Leading the ‘ginaissance’: The Warner’s story

Food & Drink | Growth | Reports

Over the past decade in the UK, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of gin, with the market in the UK now worth in excess of £3bn a year.

In the past five years alone, the number of distilleries has risen from 140 to over 500, sales have doubled, and over 50% of spirit sales can be attributed to gin. Year-on-year sales have increased by 41%, and Brits now buy 76 million bottles a year.

But, who is leading this gin revolution? And will the UK remain in high spirits over its favourite tipple?

Leading a movement

Founded in 2012 and led by husband-and-wife team Tom Warner and Tina Warner-Keogh, Warner’s has risen to become the UK’s leading ‘super-premium’ flavoured gin brand. It currently owns 23.5% of the UK’s super-premium gin market.

The company recently reported annual revenues of £10.9m, a figure that is the end result of a 142.58% increase in annual sales over the past three years. It is also now selling to 17 international markets in five different continents.

The farm-born company creates its nine gins on-site in a 200-year-old barn on Falls Farm in Harrington, Northamptonshire, which has been in the family for generations and is still operational as a cattle farm run by Tom’s father. The Warner’s team has risen to 50 people – double the number of employees compared to two years ago.

So, how has Warner’s risen to prominence in this crowded market?

Tom explains: “When we started out, the gin category wasn’t what it is today; it wasn’t as trendy with consumers, so it wasn’t crowded. We’ve benefitted from an early starter advantage and were hungry from the outset. We have always been hard-working and innovative, with a clear vision and goal of creating something extraordinary and building a social, emotional connection.

“As we didn’t have the big budgets or contacts to begin with, we got inventive – realising from the get-go that our strengths came from authenticity and innovation, particularly with flavour. You can trace our flavoured gins back to my mother. She had picked elderflower from the farm hedgerows, so we added it to the gin as we enjoyed it with family. This then inspired our elderflower gin, the first modern day flavoured gin and the first of that flavour at the time.”

He continues: “Despite being the UK’s largest independent gin brand, we are still very much a nimble, small, farm-based craft distillery: we’re able to try new things and stay ahead of the curve.”

Innovating an industry

That ability to be able to manoeuvre in such a fast-moving industry has been primarily driven by its family values and the desire to constantly evolve its products.

Warner said: “We’ve always been inspired by nature’s bounty and what we could source from and grow on the farm. My background is in produce. I worked in the fruit and coffee businesses for ten years, whereas Tina assisted her family to diversify the potato farm in Ireland to a crisp brand. We married our experience together, with the ambition to diversify the family cattle farm here in Harrington. As a result, we’ve continued to innovate and evolve, looking to the land for natural ingredients and flavour inspiration.”

The mix of family-driven innovation and being an early market leader has led to Warner’s being able to rise above the competition to dominate the market. This has largely been down to the company introducing many industry ‘firsts’.

Tom explains: “We’ve been doing a lot of firsts, and if anything, have become more authentic and farm-grown as we’ve matured, and solidified what we stand for. This is probably due to being more self-critical as time goes on, but also thinking about what truly matters – which is where biodiversity and our botanical gardens come in.”

Authenticity and innovation come hand-in-hand for market leaders, and Warner’s is no exception. The brand is legally confirmed as inventors of rhubarb gin and for creating the modern ‘pink gin’ craze, which continues to grow. Currently, 68.6% of the industry’s gin sales growth is accounted for by pink gin.

Tom continued: “We triggered the current pink gin craze when the company launched the world’s first all-encompassing ‘pink gin’ with Warner’s Rhubarb Gin in 2014.

“The soft pink colour of the liquid is because a third of every bottle is pure rhubarb juice, with no synthetics, and nothing artificial – it’s as nature intended. This has subsequently led to a plethora of copycat products – including rhubarb-inspired drinks across the board.”

Exponential growth

It is clear to see that Warner’s has not only risen to become market leaders, but is very well aware that in such a competitive and growing market, the need to constantly improve is crucial to achieving major growth.

But, how did Tom and his wife achieve this and maintain the company’s success?

He explains: “The growth of the gin industry has been stratospheric. In the first five years we saw 30% compound growth – which is huge. The category has since tripled and has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our growth has predominantly been down to passion, innovation and experimenting with flavour.

“For consumers, there’s an element of gin becoming social currency. From a business perspective, there’s an opportunity: consumers are wanting to connect with authentic brands and are happy to go for a premium option if the quality is there.

“We’ve seen first-hand the positive consumer response to authenticity and a brand story they connect with. We’ve found that audiences want to keep things real and choose brands that are honest and doing something for the planet, which is what we’re all about.”

Where next for the ‘ginaissance’?

The past ten years have seen gin become the nation’s go-to alcoholic drink, with Warner’s leading the way – however, where will the industry go next?

Tom comments: “There’s a lot of talk around non-alcoholic beverages, as well as ready-to-drink cans and a focus on packaging becoming more recycled and sustainable.

“For us at Warner’s, as well as keeping an eye on these trends, we’re championing natural ingredients and biodiversity.

“Beginning as a farm diversification project, Warner’s gin is crafted with water drawn from our own spring on Falls Farm, where we grow many of our own botanicals and harvest honey from 20 beehives. Our goal is to become as self-sufficient in as many botanicals as possible.”

The company plans on leveraging this to continue its growth by doubling the size of its operations over the next three years through an increase in UK distribution, increasing its e-commerce offerings and international expansion.

Tom concludes: “Our immediate future is all about international expansion. We have grown export from seven to 17 markets across five continents. We have just gone live in Australia in their largest off-trade retailer and are launching into the US next year.

“We’d love to become one of the most loved drinks brands in the world, connecting people to what’s real and truly matters with authentic, British farm-grown gin.”

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