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Can the Fruit Cup ever be a ‘Thing’?

Summer fruit cup pimm's
Summer Cup Summer Fruit Cup Alternative serve
Written by Gin Foundry

Oh hello BST, we see you spying at us from around the corner. Sure, you’re wearing wellies and toting the biggest umbrella we’ve seen this side of the sun but you’re almost upon us, and so we venture - en masse - to the cupboard to dig out the pitchers.

It’s picnic time no matter the drizzle, and with tennis balls clattering around Wimbledon and hoards gathering on roof top pubs across the country, it can only mean one thins: It’s Summer Fruit Cup time…

Relegation or resurrection?

…Or can it? Two or three years ago, Pimm’s was the summertime buzzword. Even when other brands were churning out their own takes on Summer Fruit Cups (some, by the way, are absolutely excellent), it was still Pimm’s, or the bottom-shelf. copy and paste, discount supermarket rip off,  that we reached for. Hell, even if we were serving up a Sipsmith London Cup (formerly Summer Cup) or William Chase’s version with Lemonade we’d probably have offered it to our friends as a “Pimm’s” to save ourselves the effort of explanation.

Pimm’s is so ingrained in our drinking culture that Brits don’t see it as a category, rather they see a brand. It’s the old hoover effect…

We haven’t started doubting the centuries old tipple lately - it’s still entirely synonymous with British summer. We do wonder, however, if – for the next few years at least – consumption might be down a bit due to the popularity of Pink Gin. The numbers are absolutely, completely and utterly nuts. While only around a fifth of the Gin sold nowadays is flavoured, it still managed to account for half of the astonishing growth (to £1.9bn) within the category in 2018. And of the fruit gins, it is pink-hued tipples that are taking the lead, accounting for almost 75% of growth in the flavoured arena.

At the end of last month, Gordon’s announced that its Pink Gin had broken the million case barrier within TWO YEARS of its launch. Do you know how many gins have done that? None. None gins. The call for Pink is astonishing and quite unlike anything we’ve ever seen before – it’s sweet, it’s accessible, it looks great in a fishbowl glass and it tastes better when fluffed up with slices of English strawberries. Can you see why Pimm’s might be in a spot of bother this summer?

The question then, isn’t who can challenge Pimm’s, but what can challenge it? Will it be Pink Gin or will it be another fruit cup? Maybe it will be neither, and the Aperol Spritz will continue its summer-time assent.

We’d go one step further here, given that almost no-one even knows that Pimms even is a fruit cup, and ask: are alternative ‘cups’ too difficult to explain to a new generation of drinkers? And if you could, is it a redundant market anyway in this era of fruit infused gin? Is this the main reason that the Fruit Cup is constantly relegated to obscurity?

Alternatively - is the opposite true, and is it best to look at it as an opportunity? An opportunity for a product not just to challenge Pimm’s, but to enliven the entire category - could a new Fruit Cup be the medicine Gin needs as it fast loses its identity in a sea of faux juniper? Could this be the area that sparks a new wave of proper innovation…?

How do branding or flavour considerations play in?

It’s not just Pink Gin fever that’s stopping Fruit Cups from emerging. When you consider that sales of Sipsmith’s Lemon Drizzle Gin and Orange and Cacao Gin are far outstripping their London Cup, there is an argument to be made that it’s the flavour of more traditional Fruit Cups, not the aesthetic or price point of one brand VS the market leader Pimm’s, that’s central to success. While we don’t know for sure, we’d place a keen wager that the same performance comparison is true for Chase’s Pink Grapefruit Gin vs their Fruit Cup too, with the former far more popular.

It seems that taste buds have shifted and people seek fresher, brighter flavours than the old Gin/Vermouth fruit punch. This, combined with the fact that people buy and drink flavoured gins year round, allows a lot more room for fruit cups to flourish.

Another certain factor is globalisation. Pimm’s never really left England – apart from a bizarre adoption in New Orleans, it is a quintessentially British past time. Perhaps because it goes with our fruit selection, perhaps because Brits are the first nation to be tops off in the park at the first glimmer of sunshine (we’re outdoor people when we get the chance), or perhaps out of nothing more than tradition, Pimm’s has permeated our culture indelibly, but it’s yet to make a splash elsewhere.

Fruit Gin, though, is a global phenomenon. Warner’s Rhubarb, Tanqueray’s Flor De Seville and Four Pillar’s Bloody Shiraz are already worldwide superstars, leapfrogging many others despite their youth. Gordon’s Pink, Beeferater Pink and Puertos de Indias, too, sell in the millions.

