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Christmas gin: top trends this year

Brands and retailers have been busy innovating their festive spirits ranges, trying to find the perfect formula for the festive season. Gin continues to be a favourite tipple, especially for gifts and something to impress guests with.

We wanted to examine a few trends in festive gin this year. In order to initially filter down the plethora of options on the market, we ran two multi-option steers, randomly separating our selection of 12 Christmas gin products into two groups. The steers were only shown to people who consume alcohol at least once a month.

Our selection represents both a variety of flavours and some unique designs of liquid and packaging. The top three options in the first steer along with the top two in the second made it into our selection of best five, each winning over 68% of alcohol consumers’ votes. The very top option among them is the Snow Globe – a new offering from Marks & Spencer, described by the retailer as “the gift of the season”. The liquid features edible 23 carat gold leaf pieces “so that when the bottle is turned, the pieces float and create a sparkly snow globe”. It seems, however, that simply containing gold flakes doesn’t guarantee a top market success. With under 67% of votes, Il Gusto Sparkling 22ct Gold flake gin, marketed by Selfriges as a “theatre of taste”, couldn’t make it to our top five.

Our runner up aims to provide a unique experience using a different method. The colour changing Christmas gin was launched last year by The Old Curiosity Distillery and brought back this year after initial success. The liquid is infused with mallow petals to provide a distinctive festive colour, which transforms to a vibrant pink when mixed with tonic water, thus positioned as a Christmas party showstopper.

The remaining three products in our top five stand out thanks to special flavours. The best performer among them turned out to be the Spiced Apple & Winter Berry Gin as seen in Aldi’s own brand line-up. Aldi’s customers are describing it as a very pleasant, easy drink for the colder winter nights. The remaining two flavours are the rather sweet Candy Cane and Toasted Marshmallow.

Intrigued to understand consumer preferences better, we ran a couple of further tests with the top five Christmas gins. Firstly, we ran a preference steer, targeting alcohol consumers only, asking which option they would choose. A preference steer shows three options at a time in every possible combination, and reports both exclusive and all preferences (including non-exclusive choices). Below are the exclusive preference results, where consumers chose the same option every time it  was offered:

The option which most consistently attracts drinkers is the Toasted Marshmallow Gin Liqueur – our least successful gin in the multi-option top five. When provided with more than one choice, consumers treat some of the products as nice-to-have and include them in their selection. Forcing a single choice can reveal different attitudes.

The preference steer results highlight that pink gin is on top of its game, keeping its strong position during this Christmas season. In flavour, sweet and nostalgic blends seem to be a topic. Despite being part of Asda’s Christmas gin range, the Toasted Marshmallow gin liqueur could potentially be sought after around other occasions.

Finally, we ran another preference steer with the same five gins, however, this time we launched it to both drinkers and non-drinkers, asking them which option they would buy for a present. Here are the exclusive preference results:

A key take-out is that Christmas gin is a popular present with only around a fifth of consumers rejecting it. Some consumers have different priorities when shopping for a present. Toasted Marshmallow is still a top choice but now it is seriously outperformed by the Snow Globe. Below is a comparison between the results from the two preference steers:

Based on this, we think that M&S’s Snow Globe will enjoy great success this Christmas. Shoppers will mostly buy it for a present but many won’t resist the temptation to take it home and perhaps share it with friends and family. Marshmallow flavoured pink gins will be preferred for own consumption but their potential as a gifting option should not be underestimated.

Vypr has the tools to reveal consumer trends, valuable for retailers. A good understanding of shoppers’ behaviour can optimise product positioning and support successful retail strategy.

Elections 2019: are the youngest voters thinking differently from everyone else?

Low turnout of young people at elections has been problematic in the past. In 2017 The Guardian wrote that since 2005 youth turnout at UK general election had hovered around the 40% mark. Reasons discussed include distrust towards elites and politicians, as well as passion about an issue rather than a specific party. The article states that when meaningful change is at stake we can expect higher youth turnout.

