ConsumerInsights | beverage | 7 min read

Anticipating Alcohol Consumption Moments in 2021: lessons from 2020

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With a 4.2% increase in social posts in 2020, the beverage industry has a lot to look forward to as the plans for 2021 are being finalized. The beverage consumption habits of many have been altered by the pandemic, leaving brands wondering what the new behaviors mean for the future.

Whilst social moments and opportunities for celebration declined this year, general alcohol consumption did not. Many people who opted to stay home often did so with a #quarantini in hand. Others made a point of supporting bartenders, breweries, and distributors in their local communities. It has been clear for months that alcohol consumption trends will have changed, but the question on every brand’s mind is how.

Examining social data from the past allows brands to identify insights and trends which are likely to shape the future. Particularly as traditional in-person research is not accessible or fast enough, methodologies which enable brands to optimize and respond to market changes at speed are crucial.

So what is the data saying? The outlook for the alcbev industry is encouraging, with certain categories such as beer demonstrating a clear advantage. As the clubs remain shut, weddings and graduations are canceled, and vacationers stay home, what should brands keep in mind going into 2021?

 

Redefining Occasions: the New Celebrating

Consumers crave the celebratory moments of pre-pandemic life. In the absence of typical opportunities to meet friends and family as the virus broke, people took to social media to show off their home bartending creations. As a result, discussions of at-home cocktails increased by 836% in 2020.

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Source: Linkfluence Search, #cocktailsathome 2020 Across All Platforms

However, this newly-found passion and enthusiasm ebbed and flowed as consumers navigated through lockdowns and the less restrictive periods. With everyday realities and life changing, drink fads faced similar instability. The “quarantini” was not the only casualty. Discussions of specific alcoholic beverages declined in comparison to summer 2019, with champagne dropping by 17%, cocktails by 5%, and sparkling wine by 13%.

This drop across the board reveals interesting insights brands can use in 2021. Despite the reduction by category, consumers still enjoy their favorite beverages - just differently, in a more intimate and less “splashy” manner. The days of popping champagne bottles in a club are gone for now. Instead, picnics with beer or wine are a more common option. Not many are attending garden-parties these days, but small and intimate gatherings present unique opportunities for brands to re-think the purpose of their key products.

Champagne showers have taken on a new meaning in 2020. Popping bottles at a VIP table was once a perception of luxury. Today that luxury is expressed in different ways, perhaps more creatively and fun. There is a lot of humor being poked at the inability to go out. Remembering that there’s time and place for everything, the playful angle is just what consumers might crave as they welcome 2021.

As the changes in consumer needs and expectations continue, brands need to refocus on pinpointing the smaller moments of joy. There is an opportunity for companies to reshape the social moment, but marketing teams need to focus on why consumers are choosing their products now, and how their brand can pivot its campaigns to the new occasions for drinking. With alcohol being one of the fastest growing categories purchased through e-commerce channels, despite the decline in celebrations and social moments, a cross-channel strategy recognizing this is likely to bring significant benefits.

Which Occasions Are Still Worthy of Raising a Glass?

Consumers are finding celebratory occasions in the small, everyday moments. In 2019, 77% of champagne conversations related to a big celebration. This decreased to just under a third (31%) in 2020. Today, time spent with loved ones is at the forefront of the social discourse. It’s meals with family and friends that are considered special.alcohol-consumption-moments-2021-garden

Romantic moments are still possible, and customers are leveraging date nights and “zoom weddings” as the perfect occasion to open that special bottle they’d been saving. A return to authenticity and self-indulgence has marked this year.

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As for significant life milestones like graduations or new house purchases, they have taken a more conservative route. If people are choosing to celebrate, they are doing so remotely. With many students unable to attend their ceremonies in person, their social posts have also taken a more reserved tone. These milestones might not be an occasion to open a premium bottle, but perhaps a cheaper alternative or a good cocktail. Social posts expressing nostalgia for a time when large gatherings were possible increased by 15% since 2019 - an angle brands can successfully follow.

 

Club-goers in search of their next party venue turned to picnics and recreating summer vibes around the pool this past summer. With many festivals and events moved online, the winter season is all about indoor moments of consumption. However, brands must be careful and choose the tone of their campaigns carefully. The Campaign for Real Ale faced a serious backlash when it produced Coronavirus themed beer glasses for the virtual Great British Beer Festival earlier this year.

 

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Sentiment on the Virtual Great British Beer Festival Glass

Understanding the realities of your customers’ daily lives is key. Although there may be some temptation to return to normalcy in an effort to prepare ground for a hopefully calm 2021, small missteps can cause ripples for a brand seen to be insensitive.

Winners of the New Consumption Moments

Consumers are searching for levity amid worrying global news cycles and are more mindful of their impact on the world. They are embracing the simple moments to enjoy the premium options, and some brands have already taken note of this.

LVMH owned champagne house, Ruinart, has emerged as a clear winner of the moment as it debuted its “second skin” packaging made from natural wood fibers. Although the R&D process for the packaging began two years ago, its launch in February seized the moment. The brand has now increased its engagement and positive posts thanks to an authentic and timely messaging.

 

Consumers value opportunities to consume ethically. They want to enjoy the present and their life but not at the expense of the environment or the people around them. French Champagne house Veuve Cliquot is hitting all the right notes in their ongoing Instagram marketing focused on #clicquote’s.

For beer brand Coors Light, the offer to grab America a drink paid high social returns. Their campaign America #coulduseabeer was the perfect way to connect with their consumers. Social Media users were encouraged to celebrate responsibly and use the hashtag to enter for a chance to win a 6-pack.

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For Corona Beer, a brand produced by Mexican brewery Cervecería Modelo and owned by Belgian company AB InBev, 2020 has produced a lot of social media attention. Jokes about the name association and a temporary halt in production did not slow consumption, with the brand posting a 5% increase in sales to remain the most valuable beer brand in the world. Consumers drove the social conversation, with funny posts on twitter.

 

The success of the hard seltzer and ready to drink cocktail category in 2019 has carried over to 2020. As Constellation Brands, the American distributor for the Corona brand highlights, Corona Hard Seltzer has shot to the top to become the number four hard seltzer on the market.

Whether consuming beer, wine, cocktails, or champagne, simple campaigns celebrating freedom and nostalgia with a touch of (sensitive) humor are winning the day.

Consumption Moments in 2021

The evolving context makes it difficult to predict what happens next through traditional research methods alone. An ongoing analysis and “always on” approach to consumer insights allow brands to stay agile and adapt their communications even when it’s too late to impact products themselves. Today, we see nostalgia, environmental awareness, and limited social interactions redefining the “good life”. If lockdown measures, even at limited scale, carry on, brands will have to adapt and capitalize on the opportunity to engage consumers. compared with this time last year, online sales of alcohol are up 234%. A clear sign the consumption is not slowing down, it’s simply changing.

For brands that are able to reorient their expectations and marketing, there is a whole new world of opportunity to connect with your key consumer tribes. As social media usage in 2020 increases, AI-enabled consumer insights have become richer as touchpoints that typically occur offline have been pushed into the online sphere. As it stands, social data is now the best way to keep track of burgeoning trends at a global scale and leverage insights whilst getting ready for 2021.

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