First Drinks is expanding the number of smaller pack sizes in its spirits portfolio ahead of an anticipated price rise of almost 30% in larger formats across the category over the next three to five years.

First Drinks, which markets brands including Glenfiddich, Rémy Martin and Grant's, said it was placing an increasing emphasis on 50cl formats, as VAT and duty hikes were likely to push the average price of one-litre blended whisky and vodka formats in the grocery channel above £25 by 2015.

"The percentage of one litre sold on deal is already high that will just get higher and the format will probably decline in terms of importance," predicted First Drinks sales director John Hyman, adding that 35cl and 50cl half-bottle pack sizes would be increasingly important, particularly in the convenience channel where the average basket spend was lower.

In value terms, the 70cl format still holds the lion's share of the market in grocery with 50%, followed by one-litre (36%) and half bottles 35cl (8%) and 50cl (3%) [Source: Nielsen 16 April 2011]. However, 50cl was the fastest grower in the channel, up 30% in value in the last two years.

First Drinks already has a number of 35cl SKUs within its portfolio and is working with grocery retailers to develop the 50cl category. It expanded Grant's and Russian Standard into this format size during the spring and is proactively switching Cointreau from 70cl to 50cl in the off-trade later this year.

"Brands are going to have to make some choices as not everyone is big enough to justify having several SKUs," said Hyman, adding that space constraints would limit the proliferation of smaller brands and categories.

Diageo has also noted an emerging trend for consumers to make more frequent purchases of smaller pack sizes to cut their expenditure, particularly on vodka, where SKUs below 50cl were up 4.4% in the off-trade [Nielson MAT w/e 25 December 2010]. Earlier this year, it introduced a new 10cl format of its Smirnoff bottle (rsp £2.89) into wholesale and the convenience channel to tap into this trend.