Today the drinking consumer enjoys a world of unprecedented choice in the alcohol sector, presented with multiple opportunities to try something new without having to stray too far from the familiar. There’s nothing unusual anymore about cracking open a small-brand craft beer, or sipping on an independently-distilled gin cocktail at a local pub, while niche bars and one-off pop-ups have become regular Instagram fodder. And as we watch the Society of Sobriety evolve, whilst the scrutiny of indulgent fun builds, no-and-low alcohol beverages are becoming more permanent fixtures in the bar fridge. With worldwide consumption of alcohol falling, the tee-totaller or health conscious has never had so many alternatives.

 

Alcohol is a sector driven by relentless innovation, with a remarkable ability to pivot on repeat through constant reinvention and reinterpretation of its own heritage. There is a permanent appeal to those consumers seeking the new and wishing to stand out in the crowd, though perhaps not always apart from it (see our trend Unique Belonging). The array of ever-evolving options available makes being a part of something exclusive, or just that little bit different, feel easy.

 

But what direction will these movements take next? Can we already categorise craft as conventional? Will non-alcoholic beverages be stocked as readily in bars as their fermented counterparts? And will the deliberately-different drinker feel disillusioned by large alcohol companies joining in? Brands big and small have the chance to help define the course.

 

Small beer or Megabrew: Crafting a new mainstream

 

The momentum behind craft beer shows no signs of slowing down, especially now it has partly shifted into the hands of multinational corporations wanting a piece of the action. Back in 2015, drinks giant AB InBev acquired London’s Camden Town Brewery to much furore and criticism from craft beer loyalists. Then in 2017, Carlsberg bought London Fields Brewery, growing its portfolio of speciality beers. Both acquisitions inspired the Society of Brewers Association (USA and UK) to initiate a campaign to produce an Independent Brewers’ Seal – so that the discerning beer lover could keep his Brewdogs from his Becks.

But whilst some consumers in established markets may feel that big brands will tarnish the craft movement, or make it mainstream and therefore strip it of its cool status, in Asia a different order of events could materialise. Here, where the craft movement is yet to take off in the same way, big brands have an opportunity to maximise their first mover advantage. Homegrown, mainstream brewers are making bold forays into the world of craft beer, such as Singapore’s Tiger with new flavours Black and White. Then there’s Asahi‘s Dry Premium Hojo Premium New Zealand Motueka Hop Beer. Perhaps if not the tongue-twister name, the reassurance of big brand production will encourage consumers to try something new?

 

Yes to no (and low)

 

For a long time non-alcoholic beverages, particularly beers, were criticised for their lack of taste and variety, but now there are several brands on a mission to seriously destigmatise low ABV. This is evident in the number of startups emerging in the sector: the UK recently saw the opening of the country’s first no-and-low brewery, Nirvana, whilst Seedlip launched globally, claiming to be the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit – though Denmark’s Herbie is bringing more competition to this market.

When it comes to the big guns, Carlsberg reports that growth of non-alcoholic beverages is three times higher than the average beer market, and that their gross profit capacity is far greater. The brand is expanding its alcohol-free ranges across the world; Tuborg in Asia (the most popular region for non-alcoholic beverages according to Carlsberg’s 2017 status report), Baltika 0 and Carlsberg Nordic in Europe. Meanwhile Heineken launched Heineken 0.0 in summer 2017 – a non-alcoholic beer that was marketed as “open to all” – drinkers and non-drinkers alike. As the major international beer brewers begin to recognise consumers’ desire for less alcohol, its omittance can become inclusive. It allows both those who want to be healthier or try something new, and those who may often feel ostracised by not drinking, to feel part of a larger movement.

 

At Foresight Factory, we believe the opportunity lies ahead for those alcohol brands ready to depart from tradition without totally breaking away – pivoting and evolving in line with the growing consumer need for new-alcohols and no-alcohols. For the smaller brand who wants to appeal to the most purist of followers, maintaining independence is key. And if their offering feels approachable and new, a mainstream appreciation will quickly follow. Perhaps this can be a powerful example for all brands: is the alcohol sector’s unwavering commitment to innovation the universal key to unlocking new audiences?

 

 

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