The category is densely populated and very competitive in the mainstream, but there are rich pickings to be had as liqueurs gain a new status. Patience Gould reports

YOU COULD BE FORGIVEN for thinking that the term ‘liqueurs’ is a catch-all for any alcoholic drink that is sweet and on the sticky side, relatively low in alcohol and as such not a serious alcoholic beverage. But the reality could not be more different. Globally the liqueurs category amounts to more than 85 million nine-litre cases a year and, although growth is not explosive, it is ticking over very nicely.

International growth for this year is expected to be about 5%, and that’s well up on the 1%-plus over the past four years. Within the category, fruit liqueurs have been performing well over the past few years, turning in annual growth of 3% (IWSR), and coffee liqueurs are also proving to be something of a hot spot.

Growth is higher in certain key and developing markets, and this is particularly true of the UK, where fruit liqueurs in value terms increased by 10% in the 12 months ending September (WSET). Japan and the former eastern bloc countries, where the cocktail culture is coming to the fore, are also buoyant stamping grounds, which is all good news for the likes of the high-class French producer Gabriel Boudier and Suntory’s melon contender Midori.

“2012 will be the year of the liqueur, with the importance of crafted products with a strong background in the cocktail industry taking priority in most bars where cocktails can be found,” says Manuel Terron, Midori’s global brand ambassador and mixologist. “Just as with flavoured vodkas, bitters and now spiced rums have caught the attention of bartenders and customers. The time for liqueurs’ cool status is just around the corner.”

Thanks to consistent investment and ongoing activities behind the Midori brand, global sales are ahead by 6% and the company has every intention of maintaining the momentum. “The focus for Midori is to show versatility through its use in cocktails and to educate and entice bartenders to mix original drinks,” says Terron. “We also want to promote simple mixes that can be easily recreated at home by the average consumer.”

This year, Midori will have an up-scale presence at the key industry events around the world including the Moscow Bar Show, Manhattan Cocktail Classic, and Tales of the Cocktail. “We are trying to become top-of-mind for bartenders everywhere by exposing Midori’s fresh fruit ingredients and demonstrating the virtues of mixing cocktails with fresh ingredients,” says Terron.

Bartenders generally are the prime focus for liqueur producers, but as the cocktail culture takes hold and consumers are more prepared to make their own drinks at home, retailers are beginning to sit up and take notice. This is certainly the case with Gabriel Boudier, who in the UK in conjunction with the number one multiple Tesco, has developed a six-strong range – Creme de Cassis, Curaçao Triple Sec, Apricot Brandy, Blue Curaçao, Crème de Menthe and Cherry Brandy.