Lots of us stop drinking in January, or never drink alcohol at all – so why’s alcohol one of the fastest-growing categories in grocery? Chrissie and Kate examine the apparent conundrum and look to the future.
So here we are again: it’s January, and the word ‘dry’ almost inevitably precedes it. More and more of us counter our festive over-indulgence by giving up alcohol for a month, and it feels like many of us continue to drink less alcohol once January’s over. A colleague told one of us earlier today that she isn’t giving up alcohol, but is consciously cutting back. She’s christened it ‘moist January.’ We don’t know what to think.
You’re probably aware, too, that many of today’s young adults drink less than their counterparts in previous generations. The teetotal or alcohol-light lifestyle is becoming more mainstream, and that’s one of the reasons why alcohol-free venues such as Redemption and organisations like Club Soda are most definitely having a moment.
Going up; not going out
With all that in mind, it might come as a surprise that alcoholic drinks are one of the fastest-growing categories in retail. According to a recent Kantar report, alcohol sales in the retail sector are up 6% year on year. So what’s that all about?
Well, firstly we’re drinking more at home then we do in pubs and bars. It’s two years now since off-trade sales of beer overtook on-trade. The price of drinking in pubs and bars continues to escalate, while disposable incomes are squeezed. And as pubs attract fewer drinkers, more of them are closing – completing a vicious circle.
The simultaneous growth in alcohol consumption and in temperance isn’t necessarily a contradiction, if those of us who continue to drink, are drinking more. There’s evidence that while alcohol consumption declines among younger people, it’s increasing among those aged 50+ and especially 50+ women, as the party girls of the 80s and the ladettes of the 90s replace the generation of older women for whom drinking was less acceptable.
And while the volume of off-trade alcohol sales increases, value sales are increasing even more as we switch to more expensive tipples. Drink choices are always subject to trends as drinkers seek to set themselves apart from previous generations (Babycham, anyone?). Gin, it seems, is almost the new wine, with an explosion of new small distilleries such as Sipsmith. Prosecco is another huge success story: in the UK it’s absolutely as engrained in female fashion as Breton stripes and the LBD, and embedded in our culture via internet memes to greetings cards. We also see generation differences within beer, as craft beer replaces real ale as the discerning drinker’s pint.
You’ll probably have noticed established alcohol brands who have stemmed possible declines by introducing range extensions. You can buy flavour variants on classic brands such as Baileys, Absolut and Jack Daniel’s, as well as special editions of packaging. All of this helps to bolster sales in the drinks aisle.
What does all of this mean for 2018?
Maybe we’ll see rivals to Aperol Spritz emerge – perhaps Negronis or longer drinks based on Campari. And following the meteoric rise in gin, maybe other drinks made with botanicals such as Berto and Escubac.
You can bet that summer will be a particularly interesting time. The pre-mixed frozen cocktail market is long due a shake-up (pardon the pun) – can someone finally make a decent daiquiri product, for example – one you buy ambient and freeze at home? Maybe we’ll see more new and interesting plays on flavoured vodkas, small-distillery gins, and coffee liqueurs … how about a frozen coffee cocktail to follow in the footsteps of the iced coffee and cold-drip coffee trends?
And that’s just on the alcohol side. What about this trend towards alcohol-free? Well, there’s all sorts happening here, too: craft breweries are starting to brew good quality alcohol-free beer, and players like Wisehead Productions (set up by Britvic) are developing innovative products with the heritage and flavours that you’d expect from the alcohol sector.
The landscape can at first look contradictory but when you look closer there are some really interesting trends at work – and loads of directions for it all to go in; we’ve just had a stab at identifying a few.
Whether you’re having a dry January, a moist one (!) or you never touch alcohol, 2018 brings a deluge of new drinking alternatives.