Duty calls gin

After years of stagnating sales gin is flying in travel retail as brands big and small, old and new look to exploit the potential this niche retail channel offers. Joe Bates reports.


IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME. Airports have opened breweries and even an on-site winery so perhaps it should come as no surprise – given the drink’s current darling status – that the world’s first airport gin distillery opened at London Gatwick earlier this year. Located in the airport’s North Terminal and serving classic gin cocktails and gastro-pub fare, The Nicholas Culpeper produces a daily 12-litre batch of gin. It even boasts its own master of gin.

Little more than a decade ago such a bar opening at a major UK airport would have been unthinkable. Gin was about as fashionable as Kim Jong-un’s haircut. Young, trendy metropolitan types flying out of the country wouldn’t have been seen dead drinking a G&T.

Standard gins such as Gordon’s and Beefeater dominated the duty free sales rankings and the range of brands offered by retailers was very narrow.

How times have changed. The gin craze that has swept the UK, the US and Europe has arrived in the travel retail sector too.

For instance, gin for World Duty Free Group, which operates travel retail stores at most of the UK’s largest airports, is its second fastest-growing spirit sub-category after single-malt scotch.

Travellers are spending more on gin too – premium gins now account for 40% of Gatwick’s gin sales, up from just 10% five years ago.

World Duty Free’s broad gin assortment now not only offers big brands such as Bombay Sapphire, Gordon’s and Tanqueray, but many of the new-wave craft gins that have come to the market in the past decade or so, such as London-based Sipsmith, Bulldog, Chase Distillery’s Williams Extra Dry Great British Gin, Islay-produced the Botanist and the Spanish Gin Mare.

Cruise lines have also been keen to exploit the gin renaissance. When P&O Cruises launched its new cruise ship Britannia in March last year, the company was keen to boast of the ship’s Crow’s Nest cocktail bar with its Great British Gin Menu comprising 20 gin brands.

The line-up included household names such as Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray, but also artisan brands such as Tarquin Dry gin from Cornwall, Silent Pool gin from Surrey, Mason’s Yorkshire gin and Ely Dark Chocolate gin.


The rise of gin in travel retail is not just a UK phenomenon. According to the most recent year of statistics available from IWSR (2014), gin was the fastest growing spirit sub-category in travel retail, growing at 4% and outperforming traditional duty free stalwarts such as scotch whisky and cognac.

Now it has to be said the category in travel retail is still fairly narrow: a quintet of brands – Hendrick’s, Bombay Sapphire, Gordon’s, Tanqueray and Beefeater – generate the lion’s share of sales volumes. Yet many new craft-distilled gin brands are now gaining listings, adding breadth and depth to a category that’s now on a steep growth curve.