New consumption occasions are creating opportunities for innovation in alcoholic drinks. Image courtesy of Boule.

As changes to societal values and consumer lifestyles influence the needs and demands of drinkers, new trends have arisen in the alcoholic drinks sector, driven by a perceived lack of time and consumers' desire to relax and unwind at the end of a hectic day or week.

In the latest report from Canadean, ‘Top Trends in Alcoholic Drinks; Exploring the beer, cider, spirits, and wine categories’, analyst Raquel Perez-Lopez maps out five innovative trends – matching, hybrid drinks, multi-sensory experiences, digital natives, and embracing novelty – that are shaping the alcoholic drinks market.

Using trend insights, manufacturers can identify ways to target new opportunities in the market and discover how to create an emotive connection with alcohol drinkers to differentiate their products from the competition.

Pairing options to enhance the flavor of food and drink

Using drinks to complement and enhance the taste of food is not a new phenomenon; however, as consumers appear more open to experimenting with different flavour combinations, the trend has expanded to include a wide variety of drink options. Wine has a long history of being served as an accompaniment to a meal and, as a result, products developed in winemaking regions often appear to reflect culinary traditions in the area. Sommeliers in leading restaurants work in harmony with the culinary team to identify wines that will best complement each item on the menu.

For many years the trend was limited to wine pairings. However, recent developments within the alcoholic drinks sector have created new opportunities for brands to position alternative products as pairing options. Beer and cider have become equally appealing choices, and products that feature labels with pairing suggestions will be in demand in the market.

Thanks to digital developments, it is now easier than ever for consumers to access information about their alcoholic drink of choice. As a result, drinkers are becoming more knowledgeable about pairing options, and an increasing number of consumers view themselves as connoisseurs.While the wine category is set to maintain its established position as a leading option for food pairing, with growth predicted in subcategories such as champagne and cava (as a result of being served with seafood or tapas), the beer and cider categories will benefit from changing consumer drinking habits.

Fuelled in part by the craft revolution, food and drink pairing in the beer and cider categories has benefited, as consumers who view themselves as connoisseurs seek out ways to demonstrate their knowledge about specific drinks. The beer sector currently boasts a wide variety of offerings, with a myriad of flavour combinations and ingredients that can be used to complement a meal. To encourage experience-seeking consumers to opt for beer pairings, brands can position products as ‘perfect-matches’ to food products. Similarly, cider manufacturers are tapping into the trend by matching different types of cider with certain types of food.

Spirits, such as vodka or whiskey, are largely seen as stand-alone products that are not linked to food. However, recent development in consumer attitudes towards experimentation has opened the market for new combinations and pairings, such as vodka and smoked meat or whiskey and mature cheese.

Ready-to-mix hybrid beverages

" Drinkers are becoming more knowledgeable about pairing options."

As the trend for innovation and experimentation in drinks sweeps over the sector, experimental consumers are seeking out new and genuine alcoholic products, including products that blend ingredients or processes from multiple beverage categories, such as spirits and beer.

The craft beer trend has been a driving force in blurring the lines between categories to create hybrid drinks. More than simple ready-to-drink mixes, hybrid drinks align with a desire to create a heightened overall drinking experience by experimenting with unique flavour combinations, ingredients and production methods from multiple drinks to create a final product that breaks from the norm; for example, producing spirits or beers in a wine barrel, to give them a unique flavour.

To keep up with the demand for hybrid drinks, research and development will play a key role in helping producers to create new recipes that satisfy experience-driven drinkers.

The hybrid trend is particularly evident in the spirit category. Products such as beer mixed with rum, or tea mixed with vodka have become more common on supermarket shelves and have created new opportunities for manufacturers to launch more sophisticated hybrid drinks that cater to the consumer demand for new experiences.

As a result of innovation in the craft trend, consumers now expect and demand more creative offerings that allow them to experience new tastes and flavours. To appeal to this experience-driven market, manufacturers should experiment with different production methods and include ingredients from other alcoholic categories to add an unusual twist to the drink.

The cider market, for example, has been growing in recent years in countries such as the UK. To encourage further growth and increase cider consumption, manufacturers are launching hybrid offerings made using alternative fruits or unusual ingredients, such as tea.

