In a world of moderation, do they still have a place?
The ultimate symbol of a ‘big night out’, shots were once a near compulsory part of letting one’s hair down. But in a market now driven by moderation and liquid appreciation, the classic once beloved by students everywhere as a cost effective and efficient way to get pissed, has well and truly had its day. But is there an opportunity for a comeback?
There is no snobbery in shots. Either you’re on board with turning the party up to 11, or you’re not. From straight-up hard liquor like tequila or vodka, or something more palatable such as a cola drop Aftershock, or an apple Sourz (remember those), shots were once a fixture of any reputable and unreputable backbar.
But things have changed. Getting massively pissed is no longer a right of passage for LDA consumers. Being legless is no longer cool in an age of camera phones. And nursing the beginnings of a beer belly instead of the faint but hard-earned outlines of a six pack is definitely a sin in the age of social media. Plus, you know, sugar is evil.
Add to that, the fact that ‘sipping, not shots’ has been on the campaign manifesto for premium tequila brands everywhere for the past ten years or more, and it’s no wonder that the serve has largely faded out of mainstream conscious. In short, shots are just no longer fashionable.
Nostalgia + economy = shots?
But, could they be once again? There’s certainly a number of brands who are attempting to throw their hat in the ring. And with our new age of austerity prompting both nostalgia and economy, if ever there was a time for them, it could be now.
Perhaps one of the few remaining shots megabrands, herbal liqueur Jägermeister has not been immune to the decline of the shot occasion over the years. Its answer has been to switch lanes with a Cold Brew Coffee liqueur. Well, it’s more of a gentle turn than lane switch.
Leading on a more approachable flavour profile that it deems to be trending, the add-on launched in the UK in 2019, and uses the same herbal base, and indeed the same moment; serve this one as a shot straight out of the freezer. Slowly continuing its roll out across the world, it is looking to 18–34 year-olds to be its key customers.
Does it have a chance or is the premise outdated? There’s a few things to note here. According to the brand owners, the dominant serve for Jager is still plonked into a glass of energy drink. In fact, it sees drinking the shot ice cold as the next progression for the brand, and its idealised, perfect serve.
And according to its post-lockdown sales, the brand is actually on track to have its best sales year out of the past seven years, which speaks to consumer’s post-Covid, let-your-hair-down mentality. If you’re going to socialise, make the most out of it, and in this climate, make it cost effective. But in a sign of where the brand is looking to, the coffee variant has been launched to target at-home cocktail making too, jumping on the back of that failsafe of home-made cocktails, the Espresso Martini. It seems that futureproofing its sales means looking beyond shots.
Fun is in demand
Other brands that are straddling both worlds – both the cocktail and shot occasions – include Halewood’s Dead Man’s Fingers Coffee Tequila Liqueur. Another new launch eyeing the gap left by Patron XO Café – one of the few shots that seemed to remain socially acceptable due to its premium image – it’s recommended served as a shot, and if you must, mixed in a cocktail such as…. yes, an Espresso Martini.
A vehicle for trending flavours
Another brand tipping a renaissance in shots is the boldly named Lucky Sod from Proof Drinks. It says that sales of liqueurs and shots are up by 20% from the previous year, and tips shot brands as a vehicle for trending flavours, but only when the brands feel premium. The brand itself is a combination of dark Irish Whiskey, vanilla and caramel flavours, and is recommended served as a shot. And if you must… served long with cola, or as a chaser to a beer. Trade marketing manager James Pattison says that stagnation in the shots market is largely down to a lack of NPD.
Something that suggests he’s right is the enthusiasm that new launches such as rapper Cardi B’s vodka-infused Whipshots has been met with. Combining squirty whipped cream and booze and available in vanilla, caramel, and mocha flavours, the collaboration with Starco Brands has repeatedly sold out in seconds during its limited US launches. To date, it has sold one million cans in under a year of being in the market.
Ross Sklar, CEO of Starco Brands said: “Reaching this milestone this quickly exceeds our internal projections We are truly grateful and overwhelmed by the public’s adoption and acceptance of our innovation. It’s clear that Whipshots is more than a great-tasting product, this category creator is enhancing the celebratory experience for many people at a time when having fun has never been more important. Our corporate goal and mission is to invent products that change behaviour and Whipshots has clearly delivered.”
Permission to play
Is Whipshots changing behaviours, or tapping into existing ones? And is a sense of playfulness the thing that’s been sorely missing from shots, nay drinks in general, in recent years? In a world of botanicals and long aging, of provenance and independent creators, perhaps the market has simply forgotten to just give consumers the permission to have fun.
In fact, it turns out, there is a snobbery when it comes to shots. Rather than being solely down to a lack of flavour innovation, one of the biggest barriers to shot sales in recent years has in fact been an overall questioning of the format, and something we’ve closely observed as a strategic design agency, a lack of NPD. Fun – especially affordable fun – is set to be one of the biggest sellers in a winter that looks like being defined by worsening headlines of doom and gloom.
However, we’re now seeing brands emerge that are ready to meet this moment. And for some reason, cream-based liqueurs seem to be the product of choice for delivering it. But in a very 2022 way. Global Brands for example has just added a plant-based cream liqueur range, offering a low ABV-based experience. Because moderation and indeed veganism are still cool, the collection consists of three soya protein and coconut oil-based, 15% ABV flavours, of Pineapple, Strawberry and Caffe Latte. Pointing to cream liqueurs being up by 36% year-on-year, Charlie Leaver, head of brand, says: “Post-pandemic, we have seen consumer demand for lower-ABV shots shoot up as an affordable and fun way to celebrate with friends.”
The resurgence of shots and the shot moment is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to showing that as well as quality, consumers are looking for a sense of frivolity in their drinks during these hard times.
Brands need to embrace a sense of fun, tapping into consumer desires to explore and play with new flavour experiences. However, while quality remains fundamental and of paramount importance to those who are increasingly having to justify their spending choices, instead of leading on production stories alone, brands should in this moment shift to consumption stories too, focusing their marketing, and even their NPD, on the consumer experience, rather than telling stories of their production or provenance.
The wider industry needs to pay close attention to this shift of public mood. No, a focus on fun won’t be suitable for all brands, but this upsurge in shots sales reveals that there is a strong and growing appetite among consumers to simply let their hair down.
Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?
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