What Does the Future Hold for the Beverage Industry?

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Social distancing and lockdown measures have become the new albeit temporary norm for consumers around the world. Inevitably, this means daily routines and consumption habits are changing in parallel. What do #lockdown #stayhome and  #quarantini mean to the beverage industry?

More so now than before social media serves as an outlet. A place to share an experience, learn something new or simply stay up to date. It’s a reflection of the nation’s mood and emotions impacted significantly by the ongoing fight with Covid-19. As the situation evolves, so are the needs and priorities of consumers around the world. Let’s uncover the shifts specific to what and how we drink.

Indulgence takes on mass consumption

The news of Covid-19 spread intensified in the first week of March, along with rumours of potential lockdown and increased social distancing measures. The images of supermarkets and retail centres overwhelmed with demand for what many saw as essential shopping and others as pure madness flooded the web. Whilst the majority focused on stocking up on pasta and toilet roll, a considerate group of consumers decided to plan ahead and focus their efforts on refilling their drink cabinets. Of all beverages mentioned, wine and spirits climbed to the top of shopping lists.

News about bars and restaurants likely to close their doors soon encouraged consumers to explore home deliveries and take away options available in their areas. Whilst avoiding the crowds in brick and mortar shops was the key reason for online orders, the opportunity to support local businesses likely to suffer most during the pandemic strongly contributed to the switch. #supportyourlocal is one of many initiatives which developed online as the virus spread across the world and it continues to gain momentum to this day. Local breweries were quick to react and adapt, offering extended delivery options and “social distancing specials”.   

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Online mentions of #supportyourlocal increased more than 850% over the course of last month, source : Radarly Covid-19 Dashboard

Socialising and partying occupied minds of many at the beginning of March. As lockdown was a possibility not reality at this stage, venues mainly focused on enticing consumers in. From posters encouraging personal hygiene to playlists and cocktails to the theme of the virus - the approach was lighthearted and well meaning.

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Those who opted to stay home, often did so with a glass of their favourite drink. Not panic and fear but a chance to unwind and relax were the driving force of staying in. Many saw this as an opportunity to open a vintage bottle they’ve been saving for a special occasion. Perhaps the fear of the unknown or acceptance that the lockdown is imminent meant consumers chose indulgence and unique experiences over mass consumption.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Creative juices started flowing in many households as the lockdown became the reality. With no option to go out and limited supplies available, consumers took to social to share ideas and seek inspiration. Creative takes on classic boardgames, virtual get togethers and family celebrations are currently a direct response to confinement and social distancing.

With bars and clubs closing their doors, many bartenders and waiting staff have found themselves unemployed. Social campaigns and support initiatives  have been set up by local communities as well as international businesses. Whilst the future is uncertain, many bartenders use social media to do what they do best - build relationships and grow networks. Advice on homemade cocktail creations and creative ideas on making use of supplies available at home have been popular. #quarantini which essentially can be any cocktail inspired by, you guessed it - quarantine, is gaining popularity online. The freestyle nature of the creation is fun and inclusive, encouraging otherwise shy consumers to experiment.

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Some decided to take their cocktail making skills to the next level, signing up for YouTube and Instagram masterclasses offered by bartenders themselves but also bigger organisations. It has been pointed out that the lockdown is a great opportunity to improve or acquire new skills and the beverage industry has a lot to offer. A well designed program should empower, challenge or provide relief - all of which are now much needed.

Where do we go from here?

There’s no denying, by the time we have regained control we will have also faced the new reality. The post-Covid reality. The new norm as many like to call it. What does the future hold for the beverage industry? Alcohol might not be “the next toilet paper” but our relationship with it and the way we consume it is going to change. If not a complete shift, some of the trends we saw steadily growing over the last few months will accelerate.

The sophistication of the moment and indulgence coming with enjoying a glass of a favourite beverage is likely to become more mainstream. What we’re seeing today during the lockdown, the support for local breweries and craft beer or the satisfaction of drinking a cocktail made at home, confirm that what matters to many is uniqueness and quirkiness, not mass production. 

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It’s difficult to predict how the weeks spent at home will affect social occasions and the party scene. It’s unlikely there will be significantly less or more people attending festivals and gigs. Beer, gin and classic cocktails are still going to be a preferred option for those specific occasions. However, there are challengers which started stealing the market share before the Coronavirus outbreak, and which continue to grow regardless - the ready to drink options. The canned cocktails which have been gaining popularity over the last few summers and recently started to shift from “quick and easy” to “effortless and sophisticated”. From bloody marys and margaritas to combinations showcasing craft and art - the competition within this vertical is growing and the habits consumers picked up during the lockdown might speed up this growth considerably. 

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Somewhere in between RTDs available at mass gatherings and drinks enjoyed in a more intimate setting are “cocktails through the door”. Varying from boxes containing specific spirits ready to combine with favourite mixers and garnish, through to sets needing nothing but ice to add - the category takes consumption to the next level, encouraging consumers to broaden their horizons without significant impact on budgets or time.

As the summer and warmer months approach, the urge to go outside will become stronger. Should the lockdown and self-isolation continue, the beverage industry can do its part to encourage but also enhance the at-home consumption.

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