Stimulating the senses with multi-sensory consumption experiences

In the pursuit of new and exciting drinking experiences, consumers are looking for products that provide value beyond taste. Alcoholic drinks that engage multiple senses by using techniques, such as visual stimuli, create a unique experience that can grab the attention of consumers looking for novelty.

The trend has created a challenge for manufacturers to change how a drink looks or feels, adding elements of danger and excitement, such as setting fire to drinks, using strong aromas, or adding unusual ingredients like dry ice or nitrogenation. As the demand for more adventurous drinks increases, manufacturers have adopted an experimental mindset and have demonstrated a greater willingness to break established category rules using unusual production techniques.

While risky to produce at home, multi-sensory products, such as flaming or smoking drinks, provide a dramatic moment that breaks conventional perceptions of drinking, which is particularly appealing to trend-conscious social media users looking to impress their friends.

The multi-sensory trend offers brands the opportunity to throw out the rulebook and inject a sense of fun and adventure into alcoholic beverages that goes beyond drinking. The results range from subtle scents to dramatic visual displays that play on the thrill-seeking attitude of consumers looking for a break from the norm. There are currently several methods that alcoholic drinks manufacturers are using to engage multiple senses. Fire adds a visual sensation to drinks and can be used to create a smoky flavour, which attracts consumers to the drink before they have tasted it. Similarly, dry ice has become a popular addition for manufacturers, as it creates an impressive smoke effect; however, safety issues limit its applicability to experienced bartenders.

To create complex sensations in the beer category, manufacturers have been using nitrogen to produce products with fewer bubbles. The result changes the flavour of the beer, as malt flavours generally pair better with nitrogen than hops. The process also changes the mouthfeel of the beer, providing a creamier final product.

Appealing to tech-savvy consumers

"The craft beer trend has been a driving force in blurring the lines between categories."

Thanks to the widespread adoption of new technologies and social media, digital media consumption has risen dramatically over the past few years. Through the internet, digital devices and apps, consumers have constant, near-instant access to information making them more connected than ever before. This technological shift has had a significant impact on the way that consumers seek out and absorb information.

Consumers spend more time online than they do on any other form of media, with a daily average of three and a half hours spent using digital platforms. For alcoholic drinks manufacturers, this makes establishing an online presence increasingly important.

Digital media is slated to grow over the next five years, with social media and video sharing websites becoming more effective as traditional advertising channels decline. To address the increasing influence of digital media, alcoholic drinks brands need to make themselves visible and easily accessible online. Consumers should be able to find their favourite alcoholic drinks on social networks such as Twitter or YouTube. Online offers and promotions using these sites will be decisive in engaging digital consumers.

The digital natives trend offers new opportunities for brands to engage with consumers. Using apps, digital labels and interactive campaigns, manufacturers can use technology to create an all-around experience that links consumers to the brand beyond product purchase.Younger consumers are the most receptive to digital media tools, which makes them a key target audience for beer and cider manufacturers looking to tap into their image-conscious lifestyles.

For wine and spirit brands, digital labels enriched with information about the product will add value for consumers. Additionally, Canadean predicts that apps that help consumers to match wine to food or tastes will be in demand in the future.

Embracing novelty and experimentation in drinks development

Due to a real or perceived lack of free time, modern consumers are looking for easy and convenient products that help them unwind from stressful lifestyles.The desire to escape from busy lives is particularly notable in consumers between the ages of 25 and 44 who seek moments of escape from work and parental duties, which has driven innovation in novel ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages.

Pre-mixed spirits have a well-established position in the alcohol beverage market and the convenience of the drinks will continue to drive sales. To stand out from competitors, spirit manufacturers should experiment with novel plant-based ingredients, such as coriander and basil, or fruits such as coconut.

Wine and cider manufacturers can target busy consumers by launching products in single-portion packaging formats. Novel packaging has already increased the presence of still wines in supermarkets, while demand for pre-mixed drinks-based sparkling wine may increase with developments in RTD beverages.

While this trend is less notable in the beer categories, where the pre-mixed trend remains weak, brands may be able to tap into the demand for novel experiences as more combinations of beer with cider and cocktails appear on the shelves.