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SA joins surging global appetite for aperitif, Aperol

Aperol, an Italian apertivo with an alcohol by volume of just 11%, has always been popular in its native country. Thanks to strategic marketing and consumers’ new-found love of cocktails, it’s emerging as brand on a global growth trajectory.

There’s nothing new about Aperol. Working to a secret recipe, brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri, unveiled their new taste sensation at the 1919 Padua International Fair, choosing a name for it that was a play on apéro, the informal French term for an aperitif.

The drink combines an infusion of sweet and bitter oranges, rhubarb, herbs and roots to create a sweet and tangy orange concoction with an appealing trace of woody bitterness.

For close on a century now, Italians have enjoyed their Aperol at the table, served with a variety of antipasti or nibbles like roasted nuts, olives, bruschetta, salame or pizza slices.

But since Gruppo Campari’s acquisition of the brand in 2003, it has become a global phenomenon, adopted across Europe, the Americas and Down Under, with key markets that include the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Australia, Russia, the Czech Republic, France, the UK, Spain and Greece.

Most frequently it is served in the signature cocktail, Aperol Spritz, made from three parts Prosecco (or dry bubbly), two parts Aperol and a splash of soda, served in an ice-filled glass garnished with a slice of orange.

The cocktail is presumed to have its roots in the Venetian Spritz dating back to the 1920s and that combined white wine, soda and just a dash of bitter liqueur.

Records show that Prosecco became officially part of the Aperol mix in 1950, with the creation of the classic 3-2-1 recipe that still holds sway today.

Thanks to its refreshing taste, relatively low alcohol level and its versatility for a variety of occasions, Aperol’s widespread appeal continues to rise in the wake of this century’s steadily soaring appetite for cocktails worldwide.

Double-digit year-on-year growth saw the brand crowned The Spirits Business’s ‘Specialty Spirits Brand Champion for 2017’, as sales jumped from 2,55m 9-litre cases in 2012 to 3,40m in 2016.

Aperol now also appears on the IWSR Real 100 Spirits Brands Worldwide list, announced in June this year, and is featured in 89th position. A year ago, it was placed at 103 on the list of the world’s best-selling spirit brands.

Slow and steady marketing

Gruppo Campari CEO. Bob Kunze-Concewitz. has identified a three-pronged growth plan that underpins Aperol’s success. It begins with a seeding phase in on-consumption outlets in targeted markets, with the aperitivo to be found in cosmopolitan bars, clubs, licensed cafés and restaurants, always showcased with antipasti or snacks.

“The intention is to expose consumers around the world to the typical Italian aperitivo moment, when you put the working day behind you and you can relax with friends and family,” explains Charlene Engels, who is manager for the brand in South Africa.

“We are also very clear about establishing a link between Aperol enjoyment with food because it encourages responsible consumption.”

The South African market is currently in this initial phase of the marketing cycle. A “soft launch” in 2012 to quietly expose the on-trade to the brand was followed by a series of activation initiatives in trendy venues in the Western Cape to reinforce the notion of the aperitivo ritual as time-out and a reward for a day well spent.

This year, the brand is going national, but with the emphasis very much still in the on-trade with Aperol Spritz.

Phase two of the growth model involves the “deseasonalisation” of consumption, she says. “Aperol is widely enjoyed outdoors at sidewalk spots during the warmer months but by linking it with all other times of the year as well, cocktail lovers discover how ideally suited it is to other occasions.

“Of course, in South Africa which enjoys good weather most of the time, year-round enjoyment should be relatively easy to achieve once the brand is well entrenched here.”

The third element involves linking Aperol to a range of new consumption occasions. “It’s interesting to see how Aperol is enjoyed not only as a pre-dinner drink in so many of its markets. It’s also consumed with brunch, over lunch and at parties. In time, we hope this trend will be adopted in South Africa too.”

She confirms that locals are responding very positively to Aperol Spritz. “It’s sophisticated but accessible. It is a low-alcohol alternative to many other spirits. Its lively orange colour and indefinable sweet/bitter flavours are very appealing. It also combines well with snacks or more substantial foods.

“Another plus is that it’s very easy to replicate the experience at home.”

Aperol forms part of Gruppo Campari’s Italian Icons portfolio that includes Campari and Cinzano amongst others.

Source: Gruppo Campari