Liqueurs: Top of the pile

The company is now in the process of recruiting for a similar role in London to help work with distribution partner Bacardi UK and so further its cocktail agenda. “Overall, given Drambuie’s flexibility, it allows us to promote a range of cocktails, from the classic Rusty Nail (for which we own the trademark) through to twists on classic cocktails (a Rusty Margarita, where the triple sec is replaced with Drambuie), through to wholly bespoke cocktails,” says Dewey.

Even sales spread

This ongoing cocktail activity is helping to create a more even spread of sales outside the key periods, namely Christmas – albeit a slow process. Interestingly, over the 12 week run-up to the festivities in the UK, Drambuie’s sales were ahead by an impressive 15%. 

 “It remains an incredibly strong period for Drambuie because consumers still see this period as an important, sociable occasion within the family and Drambuie is seen as a drink that transcends the generations. But we have managed to  move beyond that,” says Dewey. “The days of seeing Drambuie as ‘only a Christmas drink’ are well behind us.”

The UK and the US as well as the cocktail are critical to the classic French fruit liqueur producer Merlet. “In terms of developments, we are in our third year in the US and, for a niche brand like ours, the time is necessary,” says Luc Merlet. “Although an established market, as far as liqueurs brands (especially fruit ones) are concerned, it’s only recently that high-quality craft brands have come to the fore, so there is still some room to improve. But in the next year or two we expect the US will be our first export market.”

Luc Merlet had something of a road to Damascus moment while in the UK between 2006 and 2008. “I realised that bartenders had completely changed their perception of liqueurs and had turned them into a source of creativity. They were begging for high-quality products, and this really made the difference between average products and ours.”

As a result, Merlet “completely changed its brand strategy and reoriented it towards the cocktail culture”. It was a gamble at the time but it has more than paid off. “Working closely with bartenders opened doors on a new world of creativity,” says Merlet. “I believe this is a win-win relationship and we realised that the benefit, in terms of two-way flow of ideas, was far beyond mere market strategy.”

Emerging markets

Outside the UK and US, Russia is an up-and-coming market for Merlet and, again, it’s the on-trade which is the prime focus. “We started with a new importer almost two years ago, and we are focusing a lot on the on-trade business,” says Merlet. “The market is not mature yet, so there is a lot of education to do as the bartenders only had access, until now, to low-end products in the main.”

Buoyed by progress in these three markets, Merlet is now planning to launch in Asia and the aim is to get exports underway by the end of the year to Singapore, Hong Kong and China, and then to concentrate on major cities.  “Liqueurs are still fairly new there, but a cocktail culture is emerging and demand is starting to rise in these areas,” says Merlet.