Big Hitter Bitters

Bartenders may not be shooting the stuff quite so compulsively as a couple of years ago but the brand is increasingly finding its way into cocktails and this year was named a Top Trending Brand in the World’s 50 Best Bars Annual Report 2016.

In Germany, bitters’ HQ, Tina Ingwersen-Matthiesen, a board and family member of Borco, tells us why Fernet-Branca does good business. “While herbal spirits were in previous years usually only consumed as a digestif and always in connection with food, they are nowadays more and more uncoupled from the food traditions,” she says.

“As a part of the revival of classic cocktails and traditional bartending bitters becoming increasingly important and are actively used in long drinks or cocktails. Traditional and authentic brands such as Fernet-Branca are also increasingly perceived as an attractive alternative to the general increase in sugar content in consumer products.”


Campari, owned by Gruppo Campari, is the third to put on steady, if unspectacular growth, finishing the year 1.6% up at 3.2m cases. Campari declined in Brazil but is increasingly appealing to the bitter tastes of Argentinians with a 74% year-on-year rise in sales. Its stablemate Aperol, building on 2014’s 6% increase, grew 9.2% in 2015 to 2.95m cases. The brand is still benefiting from the popularity of the Aperol Spritz, which was polled as the 19th best selling classic cocktail in The World’s 50 Best Bars Annual Report 2016 and has much wider mainstream appeal.

Both brand performances were enhanced by double-digit growth in the US last year, but perhaps most pleasing for the Italian group would be the healthy growth domestically for its bitters brands. Italy makes up a quarter of the group’s sales so its bitters brands have symbolic importance – in Italy Campari was up 2.9% and Aperol 4.8%.

As is the case with Angostura (as referenced in the feature on cocktail bitters, page 23) Campari is a brand the on-trade cannot do without. It is the essential ingredient of the Negroni, which was polled as the second best-selling classic in The World’s 50 Best Bars, with more than two-thirds of responders saying it was a top-10 selling classic in their bar. As an easy three-ingredient serve, the cocktail looks to be making its way more and more into the mainstream. This can only be good news for Campari, which benefits too from the Negroni-without-gin serve, the Americano (39 in the classic cocktails poll). Classics aside, Campari offers a bitter component to all manner of cocktails and seems to be maintaining relevance in the traditional aperitif market too.

The Negroni’s renaissance hasn’t gone unnoticed, as brands such as Bitter Bianco enter the fray. “The idea of this product is to be able to create first a White Negroni and to give an opportunity to the bartenders who want to have the taste of the Campari but don’t want to have the red colour,” says Matteo Luxardo, export director of Luxardo.

“White Negroni is getting more and more popular and we are the first that have a product made for this cocktail. We are also launching the White Spritz.”

Elsewhere in bitters, Underberg AG says Underberg, a herbal digestif, has been performing well (though it hasn’t supplied data) with growth in Nordic markets, Italy and the US. Development in the home markets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland is stable. “Another very important market is travel retail,” says managing director Karin Trimmel. “The convenience offered by the portion 20cl bottle makes the brand the perfect travel choice, and offers incremental business to our partners in this channel.”

Underberg’s Brazilian brother Brasilberg is the market leader in its home market, according to Underberg AG, and has now rolled out to its first European markets with “a very positive response especially from bar staff”. The group’s Austrian market leader, Gurktaler, has also seen a positive development. While being stable in its home market the brand has started to shift well in Germany too.

Drunk by southern Europeans at aperitif hour, consumed by Argentinians with cola, imbibed by Germans, Swiss and Austrians in the Alps, shot by bar revellers or found in cocktails, bitters brands seem to have a multitude of consumption occasions and a multitude of consumers.

It’s no surprise, then, that this category remains big business.