Have you ever heard of “fractional bottles”? A combination of prolonged economic downturn, high taxation and healthier consumer attitudes has influenced European spirit brands to invest in the so-called “fractional bottles”, the industry jargon term for small bottles.

Spirit brands have long relied on the default 75 cl bottle, yet Mintel data shows two in five (39%) of alcohol drinkers in the UK would like to see a wider range of smaller bottles of alcoholic drinks. And they are increasingly getting their wish. In the UK, supermarkets are increasingly granting space to 50cl, 35cl and 20cl spirit bottles – with early sales reported as promising. Indeed, smaller bottles encourage impulse purchases, the trial of new types of drinks or brands, and also trading up.

In the UK, a preference for smaller alcohol sizes sees a large spike among 18-24 year-olds (51%). A similar trend can be observed in the rest of Europe, where 54% of Italians, 40% of French, 34% of German and 31% of Spanish consumers aged 18-24 would be more likely to buy spirits if they came in small bottles.

Smaller bottles better target the impulse buyer…

Many shopping visits to impulse stores are made on foot, meaning larger, cumbersome bottles of spirits are a burden. While impulse stores account for just a fraction of spirit sales (e.g. less than 10% of UK white spirit sales), their number and popularity is increasing as consumers seek ‘top up’ shopping rather than always having one big shop. Sainsbury’s spirits buyer James Heller told UK publication The Off-Trade News that: ‘smaller serves [are] becoming increasingly attractive to consumers who look to make smaller, more frequent shops to help them manage their budgets’.

…and can also lend themselves more to gifting

Another brand advantage of moving into smaller sizes is attracting the gift buyer. In all but Germany, the majority of European spirit drinkers (71% of Italian, 70% of Polish, 66% of French 54% of Spanish, 49% of German consumers) think that spirit bottles make a good gift, with ultra-premium brands doing especially well over festive periods. However, buying 75 cl plus bottles of luxury brands is prohibitive to many, and to all but special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas. Smaller sizes can help ‘democratise’ this gift buying market.

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