As the date of 2019 general election is fast approaching, we attempted to measure young people’s intention to vote this time. We ran a single answer steer asking 501 18-24 year olds whether they would vote and obtained the results below:

An overwhelming 70% of young people stated that they would vote, while only 19% would definitely not vote. Interestingly, a quarter were uncertain who they would vote for, but would still vote.

Consumer brands have actively been trying to encourage young people to vote in the past, keen to be seen as relevant and socially engaged. For example, since 2017 cosmetics brand Lush has supported campaigning organisation Rize Up, which aims to convert young non-voters into voters.

For this election Rize Up has seen support from craft beer brewery Drygate, which designed a product dedicated to encouraging young people to vote. A pale ale called #RizeUpUK is sold online with profits from the sales donated to the campaign. In order to understand young people’s attitude towards this approach, we ran a Vykert steer, asking alcohol consumers aged 18 to 24, how appealing they find the product on a scale of -7 to +7:

The result above shows that young consumers are not hugely enthusiastic about the concept, with a median response of +1, meaning that half of the responses were higher and half lower than this value. While around 30% of respondents loved it, 16% hated it and around 27% were mostly neutral.

Having run this test we are sceptical about the effect of this form of consumer brand participation in convincing younger people to vote in this election. As mentioned above, these voters are likely to get involved where key issues are at stake. For the industry, current key issues are mostly related to the environment as well as consumers’ health and income.

The government gets involved in consumer affairs via regulation. The deposit return scheme on drinks, for example, addresses reduction of plastics use and recycling. The tax on sugary sweets is meant to fight obesity but is likely to cause price increases within the segment.

It is interesting whether younger voters think such issues need to be discussed within pre-election campaigns and how their view compares to the view of their older counterparts. We ran two multi-answer steers aiming to measure the relevance of five consumption related topics in the elections, one targeted at 18–24 year olds and the other at 25 years old and up. The graph presents a comparison of the results:

The results show that the youngest voters have quite a typical attitude to current consumption-related problems, if we measure this attitude by the judgement of the remaining, older voters. In both groups’ view reduction of plastics use is the most important issue, with around half of our panel expecting the political party of their choice to address it within its election manifesto. Overall, environmental issues take the top three places, while stability of food and drink prices, which directly affects people’s finances, is only considered as relevant by a third, and even fewer people in the group of 18-24 year olds.

These results highlight the consumption-related issues political parties need to address but can also serve as guidance for brands and retailers in their strategy of building a relevant and positive profile. Ultimately, government and industry should join forces in the common goal of resolving these issues, prioritising what voters see as most important, with age having little relevance in this judgement.

Brussels sprouts innovation – do consumers love it or hate it?

Love them or hate them Brussels sprouts are a ubiquitous part of Christmas dinner. It is thus worrying news that wet weather this year has reportedly caused a shortage of UK-grown sprouts. Fortunately, there are various festive products on the market, dedicated to giving a twist to the controversial vegetable. We selected ten unique offerings and tested consumers’ propensity to buy them using two multi-option steers, which gave us the following results:

The top scorer is a non-edible set of six Christmas crackers, containing cooking-related souvenirs, which suggests that many people might prefer the idea of Brussels sprouts to the actual taste.

However, we were keen to test the vegetable’s potential during the festive season in food and drink in particular, so the rest of our selection was made up of various food and drink items. 

Starting from the bottom, the most disliked product is the Brussels sprouts tea by Sainsbury’s, which left “tea-lovers horrified” last year, when it was launched for Christmas along with a Pigs in Blankets tea variety.

The Brussels sprout ketchup, a brand-new condiment by Sauce Shop, containing about 15 British Brussels sprouts for a 255g bottle, performed only slightly better. Claimed to be a first in the world, it will be sold by Amazon from the beginning of December and might potentially interest the more experimentally minded.

