Raise a glass

The trends shaping the post-Covid-19 future of the drinks industry. By Chris Banks

Since the onset of coronavirus, it hasn’t been business as usual for any sector – and the drinks industry is no exception. In fact, as consumers return to society after a long spell of being stuck at home, they’re likely to have a thirst for something quite different than they did just a few months ago.

Health concerns have made consumers become far more selective about what they drink, and where they drink it. Meanwhile, without being able to visit bars and restaurants for many months, many have become accustomed to enjoying premium food and drink at home.

So as we begin to emerge from a lengthy lockdown, what new customer trends can we in the drinks industry expect?

Drinks to your door
Many industries like travel, advertising and retail have felt the Covid impact, yet other sectors like e-commerce, health and food and drink deliveries are all outperforming the market. This has even led the likes of UK pub giant Greene King to deliver food and drinks via a dedicated app.

While bars and restaurants are beginning to reopen, social distancing measures have reduced venue capacity and the lingering anxiety of infection means that footfall will take a while to return to the level seen in normal times. Similarly, many will stick to getting supermarket deliveries, which have also become a permanent fixture for those still wary of returning to the shops, or who simply enjoy the convenience of deliveries.

Others have taken to receiving regular shipments of food and drink boxes, which have become the only way of trying new speciality products during lockdown. Foodies have been accustomed to meal kits and exotic snack care packages, while drinks lovers have enjoyed a variety of interesting tipples being delivered right to their doorstep.

For example, our own CRAFTED® mango and passionfruit juice drink was included in July’s Craft Gin Club box as a premium mixer for gin-lovers. I’m sure that securing a place in such boxes will have become a key aim for many food and drinks brands looking to increase their sales and exposure in the post-Covid world.

A move away from alcohol
Long before the spectre of coronavirus, more and more people were drinking less alcohol, or none at all. Before lockdown, one in five of us in the UK were teetotal, with those aged 16-24 least likely to drink. Now the picture is likely to be somewhat different.

An Opinium survey for Alcohol Change UK found that one in three – around 14 million people – were taking steps to manage or stop drinking during lockdown. This compares to the 18 per cent who said they were drinking more. In addition, six per cent stopped drinking altogether.

With fewer dedicated drinkers, alcohol consumption is likely to go the same way. However, while alcohol drinkers have enjoyed the craft revolution, those seeking flavorsome, alcohol-free alternatives have few premium alternatives to the same old artificial, sugary options.

This is despite a new trend in premium, non-alcoholic products – our research shows that there’s more interest in craft juice drinks than any other craft category – even beer!

Quality over quantity
People have long enjoyed some well-deserved afterwork drinks at a bar, a cozy pub lunch, or a nice evening meal at a restaurant. Of course, when lockdown began, the luxury of being waited on with just-served food and drink quickly became a distant memory.

However, of those lucky enough to retain a decent income, many will have found that they were saving quite a lot of money from not making their usual visits to bars and restaurants. This has allowed consumers to put their extra cash towards more premium products, like luxury food and craft drinks.

As makers of craft beverages, this is a trend that Cracker Drinks Co® have been following closely. Now that many more consumers have developed a taste for higher quality products, they are unlikely to return to more standard offerings, even if they have to reduce the quantity of what they eat and drink.

Greater focus on health implications
If there’s one thing that coronavirus has taught us, it’s that nothing is more important than the health of ourselves and our loved ones. Unsurprising then, that consumer demand for healthier, more natural products is set to accelerate within the drinks industry.

An FMCG Gurus poll in May of more than 23,000 people across 18 countries found that 80 per cent of consumers said they were planning on eating and drinking more healthily because of Covid-19, Beverage Daily reported. This proportion is a sizable jump from the 73 per cent who said the same thing in April.

Another interesting aspect is that 80 per cent of consumers told FMCG Gurus that they associated vitamin c with a strong immune system.

At Cracker Drinks®, we have always, and will continue to exclusively use all-natural ingredients and fresh fruits in our range of craft drinks. Drinks brands in general should take particular note that the poll showed 57 per cent said they were looking to cut down on sugar.

Tough on the climate emergency
Aside from coronavirus, we all know the world’s most immediate challenge is posed by the climate crisis. Consumers, particularly those from younger generations, are increasingly conscious about the state of our planet and the effect we have on it. And they expect brands to play their part too.

Beyond the responsible sourcing of ingredients and the sustainability of supply chains, the biggest impact a brand can have on the environment is by making their packaging 100 per cent recyclable. For example, our CRAFTED range uses a screw-cap rather than a PET bottle to reduce our carbon footprint.

Nestlé and Premier Foods, which are behind some of the UK’s biggest brands, are reportedly considering detailing the carbon footprint of their products. I expect that many other brands will start to do the same, and that eventually, just like food labeling, governments will make this mandatory.

Despite difficult times and continued uncertainty, the drinks industry has plenty of reasons to be cheerful. However, they need to pay close attention to trends and listen to their customers like never before.

By providing premium, healthier and more natural options that can be served in venues and brought right to their customer’s doors, adaptive drinks companies should have nothing to worry about. We now have a much clearer picture of what beverages they want post-Covid-19, and I’ll certainly drink to that.

Chris Banks CBE is the Executive Chair of Cracker Drinks Co® and the former Managing Director of Coca-Cola, Great Britain. Cracker Drinks is an independent UK maker of all-natural craft juices and juice drinks. Its three distinct brands, Cracker®, Crafted®, and Newton’s Appl Fizzics® can be found in more 1975 UK stores including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.