Close Menu

Cup of Good Cheer

Pimm’s has become a summer drinking icon, but in a country where the warm days last approximately three months – in a good year – isn’t a product as seasonal as Pimm’s a bit of a gamble?  asks Penny Boothman

Strange really, for a drink that was invented by a London shellfish monger in 1823, but nothing says summer like a jug of Pimm’s. The No.1 Cup Gin Sling remains the favourite today, but the Pimm’s range has, over the years, included “cups” numbered one to six based on whisky, brandy, rum, rye and vodka.

An immediate smash-hit, exports began as long ago as 1898, when the drink became popular with British army officers based in Africa. But sales abroad really took off in the 1920s when it was sent to Australia and New Zealand. The firm was sold to The Distillers Company Ltd in 1969, and then became part of Guinness Plc in 1986, later joining the Diageo stable.

In a class of its own, Pimm’s has become a summer drinking icon, but in a country where the warm days last approximately three months, in a good year, isn’t a product as seasonal as Pimm’s a bit of a gamble?

“It’s massively, massively seasonal,” agrees Candice Burton, senior brand manager for Pimm’s at Diageo. “With Pimm’s No.1, about 85% of our volume goes through on those key summer months. We used to have this little peak around Christmas, which we just put down to the fact that there were more people in the BWS aisles then.” However, the chaps at Pimm’s have come up with an enterprising answer to the seasonality issue, and by next year this small Christmas peak could have become a mountain.

“We’ve got the new Pimm’s Winter, which is basically the No.3 Cup which has a brandy base, as brandy is obviously a more naturally warming drink,” explains Burton. “We’ve tweaked the original recipe to give it more warming cues, more spices like cinnamon, nutmeg – and, of course, serving it warm. The volumes that we see with Pimm’s Winter have massively grown our performance during the winter period. We tested exclusively in Waitrose [last winter] and we became the number one speciality drink there.”

Pimm’s has proved adept at product innovation. Ready-mix Pimm’s in a can was first brought out in 1991, and has proved to be extremely popular with those for whom pouring both Pimm’s and lemonade into a glass is too complex. In fact, the company sells more than 15,000 cans a day over the summer season.

“We brought out the cans more than 10 years ago but we’ve changed the design of the can packaging to bring it in line with what we were doing with all the other activity, and then we also introduced a one-litre ready-to-serve. If you’re just going off to the cricket you can take some cans but if you’re going to someone’s barbecue you can take a bottle of Pimm’s as it comes in a convenient format.”

Pimm’s has even come up with a way to get a reliably consistent serve in the on-trade. It may not have the theatre of chopping fruit and mixing a drink, but in a busy bar the Pimm’s font has become a welcome sight for the thirsty drinker.

“We’ve expanded our font format. So for pubs and bars the font format comes in a 50-litre ready-mixed keg so you can just do it off the bars, and it gives them a perfect serve every time. It’s much faster, and less hassle. It’s been going for more than five years now. It started off at Wimbledon and then last year we tested it in Young’s outlets. It improved Pimm’s volumes by about 34% in Young’s and then we extended it last summer to a few other on-trade outlets and we’re looking to do that again going into summer,” says Burton.

This on-trade focus is interesting in a brand that  started off in the on-trade but has since achieved most of its success in the take-home market. “Both are growing, but the off-trade is where we really perform strongly; it accounts for about 80% of our total volume and it’s growing at about 24% MAT, which is fantastic for a brand that’s 180-odd years old!” says Burton. She’s right, and it wasn’t even a particularly hot summer last year. “Pimm’s has been so successful, No.1 has virtually doubled in size over the last three years,” she says.

It certainly seems to be Pimm’s o’clock all round. Over the years, advertising slogans have evolved from “So This is Pimm’s No.1 Cup”, through “By my Gaff and Gillie I could do with a Pimm’s No.1 Cup”, to “Where There’s a Pimm’s There’s a Party” – which still rings pretty true today, I think you’ll agree.  db January 2006

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No