Similarly ranked, with only about a third of consumers likely to buy it, is the Brussels sprout gin, a new offering by Pickering’s. The gin has been distilled using Brussels sprouts sourced from a farm in Scotland, which, together with the distinctive colour and novelty element, makes it a unique but very niche product.

Moving up to slightly more widely accepted options, we come to the Brussels sprout smoothie by M&S, which gained almost 36% of votes. It was launched for Christmas five years ago, marketed as “two of your five a day.” The sprout flavour here is toned-down with apple and pear juice, making up a combination that has given it some longevity on M&S shelves in the festive season.

With almost 39% of votes, the Brussels sprout dust for roasts is a new product, marketed as “perfect for pimping up the well renowned boring sprouts for your traditional Sunday Roasts”. This is an attractive yet niche product, which would mainly be bought for gifting.

Having scored more than 40% of votes each, the remaining three food items could potentially gain mass market appeal. The Marmite sprouts is a frozen product, launched last year by Iceland, produced by Unilever in “an effort to rekindle the UK’s love of sprouts”. Interestingly, this was Marmite’s first frozen licensed launch, part of the brand’s wider effort to liven up its market presence and create a talking point throughout the festive season.

The vegan chocolate truffle sprouts don’t have real sprouts inside but are instead marketed as a “fun gift for friends and family who usually avoid the sprouts during Christmas dinner” by manufacturer Vegan Chocolatier.

Finally, we arrive at the top food and drink option, which does feature a Brussel sprout flavour – Walkers Brussel sprout crisps, having gained more than 53% of votes. Turning the festive feast staple into a snack has worked well for Walkers. It was launched last year as part of a festive range, also including turkey and stuffing, pigs in blankets, glazed ham and cheese and cranberry varieties. This season, the sprout crisps returned after Walkers had received requests from  fans “desperately searching for them outside of the festive season”. 

This year Walkers built on the initial success by creating two different Christmas dinner-themed multi-packs “to suit all tastes” – Sprout Lovers and Sprout Haters. The former contains Brussels sprout, turkey and stuffing, and pigs in blankets flavours, and the latter – turkey and stuffing, glazed ham, and cheese and cranberry.

We ran a simple choice steer to check whether the lovers’ or haters’ pack is more likely to fly off the shelves and obtained the following results:

While the sprout-free mix prevailed, it was interesting to see that Sprout Lovers gained 31% of preferences, which is a serious success for a more unusual product. We also noticed regional differences in these preferences, with Scotland and Northern Ireland consumers actually preferring the Lovers pack to the Haters.

Brands should not scare off bold innovation as it often presents marketing opportunities, especially around festivities. However, to make sure they have the formula right, they should base it on consumer feedback, which Vypr can help them with. 

The deposit return scheme on drinks: what should retailers get ready for?

Regulations for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks cans and bottles have been published in the Scottish Parliament this year, expected to become a law in 2020, and go live in 2021. Following this, DRS will likely be enforced in England and Northern Ireland in 2023. 

Although it isn’t imminent, there’re a few reasons that retailers should commit to the scheme before it’s in place, namely, to get ready for it, further sustainability efforts, and respond to consumer concerns.

Shoppers want the DRS and consider it to be the right thing to have. Using a Vykert steer we asked 500 consumers in England and Northern Ireland, how appealing it was to them. The results below are on a scale from -7 to +7, where -7 represents a highly negative and +7 – a highly positive attitude:

Our results confirm a strong support to the scheme, with a median response of +6, the maximum being +7.

A few retailers have already trialled a bottle return facility in the UK, among them MorrisonsTesco, Sainsbury’sCo-op and Iceland, all using reverse vending machines (RVM) for return of plastic bottles. It’s expected that RVM will play a crucial role in the implementation of the scheme as it is relatively convenient for both retailers and consumers. 

