October, November and December (OND) are the busiest months of the year for the beer, wine and spirits industry — and that busy season is nearly here.

Last month, we centered on four themes that we predict will dominate the 2021 holiday season. Now, we're digging deeper into each of those themes to highlight specific products and categories within them.

Factor these trending products and categories into your OND planning:

OND Gift Giving: Premium whiskey and Tequila, Champagne and sparkling wines

Last year, gifting alcohol started to take off. The rise of e-commerce colliding with stay-at-home orders during the pandemic allowed people to buy and gift drinks to their loved ones through local retailers.

Now the pattern is established. And though we are in a much safer pandemic position than OND 2020,  many people are still not planning to return 100% to big, celebratory holiday gatherings.

The 2021 Drizly Consumer Report asked drinkers how they plan to celebrate this holiday season. A majority will celebrate with some hesitation, while 29% will specifically avoid large gatherings

Ok, so what does this mean for what people will be gifting?

Based on sales trends from our proprietary independent liquor retail channel data, we're betting on:

  • WHISKEY. Especially of the premium variety. Whiskey was a top seller over Labor Day weekend, and makes for a thoughtful, classy gift.
  • TEQUILA AND AGAVE SPIRITS. The current cocktail renaissance has spurred this category to new heights — especially as drinkers discover that their favorite classic cocktails (Old Fashioned, Negroni, Aperol Spritz) can be made with a Tequila twist. Premium varieties of not only Tequila, but also mezcal, sotol and avila, may trend up this holiday season.
  • BUBBLY. This is a shoe-in. Champagne and sparkling wine regularly tops the end-of-year charts. Expect big numbers from Prosecco, too — our independent channel research from earlier this year found that Aperol sales leap in December, usually pulling Prosecco along for the ride.

OND Varied Gatherings: Small format, large format

Given the celebration-style data from above, we can also predict that people's purchasing behaviors will be different — specifically for wine and sparkling wine.

Virtual celebrations or holidays for one (8% from the Drizly survey) mean small-format sales. In 2020, a long list of top-selling sparkling wines in 187ml and 375ml options saw volume sales more than double in Q4. While YoY growth may not be that striking in 2021, we'd still expect high interest in single-serve cans and bottles.

On the other hand, a lot of people will be celebrating with gusto in groups big and small. Anecdotes from retailers earlier this year signaled a "remarkable uptick in magnum sales". (This particular story came from California, after pandemic restrictions were lifted in the state.)

While the demand for single- and mega-serve options may be higher than normal, it probably won't decrease demand for traditional 750ml options.

OND Cocktails: "Mixable" spirits, cocktail-centric marketing, pre-mixed drinks

Spirits are typically top-sellers during this season. The focus on cocktails that has prevailed through 2020 and 2021 will drive that even further.

This year especially, tons of spirits brands created versions of their spirits marketed for mixing. Here are just a few:

People have cocktails on their mind, and they'll gravitate toward products that tout their mixed drinks. This goes for spirits, but also for things like Prosecco (re: Aperol Spritz) and other sparkling wines (for the French 75, spritz or other highballs).

A step further, there may be more interested in bottled cocktails this year. The insane success of canned cocktails shows that premixed varieties are favored, perhaps for quelling some decision fatigue. We'll be tracking premixed bottles from spirits producers to see how they fare this season.

OND Cans: Wine and spirits (sorry, beer)

People like cans because people like convenience. Looking again at that small (but significant!) group of consumers that will be celebrating alone or virtually — and those celebrating in small groups of friends who may not be ready to share a bottle yet — cans will drive some sales.

But our data from the last year and a half shows that much of the can hype comes from marketing and experimentation. Growth for hard seltzer and canned cocktails sometimes clouds the fact that those still represent less than a quarter of all alcohol sales. Bottom line, alternative packaging hasn't made an enormous impact on sales in the independent channel.

When it does make an impact, it's based on conditions and occasions. The leaders in the canned space this season will be wine (see: small format options, above) and spirits-based cocktails. While beer is still the leader in cans, the category tends to lag behind during the holiday season.

We'll be back next month with updates and ideas to keep you competitive this OND. Happy trails!

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