Other than brand recognition and the increased brand familiarity that goes with it, being known all around the world builds product and category awareness to such an extent that the eventual effect is that most people know what to do with bottles.  They know what serve to aim for when at home - a G&T for example. Give someone a fruit cup that’s not Pimm’s and they just don’t know what it is, let alone what to do with it. Do I mix this with orange juice!? No. What do i add? How much? What’s in it? The same effect exists even for Pimm’s outside of the UK- no one knows what to do with it.

Not implicitly understanding how to make a drink with the bottle of booze you’ve just bought is a major issue and a major obstacle to overcome during the complex, yet small window of time you have to convince a customer to buy your wares.

Craft variants aside for a second - using pitchers and sharing serves (or, dare we say it, Pimm’s style serves) for the bigger brands who use synthetics can really help to make them all the more palatable, too. Add a few real fruits in a jug of pink and they really do fizz with impactful and interesting flavours.

We can see that side by side more factors favour the flavoured gin category than the fruit cup, and we can understand why distillers steer clear of it. Clearly brand recognition, flavour preferences and general understanding are all currently weighted against the Fruit Cup and are each, in one way or another, hindering its resurrection. This can be solved though.

What’s next for Fruit Cups?

It’s probably too early to see what effect Pink will have on Pimm’s at this stage, or if it will change British drinking habits over the summer, but one of the the things we can’t help but go round in circles with is that despite the cards that remain stacked against it - there’s a real opportunity there too.

Gin and Fruit Cups are now closer in DNA than they have ever been and there’s more information being digested by drinkers than ever before to help inform their decisions. The crossover of gin base and fruit is more prominent than at any point in the past 50 years. If there has ever been a time for it - surely this is the golden chance to make the ‘cup’ a thing. It may well be just the tonic the Gin category needs too…

The fevered race to launch all these limited edition ‘perfect for Summer’ ginfusions isn’t just relentless, it’s almost laughable. There are so many Infused Gins / liqueurs being added to the market that it’s becoming very difficult to keep track. This week has seen five enter our inbox alone, with two others spotted on social platforms.

The quantity begs the question: is it because in order to sell bucket loads of the stuff, it needs to have GIN on the label? Or is it just because innovation in the category is so narrow that brands have stopped to take a look at the bigger picture? Has gin lost its innovative nature?

It’s much harder to educate about something new than it is to simply infuse something that’s well understood with an accessible and eye-catchingly colourful ingredient. It’s harder to trail-blaze than to join a bandwagon and it’s harder to take inspiration from elsewhere rather than copy what’s around. It’s also an opportunity, though, and exactly why it’s important to celebrate those who do. Fruit Cups are not going to be ‘a thing’ as we put it earlier, unless there are several launches that are genuinely different and which re-imagine something that hasn’t had enough of a spotlight shone upon it in recent years.

Fruit cups - even the modern ones - have never really been re-imagined. They’ve barely been understood. Sipsmith, Chase, Heston, Plymouth and Fortnum & Mason’s Fruit Cups all take their starting cues from Pimm’s. They are all different, mostly tasty too, but they are an alternative to, rather than a break away from the market leader. All were made before this pink explosion and in our opinion none really looked to start from scratch and set out to alter the perception of the micro-category. In the years since, Cotswolds have made an interesting take on it, while Never Never’s Fancy fruit Cup pushes the boundary a little further with its Australian take. There’s still far more that can be done here though.

In all the booze success stories the challenger doesn’t do the same as the incumbent champ with a tiny twist, it does something completely different and does it better than has ever been done before.

The Cup has real history, real authenticity, and we’d love to see more brands try and spark a conversation around a fascinating world of drinks that’s not really being fully explored. The gauntlet has been thrown and we’re glad to say we’ve even been helping with one due out this summer… More on that soon but we can tell you already - it will not be enough, as this needs more than one or two distillers to bang their drums.

Resurrection of a genre aside, we feel more fruit cups and less Pink may well also help steer the conversation as to what innovation once looked like, re-imagining something old for a new era and building on the shoulders of others, rather than just piling in with an identical copy.

This will increase education around these drinks and -  just maybe -  allow fruity, brilliant drinks to exist in the world. Ones that don’t taste of juniper, and whom don’t feel the desire or the necessity to be called Gin to find an audience and thrive.

Gin needs that as it’s drowning right now.

Fruit Cup