From functional drinks – think sleep aids, added vitamins, and stress relief – to hedonistic spending on premium products, RTDs, and flavour exploration, the pandemic changed the way we drink. But have any of these trends stuck? And, with all legal Covid restrictions dropped in the UK, have any of the trends predicted for when we emerged from the other side, actually happened?
I don’t know. A global pandemic; it’s enough to drive you to drink, eh? And drink we did. Research by Alcohol Change UK found around 20% of drinkers consumed alcohol more frequently during lockdown. And UK supermarkets also reported record sales.
Confined to our homes we raided the back of the metaphorical drinks cabinet and sent sales of forgotten, old fashioned, and darn right nostalgic tipples (relatively) soaring. Sherry, liqueurs, calvados, all received a sales boost, according to supermarkets and online retailers alike.
We also tried to recreate the bar and restaurant experience at home, gleefully turning mixologist with pre-prepared cocktail kits. And we filled the freezer with their premixed, prebatched, and pre-bottled cocktails too.
Meanwhile, consumers concerned with drinking too much, radically cut their intake. According to the IWSR, 37% of under-40s LDA consumers increased their no/low alc as part of wider lifestyle changes due to Covid-19.
Is the future, now?
And for those still consuming booze, we explored. Call it boredom, call it curiosity, call it – as many brands did – a growing connoisseurship and sophistication among drinkers, but consumers also upgraded their booze cabinet, spending more on better, more premium products, and trying new things.
But have any of these habits, so ingrained during lockdown, stuck? And what of the predictions for once lockdown was over. Have they happened?
Some habits have stuck according to online retailer Master of Malt (MOM), who says we are still, in fact, in the age of spirits discovery. As consumers continue to seek out new and interesting things to play with, the company says it has adapted its range and is now selling a broader range of spirits and drinks than ever before.
Brand loyalty is d-d-d-dead?
Customers are still treating themselves too. According to MOM’s latest trend bulletin, “though the pandemic seems to be far from over, the mindset of the initial lockdowns has remained, having changed consumers’ mindsets for good”. Put another way, a higher average spend has stuck, as people buy less, but better. It says while sales between £30-50 have remained stable, sales of products between £0-30 have halved, and sales of products over £100 have soared, more than doubling during the past year.
It's something that has led MOM to make a startling declaration: “This premiumisation means that brand loyalty is on its way out, in turn leading to brands having to hone their craft and offer fewer products, but of a much higher quality. It’s an exciting time – people are more willing to spend money on drinks discovery than ever before.” However, is the cost of living crisis about to spoil the fun, as disposable incomes are slashed, and consumers cut their spending?
But when it comes to the much-touted shift by consumers to more healthy, functional drinks, are we really there yet? As written here previously, as the stresses and physical effects of the pandemic took hold, drinks makers responded with a myriad of functional products, aimed at curing everything from sleepless nights, to weakened immunity.
Have these products become household names? Not really. Have they even become less arduous to track down, confined to the dusty upper shelves of your local Holland & Barrett, or at the end of an extensive internet search? No.
First gulps of freedom
Why? The consumer concern for their health lives on, but in these first gulps of freedom, could it be it is being surpassed by a desire for fun? Just look to the direction flavour trends are taking if you’re in any doubt of current consumer mood, as exoticism and noistalgia are dialled up in ever more kitsch and culturally-appropriating ways.
Could it be that these functional products just aren’t enough fun to tap into the current mood? We’d say so. Though wellness and moderation remain mega-trends in drinks, consumers are currently having their heads turned by the return of all the things they’ve missed, from music festivals to travel. Indulgence and tentative hedonism are in, while caution and restraint are ever present in the background, threatening to return.
It's no wonder then that consumers are temporarily embracing fun in the fullest way they can. Where does this leave the wellness trend? Well though functional waters, vitamin-enhanced coffees, and adaptogen and nootropic-packed juices, and even spirits, are being relatively overlooked, consumers have found a compromise.
A healthy compromise
Though no brand owner – or creative branding agency for that matter – dreams of being labelled a compromise, the growth of fermented drinks seems to offer one. Drinks such as kombucha, hard kombucha and kefir are gaining momentum, striking a balance between being both fun and aspirational, and good for you.
Packed with superfoods, immune-boosting ingredients, gut-health enhancing properties, and botanicals, through their slick, fashionable, and it has to be said Instagrammable packaging, brand owners have positioned them as both fun and aspirational, and crucially, tried and tested.
Though when these drinks initially appeared on the market in earnest a few years ago they favoured craft-inspired glass bottles, a shift to slim cans has now allowed them to go wherever RTDs can, and design-wise, it has to be said they blend in. Just look at brands like J’aime. Sensorially too, their complex mouthfeel and slight carbonation makes drinking them feel like an experience.
In the pursuit of cleaner, more simplistic products, they also fit the bill. And when it comes to seeking the familiar, perhaps one of the reasons they’ve fared so well post-pandemic as opposed to other functional products, is because consumers already understood with them.
Most recently dairy firm Muller released its first kefir drink to capitalise on the growing market for fermented drinks, up 24% in 2021, according to Neilsen. Though it has to be said, the packaging is less inspired than the pastel-hued stylings favoured by kombucha brands. Kefir water drinks such as PiQi are a little more friendly on a millennial’s and gen Z’s eyes.
As we – please God – continue to emerge from the most life-altering effects of the pandemic, its perhaps no wonder that only the trends that serve our most immediate needs have stuck. Consumers have learned to live in the now, embracing fun and experiences while they can, and feeling at liberty to treat themselves either through indulgent flavours, or indulgent price points. The continued willingness of consumers to explore ever more new and unusual spirits and flavours, is testament to that desire.
Health has not been put on the back-burner by any means. But it must, for the time being amidst an unspoken climate of anxiety regarding the future, combine itself with other trends. That is to say for a health-focused product to be successful in 2022, it must be familiar, aspirational, comforting, and above all, fun.
Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?
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