Beyond The Booze; How Drinks Brands Can Embrace A Post-Alcohol Future

by Nick Dormon on 06/12/2019 | 5 Minute Read

Alcohol consumption is in decline. A report from the beverage industry tracker IWSR found that US alcohol volumes dropped 0.8 percent in 2018, a reduction for the third consecutive year. Meanwhile, in the UK, according to a recent Lancet study, consumption has plummeted 10% since 1990, with almost 1 in 4 adults choosing to abstain entirely.

Many factors play into this significant shift. Alcohol, from the dawn of civilization, has been at the center of our societies, but it is a crude device for enhancing sociability, with its drawbacks on self-control, short-term hangovers, and long-term health effects.

From prohibition to licensing hours, higher authorities like the church and state have traditionally regulated our alcohol use, but now it’s become democratized with power now held by the individual.

A broader and better understanding of health issues has changed our attitudes, particularly with the young. The pace of life has sped up. When you’ve got a personal trainer booked for 7 am who has time for happy hour the night before? And crucially, there are now widespread alternative ways to enhance our moods, from designer drugs to sand baths.

This decline in alcohol sales is well-documented, but what are drink brands doing about it? Make no mistake, they’re thinking hard about this question; we’re working with one distillery business on its long-term strategy, and the issue of how to remain relevant in a post-alcohol future is central to that conversation.

With that experience in mind, here are a few ideas on what drinks brands can to do today to prepare for a no-to-low and alt-alcohol tomorrow.

It's Not Just About Alcohol

Drinking is rarely about alcohol; it’s all in the context. It’s unlikely you’ll sip on premium champagne while watching Netflix, so the trick is to provide the theatre of alcohol and heighten the experience while minimizing the unpleasant side-effects. We can no longer design the liquid and bottle as we need to manage the entire experience. Bacardi has always been about the "Latin Spirit," and in the future, the brand will increasingly be more about the energy, dance, music, and electric atmosphere than the rum it distills.

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No Substitute

A brand or products that says "gin and tonic flavored drink" is never going to succeed in this space as it shouts fake from the rooftops. Companies like Brew Dog, who have built their brand on flavor experimentation, have the right idea. Their low-alcohol brew Nanny State is the brewery’s fourth bestselling drink – named with confidence and attitude. Just because I’m not drinking doesn’t mean I have to lose my "cred."

The same goes for the brew.

It's About Quality

Fever Tree’s profits have soared, and this year, the mixer enjoyed the growth of 39 percent, and they expect their revenue to hit £236m. While others focused on low sugar and saccharine flavors, Fever Tree concentrated on quality ingredients. And while their design never stood out on the shelf, their strap line “if 3/4 of your Gin & Tonic is the tonic, make sure you use the best” hit home. Low-to-no brands should take heed.

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Perception Is Key

The boom in gins has shifted our appreciation from the visceral hit of alcohol to the more complex flavors of botanicals. This has allowed brands like Seedlip to enter the market using its aromatics to supplant the need for alcohol. By projecting this through a design that borrows just enough from the gin category, they've created an ownable and credible space. At the same price as alcohol but without the duty to pay, this is a tricky positioning to maintain. Already, there are competitors on the market with less successful designs that are in danger of looking just like very expensive squash, and destroying the illusion for everyone as a consequence.

Speak To Your Market

There have always been high-quality cordials on the market, but despite their best efforts, it has been hard to move away from a children’s drink to a more adult space. The most fruitful spaces to explore, now that gin has established the trend, are alcoholic beverages that are more about the flavor than the hit. Æcorn recently launched using the vehicle of aperitifs to do just that. Tapping into a deep history of recipes and making, the brand has maturity and sophistication.

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What's Missing?

Taking out the alcohol leaves many low/no alternatives lacking. Everyone knows the feeling of disappointment when you accidentally pick up a non-alcoholic beer at a party. But, beyond flavor and attitude, there is a host of other mood enhancing ingredients making their way onto the market legally.

A trend supported by ongoing research and development by Professor David Nutt ( former UK chief drug adviser) reveals there are numerous active ingredients that offer greater enjoyment with decreased side effects to both the individual and society. From cannabis to nootropics, we see these incorporated into our beverages. If done in the wrong way, we could see a public backlash and legislation to curb the excesses. Done correctly with subtle concoctions and personalization, we could find ourselves with even more sophisticated ways to enhance our moods.

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Distilleries & Breweries Beware

The purveyors of alcohol no longer dominate the world of mood enhancement. We recently designed SeaCBD, providing dynamic equilibrium through a drop of CBD oil while our friends at English Tea Shop are now selling mood-based teas. How long will it be before more potent brews draw consideration? In its quest to find low-harm alternatives, the tobacco industry has created a new delivery system in vaping which can be employed to do way more than deliver just nicotine.

We now have the technology to monitor and measure our personal intoxication levels, putting the individual in control. Our social occasions will soon be an exciting and complex mix of competing brands, ingredients, and technologies.

The future of stimulants could potentially lie beyond the booze, and it's an inspired time for both brands and design agencies.

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