Despite all the predictions that COVID-19 would drive us to drink, researchers at Monash University and UNSW have found there wasn’t an increase in alcohol consumption in 2020. But drinking habits have changed. After initial budget-friendly panic buying, consumers have returned to drinking less but better. They’ve also embraced non-alcoholic drinks and those offering health benefits. What does that mean for drinks trends in 2021? Here are some predictions:
Seltzer on tap
Hard seltzer was almost exclusively an off-premise beverage until recently, but its growing popularity means you can expect it to come of age in 2021 and enter the bar scene.
Pubs and and bars will start to add seltzers to their beer lists and explore draft options. In the US, a brand called Truly began trialling draft seltzer in August 2019 and is expected to expand its reach.
Vine Pair notes: “As for craft brewers that use real fruit in their seltzers, and whose brews show an attractive hue, tap lines offer the perfect way to stand out. Bar operators will be wise to serve on-tap seltzer not in 16-ounce tumblers, but in the Collins glasses used for vodka sodas, which feel like a slimline can of seltzer in the hand.”
Australia’s first draught seltzer launched a few months ago with FELLR kegs rolling to venues including Beach Road Hotel, Bondi Bowling Club, and the Prince of Mereweather in Newcastle.
Daniel Williams at the Prince of Merewether said: “It appeals to both the male and female demographic and even the health conscious. Since tapping it here at the Prince of Merewether, in just a few weeks it has a become a top 5 selling tap and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that climb as we move into summer.”
Non-alcoholic versions of your favourite spirits
Diageo got the ball rolling on the big brand non-alcohol drinks trends band wagon by launching Gordon’s 0.0 in the UK just before Christmas, an alcohol-free version of its famed gin made using the same botanicals as the London Dry expression.
Low and no alcohol spirits is currently the fastest growing segment within the alcohol category in the UK, growing by 33% across the off-premise (Nielsen, w/e 5/9/20).
In Australia, beverage retailers Dan Murphy’s and BWS saw sales of non-alcoholic drinks more than double in the 2020 financial year alone, becoming one of their fastest growing categories.
Adam Fry, General Manager of Buying & Merchandising at Endeavour Group, attributed the rise in non-alcoholic beverage consumption to shifting consumer trends.
“This is a reflection of a broader trend where consumers are choosing to moderate, with particular interest from customers in metro areas,” he told Business Insider. “We expect this trend to continue.”
Taste for regional expressions
Experts at Moonshine University say 2021’s drinks trends forecast is shaping up to be focused on authenticity in the form of appeals to community, premium experiences, and hospitality.
With strong connections to their communities, smaller producers will find success in the New Year by utilising hyperlocal approaches that spotlight regional expressions.
“It’s something we say all the time in our classes: ‘own your own backyard,’” says Moonshine University’s Director of Spirits Education, Colin Blake. “That’s still the best move for craft distillers. Forget about expansion plans for now— focus on serving your community.”
Craft American whiskey provides a window into how brands are already using local appeal to create success. In Texas, for example, craft distilleries are making whiskey and bourbon with an authentically Texan flair. Dark and bold, these spirits are products of the unique environment in which they are produced.
Healthy, functional drinks here to stay
Consumer affection for hard kombucha, alcoholic seltzers and CBD in drinks, natural wines and lower calorie drinks are here to stay in both the on and off-premise.
Drinks that can promote relaxation and stress relief or have functional or medicinal benefits will be top of mind in a COVID-aware world.
Consumers will also be looking for fresher, “healthier” cocktails in 2021. Expect to see a demand for dual-purpose mocktails and cocktails with lower ABV.
“More and more, customers tend not to drink as many ‘hard’ alcoholic drinks as before so cocktail makers are adapting to a new “healthier” drinking trend adding food items such as ginger, coffee, herbal teas, vegetables and herbs,” says Pep Miro, Director of Operations at Kimpton Vividora Hotel, Barcelona.
Focus on premiumisation returns
When lockdowns first kicked in, consumers sought value offerings, such as cask wine and classic beer brands. After a year of difficulties and robbed experiences, consumers are more likely than ever to indulge in premium spirits.
Fewer drinking occasions means imbibers will also be more likely to try a memorable concoction according to Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants annual Culinary & Cocktail Drinks Trends Forecast for 2021.
Many will prefer cocktails with premium spirits that incorporate more unusual or uncommon ingredients. For example, Executive Chef Thomas at Kimpton Shinjuku Tokyo (the hotel’s New York-inspired Christmas cocktails are pictured above) says: “People are getting more and more curious about quirky cocktails such as ‘Lamb fat infused gin cocktail with dried mushrooms’ or pairings such as Ginger infused cold-pressed juice.”
Moonshine University notes: “In 2021, consumers will also trend beyond small batch or single barrel releases and begin to take up more interest in experimental expressions of premium positioned products— think ‘grain-to-glass’, creative secondary maturations, innovative mash bills, unique blends, and the like.”
The biggest drinks trends for summer
Pictured main: Papa Gedes Bar, Kent St, Sydney