East london liquor

The alcohol aisle is shrinking. While consumers see a fair range of beers, wines and spirits on shelves, those of us in the know see a range provided by a mere couple of suppliers, and very few of the UK’s great independents.

For independent brands, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to gain a place on the shelf. In an environment driven by increased cost of living, Brexit, and even post-Covid complications, the pressure is on for supermarket buyers to maximise return on every inch of their space.

So, in a world where listing fees, volume deals, commitments to price promotions, and committed marketing spend are prerequisites to selling in supermarkets, what can smaller brands do?

Firstly, brands can stay informed on market trends and buyer behaviour. Ongoing premiumisation is well documented, with people drinking less but better, and putting more research into what they buy.

Independent producers are quite often leading the way when it comes to ethical production, sustainable practices, and other topical issues that consumers care about. If you’re doing good things, make sure your audience knows about it. Communicate your values, USPs, and work with your existing retail partners to put this across in store and at point of sale.

My second piece of advice is to be disruptive. Invest your time, money, and efforts into doing things differently, whether it’s on social or through activations. The good thing about being an independent brand is how flexible you can be, so make the most of your agility and disrupt the status quo.

While you’re doing this, don’t forget to seed the on-trade – behind the bar is just as good as on the shelf. You might just find there are some exceptional opportunities to partner with venues to raise awareness. Producers like East London Liquor Company and Avallen Calvados are great at doing this, and they reap the rewards of that awareness across the on-trade.

By my rough estimations, I reckon it might cost independent spirits producers between £30k and £50k per supermarket to stock their product in large grocery stores. For many companies, it’s a good few years before they see a return on that.

So the supermarkets might be beyond the reach of some brands. But there are a great number of specialist retailers – many independent and a couple of national, many online and some bricks & mortar. They are great at stocking independent brands and are starting to fill the gap for discerning consumers who are buying better, so be sure to get yourself in front of them. If you still want your place on the supermarket shelf, then look at some of the local supplier programmes on offer or join a buying group to help overcome challenges with supply.

Supermarket shelves are becoming more restrictive and full of price promotions. But ultimately, customers are becoming more experimental, more informed, and their buying motivations (when it comes to spirits) aren’t purely based on price. Remember this while you continue to innovate, and the supermarket shelf won’t be as far away as you think.