Take three consumer trends: a growing interest in spirits; a desire to consume less alcohol; and a squeeze on spending. The conditions could not be better for a boom for 'lighter' spirits. ICB MD John Mills believes lower-abv spirits will become a greater focus for the category.

"Lower-alcohol brands are growing much faster than the full-strength brands," he says. ICB owns Vodkat, now badged as a schnapps following its legal tussle with Diageo, sales of which have grown 13.9% in the past year to £23.2m [Nielsen 52w/e 12 June]. Black Star, at 22% abv, is the latest addition to ICB's lighter spirits portfolio (rsp: £9.99), aimed squarely at the Jack Daniel's fan club.

Over in the vermouth category, Martini has been running its Stay Beautiful campaign fronted by Thandie Newton over the past year, which promotes the drink's lower abv as a virtue, to help young women enjoy their evenings. While liqueurs (cream and non-cream) and speciality spirits, most of which have lower abvs, have seen sales value growth of about 20% [Kantar].

The most impressive performance arguably came from Pimm's, with sales up 37.1% to £33.7m [Nielsen]. It continues to increase its sales beyond its south-east heartland thanks to heavyweight TV advertising and sampling. A "thermally activated" radio campaign this summer has meant commercials have been aired when the temperature exceeds 19C.

A tie-up with Morrisons, in which Pimm's was sampled alongside strawberries, resulted in a 119% rise in sales compared with non-participating stores, according to Diageo. Mark Riley at Maxxium UK says the popularity of liqueurs is due to their versatility.

"Liqueurs are driving the category, driven by contemporary brands such as Sourz, Aftershock and Bols," he says. "These can be part of a cocktail, served in simple long drinks or straight." Sourz has more than 315,000 fans on Facebook, and employs a "full-time community manager" to maintain contact with its consumers.

Focus On Spirits