We asked 541 consumers in England and Northern Ireland which method they would opt for in order to get a refund on their empty bottles. Using a preference steer allowed us to look into exclusive preferences, i.e. the consistent choices, made every time the preferred option is presented:

Out of all responses, 406 were exclusive preferences, which suggests that 75% of consumers had a strong opinion on the matter. 42% of the votes went to cash at RVM and 27% to digital rewards at RVM, making up nearly 69% of consumers willing to use RVM, as opposed to under 28% preferring to use the checkout. This data suggests retailers should look closely at installing RVMs in their outlets.

There are, however, worries around safety and convenience in the use of RVM for glass bottles as glass is heavy and breakable. While it’s not yet known whether a DRS would include all kinds of drinks packaging, it is likely to cover all three major container materials – plastic, aluminium, and glass. There are two reasons for making this assumption – Scotland has already decided to go down that road, and, again, it is what consumers want.

Using a multi-answer steer we asked consumers from England and Northern Ireland which types of drinks containers the DRS should cover, if any. The steer allows consumers to choose multiple options from a list, or reject all options:

Glass and plastic came out as top choices, with more than two thirds of consumers thinking each should be included. Aluminium is not as favoured a candidate, with around half of consumers selecting it.

Regulations such as the DRS could certainly be challenging for retailers to comply with. Vypr can help verify that a strategy has the right priorities, before the structure of the scheme has been agreed. A streamlined effort will help retailers to get ready on time. Balancing the important factors, e.g. industry calls to “keep it simple” with environmental and social concerns, can be informed by Vypr’s consumer community in a fast and reliable manner.

Grocery refill stations – will Waitrose’s trial be successful?

The fight against plastic pollution has put pressure on supermarkets to reduce packaging, mostly resulting in more loose fruit and vegetables being made available. Waitrose has recently made a further step in this direction, attempting to spark a refill culture among mainstream shoppers. The supermarket chain has chosen a store in Oxford for an 11-week trial in which customers can fill their own containers with groceries, rather than buying packaged products.

As part of the campaign, Waitrose’s Botley Road store in Oxford offers a wide range of products for shoppers to refill their own containers with. In-store interviews, conducted by the BBC, have highlighted positive initial reactions to the overall idea. However, it is likely that some product categories will be more successful than others, especially in an eventual nationwide launch of the format.

In order to establish the most likely winners and losers we ran a multi-answer steer, asking our consumer community which products they would buy from a refill station at a supermarket. From the results obtained, we determined the mean based on which we calculated the likelihood of purchase in each product category:

Pasta, cereal, and rice are the top three categories, with consumers more likely to make refill purchases. Being basic everyday staples, these products could potentially make a difference if sold packaging-free. ‘Loose fruit and vegetables’ is fourth, which is not a surprise, considering that most supermarkets have been making an effort to promote packaging-free options in the segment.

Accepting 5% above the mean as a cut off point in consumers’ willingness to use a refill service for a type of product, we think that the remaining categories are not yet ripe for grocery refill services. Certainly this could change in future with shoppers becoming more familiar with the format and its environmental benefits.

To reward shoppers for making an effort for the cause, Waitrose is offering a 15% discount on unpackaged products. Additionally, the refill format gives consumers the opportunity to buy as much or as little as they need. While the purpose of Waitrose’s refill campaign is promoting sustainability, its customers could also be influenced by other factors. To establish whether this is the case, we ran a single-answer steer, giving our consumer community four options, including ‘None of these’ to account for possible rejecters:

44% of consumers pointed out that packaging reduction was their main motive, while 35% made the 15% discount their single choice. The discount offered makes a difference for a substantial part of the community. The likely rejecters of refill services, choosing ‘None of these’, were around 5% of our panel. 

Waitrose have made an informed decision in selecting Oxford for its refill campaign. As described in the BBC’s interviews, Oxford is eco-conscious and Waitrose has taken note. Based on the single steer results above, we attempted to establish where in the UK such campaigns are most likely to succeed. The table below shows ‘None of these’ responses by region in order to highlight the places with less rejecters:

North West, Northern Ireland and North East had no rejecters in our steer. In Northern Ireland the discount offered had twice as much influence as packaging reduction, while a substantial 65% of our North East consumer community opted for the latter. 

