Alcohol Brands Toast Rising Trends and Sales

By John Licardi  | 

The pandemic wreaked havoc on lives and jobs around the world, and the hospitality and entertainment sector was hit hard. Alcohol brands were forced to shift messaging to mirror new quarantine habits while scaling back on campaigns. “The alcohol industry has suffered more from the pandemic than most, and that was reflected in the steep drop in ad spend last year,” said Jonathan Barnard, Zenith’s head of forecasting. As per Kantar data, Beer brands spent roughly $3 million less on advertising in 2020 compared to 2019. But these days, the glass is looking decidedly half full. A new report from Zenith, which looked at 12 key markets (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the US) that together comprise 73 percent of total global spend on spirits and beer advertising found that alcohol budgets are projected to hit $8.5 billion by 2023. Below, some boozy trends to keep eyes on.

Popular Pandemic Trends
Lockdown measures led to the emergence of several spirits-related trends, including a spike in the canned cocktail sector. While alcohol consumption increased for American adults in general last year, many sought novelty and ease when it came to consuming mixed drinks, especially as bars and restaurants became less viable. “Canned cocktails really tap into the consumer need for convenience and portability,” said Monica Rustgi, VP of marketing for Anheuser-Busch’s Beyond Beer brands. According to Nielsen data reported by Drizly, the category witnessed a nearly 87 percent rise in year-over-year spend during the pandemic’s first five months. Adding to this growth are millennial consumers who tend to favor ready-to-drink (RTD) offerings. “Millennials love flavor and variety and experimentation,” said Kara Nielsen, WGSN director of food and drink, and canned cocktails provide “an invitation to experimentation with a low bar to entry.” Bombay Sapphire tapped into that insight while capitalizing on millennials’ penchant for ‘90s nostalgia by teaming with TV personality Bill Nye for the launch of their first RTD line, Bombay Sapphire & Tonic. Nye’s Instagram feed featured the full cocktail video series, reaching millennials on social channels where they spend time.

Language learning apps likewise enjoyed a lockdown popularity surge as people sought novel ways to fill their time, and Corona recently took advantage of that craze by teaming with Duolingo to launch its new Hard Seltzer Limonada line. Out-of-home marketing efforts included pop-up vending machines installed on the Las Vegas strip. Passersby were prompted to request a hard seltzer in Spanish. Those who pronounced the phrase properly received a free sample, while less-successful efforts got a subscription to Duolingo’s premium service. Experiential pop-ups were popular in the pre-pandemic days, and marketers are bringing them back (at least for now) as vaccine rollouts continue and the world attempts to reopen.

Healthy Drinking
While stuck at home, many of us also got fit and healthy. Peloton sales surged by 172 percent last year, and The International Food Information Council reports that nearly one in three Americans altered eating habits to make better consumption choices. In some cases, those extended to opting for alcohol-free wine and beer. Liquor stores began stocking wine brands that are vegan, organic, lacking additives, have fewer calories and lower alcohol percentages. In fact, this “Better for You” (BFY) wine category increased nearly 100 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, according to Nielsen data. Though nonalcoholic wines can be more expensive and less flavorful (some aromatic elements get lost in the process of extracting alcohol), Americans have shown a thirst for lighter-drinking options, especially during warm summer months.

Brewers are leaning into the same health-living trend by introducing zero-alcohol lagers. While the beer industry took a hit as bars shuttered and hard seltzers stormed the market, US sales of non-alcoholic beer grew by 38 percent in 2020 for a total of $188 million. Top suds makers like Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, now counts eight percent of global beer sales from no and low-alcohol options, with plans to expand that number to 20 percent by 2025. Heineken USA launched its 69-calorie Heineken 0.0 offering in 2019, distributing roughly four million free samples at music festivals, shopping malls and offices this year.

Responsible Marketing
As social interactions pick back up, alcohol brands are once again rethinking marketing strategies to keep pace with consumers’ evolving habits. Some beer makers are offering free drinks as a reward for getting vaccinated against Covid-19. Pernod Ricard’s Absolut vodka brand recently debuted a multichannel campaign aimed at promoting responsible gatherings. Studies shows that consumers have conflicting sentiments when it comes to resuming in-person exchanges. According to KRC Research, 94 percent of adults are still practicing some form of social distancing, and 47 percent don’t wish to discuss their social-distancing preferences with others. Tapping into those feelings, Absolut’s #MixResponsibly initiative includes a 15-second TV spot that encourages consumers to communicate their boundaries. Digital and social content, along with merchandise like T-shirts bearing the message “I liked you better 6 feet apart,” round out the effort. As spirit sales continue their post-pandemic rise, marketers are taking into account lessons learned during lockdown, along with new trends in Americans’ consumption habits. Cheers to drinking responsibly!

John Licardi
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