leather 12YO gift box.

First Drinks brandS Three Barrels has introduced a new XO 15YO with a rrp of £24.99.

Maxxium UK has launched Coeur de Cognac, designed to have a smooth and fresh fruity taste, offering an entry point for non-cognac drinkers. Rrp is £34.99.

InterContinental brands has launched Vodkat Classics in Cherry, Citron, Pear and Raspberry in a 50cl bottle. Each bottle comes with a 'Take Home A Party' neck label which includes a cocktail recipe.

Whyte & MacKay has reintroduced its gift cartons and tins and to encourage trial of its Jura brand has introduced an on-pack miniature on Whyte & Mackay one litre.