Waitrose’s refill campaign is an innovation in mainstream retail. Grocery refill might take time to become popular, however, retailers could make an effort to both inform and reward consumers for shopping sustainably. We think that the format should be implemented gradually, starting from pasta, cereal and rice refill stations in the regions with high acceptance. Staples that consumers buy frequently are both more likely to be successful in a refill format and would make a bigger difference in respect of sustainability, due to frequency of purchase.

Wine pairings with meat-free food: what consumers want

Thoughtfully pairing wine with food can transform a meal. Although there are no rules set in stone, expert advice is available online to help consumers combine food and wine based on certain qualities, such as acidity, of both the food group and the wine. Currently many consumers are moving towards a more plant-based diet, looking to consume vegetable and non-meat meals rather than meat-based where possible, with wines to match. A survey from last year highlighted that 28% of British consumers identify as meat reducers.

For consumers who dine out frequently, restaurants have a big role in helping them reduce their meat consumption. Plant Based News has commented that they can do so by providing menus which enable diners to avoid meat “without having to make a statement of some kind.” Having a variety of attractive meat-free dishes in the menu is a straightforward way to attract this substantial consumer group but helping them navigate in the world of wine-food pairing could potentially elevate the experience even further.

Using three multi answer steers we asked our panel which wines they would combine with three types of vegan food: starchy meals (based on rice, potatoes or pasta), roasted vegetables, and raw vegetables. We used five wine varieties, which, according to experts, go well with meat-free food. The data obtained from the steers is split into two groups in order to establish differences between the preferences of meat and fish eaters versus people who avoid meat:

A significant difference between the two groups in all three steers is the smaller ratio of meat avoiders opting for “none”. It means that they are indeed 4 or 5 percentage points more likely to order some of the suggested combinations in a restaurant.

Another trend that jumps out when looking at both the starchy food and roasted vegetables combinations, is that meat avoiders have a clear preference to light red wine, as opposed to meat and fish eaters, who skewed towards medium red wine. This trend signals a move away from full, blockbuster-style reds in favour of wines that are more balanced and food-friendly towards a wider range of dishes, including vegetarian or vegan.

As for the raw vegetables, meat avoiders were more inclined than meat and fish eaters to combine them with red wines but less keen on sparkling and dry white wine, which are regarded as a mainstream accompaniment to celery, fresh greens and other raw vegetables. This shows we can expect slightly unusual preferences from this consumer group, due to an inclination to regard as a main meal what is perceived by the majority to be a side dish.

Beyond this, it seems worth including vegan wines as options for such pairings. Interest in vegan wines spreads outside the strictly vegan consumer group to include meat reducers and vegetarians, as proved by a steer, asking consumers whether they would buy vegan wine:

While the overall result in blue is positive, with almost 57% likely to buy vegan wine, the result for meat avoiders is even higher – above 70%. Looking at the responses from fish and meat eaters, it is obvious that they take less interest in the type of product:

Despite the lower propensity to buy vegan wine, for over half of these consumers the vegan positioning is not a deterrent. Instead of fining agents made from animal products vegan wine makes use of clay or charcoal-based alternatives. Fining agents, either vegan or not, are said not to impact wine flavour, therefore meat eaters familiar with winemaking may have a different view to those without such knowledge.

As a takeaway from these results, we think restaurants could base non-meat menu options on similar insights in order to make ordering food with wine easier and create a restaurant experience for meat reducers on par with everyone else’s. Supermarkets, on the other hand, could offer meal deals featuring non-meat food combined with wines that meat reducers find attractive.

Do we prefer British-sourced products?

With the current uncertainty about our relationship with Europe, we wanted to know whether the UK population care about where their food and products comes from. Are we accepting of products from outside the UK? Does our attitude towards product origin change depending which products we’re talking about?