Pink gin joins the mainstream
2018 was a record year for sales of coloured and flavoured gins, with pink gin leading the way. Recent Wine and Spirit Trade Association figures show that flavoured gin sales soared a staggering 751% last year.
Whereas pink gin has historic origins from the mid-19th Century, when gin was mixed with Angostura Bitters, the modern iterations gain their pinkness – and, for some, the sweetness – from a variety of succulent summer fruits.
But is the pink gin passion just a fashion, or is it here to stay? The Gin Guild spoke to Stephen Marsh, MD of Pinkster and Tom Warner, Founder of Warner’s to find out.
“Pink gin is a burgeoning sub-category,” says Stephen, “Whilst this will level out over time, with some casualties, we firmly believe it’s here to stay. You only have to look at the drinks giants, with colossal research budgets, who are still piling in.”
Having launched in 2013, Pinkster, like Warner’s, is a pink gin pioneer. The clue is in the name – pink gin is pretty much its entire business. So it’s something of a surprise when Stephen confesses: “We didn’t set out to make a pink drink, it’s just that after working my way through a fruit bowl, I discovered that raspberry delivered the best flavour.”
While, for some, pink gin’s popularity may be down to a sweeter taste, Stephen stresses that Pinkster is “deliciously dry with just a hint of fruit and bags of juniper.”
Discerning drinkers should focus on the flavour, not the colour, he says. “What is it that makes the gin pink? In our case, fresh, plump raspberries grown locally to our Cambridge HQ.”
Tom Warner concurs. “At Warner’s, we don’t make ‘pink gin’, we make naturally flavoured gins. All of our gins are only coloured if there is natural British farm-born ingredient added with that colouring.
“Our award-winning Rhubarb Gin accounts for 70% of our current sales volume and it is the number one selling super-premium flavoured gin in the UK right now. It contains 34% pressed English rhubarb juice and its naturally pink colouring.”
Tom believes consumers are shopping with their eyes and the tastiest fruits tend to be red. “We are probably conditioned to like food and drink of that colour, so I don’t see the trend ever slowing, I just think the genie is out of the bottle.” And, of course, pink is also a very instagrammable colour.
“We are blessed to have been one of the first brands to have a product at scale that is naturally pink. We always prioritise flavour and fresh ingredients. As the first rhubarb gin in the world, I guess we can say that Warner’s has played a part in setting the trend.”
At Pinkster, Stephen is also focused on fresh ingredients. “The industry said we were crazy to use wet fruit but thank heavens we did, as this unswerving commitment to fresh fruit remains our unique selling point. Best of all we recycle the inebriated raspberries as a range of natural by-products including Boozy Berries and Gin Jam.”
Stephen is excited by the way flavoured and coloured gins have attracted new consumers to the category. “They are keen to experiment and learn. Our consumer research shows that people are loving the choice and will often have a repertoire of brands at home, some flavoured, some not.
“Category innovation, including the fast emergence of flavoured gins, has helped trigger renewed interest in this finest of spirits. Drinkers are looking for different ways of spicing up their G&Ts, and pink gins with their colourful serves and eclectic garnishes has caught the zeitgeist.”
Tom agrees that new colours and flavours are bringing new consumers “into the wonderful world of flavoured gin and with this, hopefully, into the world of London Dry.” But he warns against devaluing the category by artificially colouring and flavouring gins simply to appeal to the consumer.
“Flavoured alcopops are selling well and masquerading as crafted and well-made products which is frustrating for the rest of the gin category. Those capitalising on flavour and colour trends but with a poor quality product is a problem for the gin industry.
“We need to give consumers what they want, but not fool them along the way. Meaningful relationships are built on quality, authenticity and trust.”
Both Stephen and Tom are confident that, as long as the ginaissance remains in full flow, the experimentation with flavour and colour will continue.
Tom says: “The gin industry is on fire at the moment and we are proud of the abundance of flavours that the category now offers. It is exciting to see how the ‘pink gin’ category continues to evolve and witness the creativity of other producers. These innovations are good if authentic and natural.”
Stephen agrees, reiterating that the year-round success of the Pinkster brand is underpinned by the flavour. “Who’d have thought that by plumping for real raspberries six years ago, we’ve helped trigger this pink gin revolution. Accidental pink, in our case.”