How COVID-19 is reshaping the drinks industry

Posted: 6 August 2020 | | No comments yet

Chris Banks CBE, Executive Chair of Cracker Drinks Co and former Managing Director of Coca-Cola Great Britain, outlines some of the standout trends seen by the drinks industry during COVID-19 and offers his insight as to how drinks brands should leverage these trends.

How COVID-19 is reshaping the drinks industry

As coronavirus became a global pandemic, the business world was shaken up in each and every sector – and food and drink were no exception. Now, as consumers begin to reintegrate into society following many months of lockdown, people are no longer seeking out the same beverages they did just a few months earlier.

With health at the forefront of most people’s minds, consumers are thinking far more carefully about what – and where – they drink. Similarly, with all bars or restaurants shut for months on end, many have gotten used to indulging in premium food and drink from the comfort of their own homes.

Rather than fleeting trends, I believe that these are signs of new consumer behaviours that, accelerated by the impact of coronavirus, will only become more entrenched.

So, as we navigate the post-lockdown world, what are the key drinks trends that the industry should expect?

Your favourite drinks, delivered

While the retail, travel, advertising and travel sectors among those hit hardest by the coronavirus, other industries like food and drink deliveries, health and e-commerce have surged. For example, such demand even prompted the pub retailer Greene King to offer food and drink deliveries, which can be ordered by its own app.

Yes, bars, pubs and restaurants have reopened but, with the need for social distancing measures, have reduced customer capacity. In addition, the ongoing threat of new infections and less disposable income among consumers will mean normal customer levels will take some time to revert to normal. Meanwhile, many shoppers will stick to the convenience (and safety) of supermarket deliveries.

Those who missed the interesting and unpredictable varieties of food and drink found in bars and restaurants have become accustomed to receiving regular selection boxes full of exotic snacks and tipples during lockdown.

There is great consumer demand for craft, alcoholic-free drinks

This trend may have been the reason our own CRAFTED mango and passionfruit juice drink was picked as craft mixer for the Craft Gin Club’s July box. Many food and drinks brands will likely seek a place for their products in these selection boxes. Others may have to rethink distribution altogether, ensuring they are able to offer delivery to their customers.

By priming their beverages for delivery, drinks brands will be able to boost sales and reach new audiences post-COVID-19.

Less alcohol, please

Before the coronavirus threat emerged, an increasing number of people were consuming less alcohol, or had stopped drinking altogether. Pre-lockdown, one fifth of people in the UK were teetotal, with 16-24-year-olds least likely to drink. This trend is now likely to have evolved further.

An Opinium survey found that one in three – around 14 million people – were trying to reduce or stop drinking alcohol during the lockdown. Some six percent stopped drinking altogether, while 18 percent said they were drinking more.

Naturally, fewer drinkers will make for decreased alcohol consumption. However, teetotallers have considerably less choice than alcohol drinkers, who have been spoiled by the craft revolution. There are few tasty, alcohol-free and distinctly craft alternatives to the likes of beer, gin and cider, with only the standard artificial, sugary options widely available.

Despite the dearth of options, there is great consumer demand for craft, alcoholic-free drinks. Cracker Drinks’ research has found there to be more demand for premium juice drinks than any other craft drink – even beer!

A question of quality

A trip to a pub, bar, or restaurant to be waited on with a revolving selection of food and drink has long been a favourite pastime of many. But when lockdown made this luxury a distant memory, any new culinary experience had to be enjoyed at home.

Many of those lucky enough to avoid a financial hit from COVID found that, due to their forced abstinence from bars and eateries, they had a bit more disposable income. While stuck at home, they used their extra cash to sample an array of luxury food and craft drinks.

Brands also need to consider the sustainability of their supply chains

As makers of craft beverages, we at Cracker Drinks Co have been watching this trend carefully. Now that many more consumers have become accustomed to higher quality products, the more standard offerings are no longer likely to cut it for them.

With more demanding taste buds to cater for, drinks brands will need to make sure they have premium offerings at hand.

Health at the forefront

COVID-19 has made us think far more carefully about our health, and the health of our loved ones. Beyond the coronavirus-fuelled surge in demand for vitamin-rich juices, the existing consumer demand for healthier, less-artificial beverages will be primed to grow further.

lemon flavoured drinksCracker Drinks has always used only natural ingredients and fresh fruit to make our range of craft beverages. But it’s during the last few years (and indeed the last few months) that this has become a key consumer demand.

Having surveyed 23,000 people across 18 countries in May, an FMCG Gurus poll found that eight in 10 consumers planned to eat and drink more healthily due to COVID-19. This proportion had grown in a matter of weeks, from 73 percent who said the same thing in April.

Some 80 percent said that vitamin C was key to a strong immune system, while a further 57 percent were aiming to cut their sugar intake. With health at the forefront of the public’s mind, and a new Government anti-obesity campaign in the UK, drinks brands should certainly take notes of these trends.

Don’t forget the climate

COVID-19 aside, most are now very much aware of the climate crisis. Consumers, particularly those from younger generations, are rightly worried about the future of our planet and the crucial role they play in helping to safeguard it. And they will not be letting brands off lightly.

100 percent recyclable packaging is one of the most important steps drinks can take to ensuring – and proving – their commitment to sustainability. For example, we use a screw-cap rather than a PET bottle for our CRAFTED drinks range to lessen our environmental impact.

But brands also need to consider the sustainability of their supply chains. From manufacturing processes to delivery and distribution methods, all aspects of drinks production impacts on your company’s carbon footprint – and customers may well want to know what methods they are supporting via their choice of beverage.

With health at the forefront of the public’s mind, and a new Government anti-obesity campaign in the UK, drinks brands should certainly take notes of these trends

Nestlé and Premier Foods, the firms behind many of the UK’s most iconic brands, are said to be considering whether to detail the carbon footprint of their products. I would not be surprised if many other brands begin to do the same. And before long, much like food labelling, Governments may start to make this mandatory for all products.

In the age of coronavirus, times are tough and far from certain for the drinks industry. However, they are also filled with opportunity for growth and evolution. Drinks brands just need to watch new trends carefully, listen to their customers, and learn their new habits.

By producing high-quality, sustainable, healthier and more natural beverages, making them available from bars and restaurants, right to customer’s doorsteps, dynamic drinks brands should be set to thrive. As more new and exciting trends emerge post-lockdown, there is a lot more to raise a glass to than you might think.

About the author

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 1,975 UK stores including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

Their drinks are also supplied to bars, restaurants, and around 4,500 pubs via five major pub groups including Greene King.