Rum and gin thrive in France

Despite decline in France’s mature market there are still pockets of growth

Global alcohol consumption continues to decline in France’s mature market, but there are still pockets of growth. Rum and gin are gaining traction, but whisky has peaked and pastis continues to lose ground.


Rum was the star category in spirits in 2017, with brands such as Havana Club, Diplomático, Plantation, aged and flavoured rums (‘Rhums arrangés’) from the French Caribbean and Réunion, and Captain Morgan Spiced growing strongly. The mojito started the rum phenomenon in France, and easy-drinking rums from exotic origins have managed to recruit some young consumers: easy to mix, easy to drink, provenance to differentiate from other consumers. Aged rums have adopted some of traditional malt Scotch’s consumer cues to lure whisky consumers into the category.

The European Union (EU) has approved the extension of the quota in volume from 120,000 to 144,000 hectolitres of pure alcohol of French Caribbean rums at preferential tax rates, which will further boost rum volumes in France in the short term. Brands such as Saint James had to stop shipping last year to avoid being penalised by extra taxes after they reached their quota, to the benefit of competitors such as La Mauny, Dillon and Trois Rivières. A niche fruit-infused rum segment called ‘Rhums arrangés’ (typically from Réunion island; main brand is Isautier) ticks some of the ‘craft’ boxes among consumers. It grew strongly last year and is expected to boom again in 2018 through new launches, more dedicated shelf space among retailers and increased investment from major players.

Gin catches on

Gin’s strong growth in the on-trade is finally translating into more space off-trade, as well as increased investment in the category from all major operators. Gin remains small in France, but there is now real interest in the category and growth could continue for years. Hendrick’s is being made widely available in major retail chains in 2018 and its volume could double next year, if only through penetration and distribution gains. Pernod Ricard continues to invest heavily behind Beefeater, while La Martiniquaise’s market leader Gibson’s is capitalising on interest in the category and its small price differential on shelf with supermarket own-labels.

Vodka grew marginally again in the off-trade, but the super-premium end expanded at a double-digit rate as it continued to gain distribution. Belvedere and Grey Goose continue to perform well in the French Riviera where Russian tourism is also slowly recovering. More mainstream vodka is losing to gin in the on-trade, especially in the cocktail scene.

Tequila declined again in 2017 and with the current agave price rises – and France being a cheap locally bottled tequila market – more decline is expected. Mezcal exports to France of 13,000 cases (source: CRM) must be re-exported; the market in France remains tiny, with no single brand doing more than 1,000 cases. Cachaça was broadly stable, but Bardinet’s Aguacana brand continued to gain share.

Cognac suffers from its ageing consumer base and own-labels’ dominance of the market. There is some interest among cocktail makers to revisit the Cognac category as a base for their creations, but the largest volume, sold in retail, is being lost.

In bitters, Picon continues to benefit from the beer category’s dynamism. Aperol shows strong growth through distribution gains and is also fuelling prosecco’s growth in France.

Premixed mojitos (now many own-label) continue to be popular, but the premixed drinks category as a whole remains depressed as a result of a tax on sugar content imposed on this category 10 years ago.

Beer continued to grow healthily at just under 3% in 2017. Innovation and craft are driving much of this growth, with product launches increasing markedly and small breweries doubling in number in just three years to over 1,200 in 2017. Abbey beers (Leffe, Affligem, Grimberger) continue to grow double digit, as does flavoured beer (Desperados, Skoll, Cubanisto) and the non-alcoholic Tourtel Twist. Heineken has launched Zero, while in mainstream beer, it continues to grab share from Kronenbourg.


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