2014 Drink Trends in Focus

Tracking the trends in adult beverage and really distilling them down to what will drive (or drag) the industry requires a unique blend of analytics, insights and instinct. Luckily at Technomic, our adult beverage team of experts possesses a wealth of all three, honed via more than 35 years of combined experience following and analyzing the business. Based on our ongoing research into spirits, wine and beer volume and sales, as well as our extensive consumer surveys and discussions with brand marketers, on-premise and retail operators and other drinks professionals, we have identified the trends that we foresee shaping the drinks business in 2014.

  1. Sweet survives in spirits but makes room for spicy and herbal flavors (and more). Dessert- and confectionary-flavored vodkas abound, but they are joined by an increasing number of less-sugar-focused options. Ginger, cucumber, lemongrass and even tobacco show up in vodkas, and rums continue to run toward spiced varieties, while cinnamon shows up in numerous spirits and mixed drinks. Mango emerges as a hot cocktail flavor, while honey and maple expand in whiskey drinks.
  2. Cider stakes its claim. The presence of major beer suppliers in the cider market—including AB InBev, MillerCoors, Heineken and Boston Beer Company—further bolsters the category’s availability, visibility, back bar and retail shelf placement, and its appearance on bar and restaurant drink lists. Seasonal and specialty ciders add to the excitement. At the same time, smaller producers continue to grow, bringing unique offerings to the mix.
  3. Ultra-targeted marketing grows. Adult beverage suppliers and retailers in both the on- and off-premise segments seek to engage specific consumer groups. Look for spirits, wine and beer products as well as on-premise and retail concepts that are designed to appeal to particular demographic groups. On the hot list: Millennials, Hispanics and women, as well as groups defined by active lifestyles or other attributes.
  4. On-premise, more drinks on tap turn up. Wine, cocktails, craft beer and cider duke it out with traditional offerings for tap handles at the bar, on tabletop tap systems and on sampling systems. Consumers embrace the notion that wine coming out of a keg or tap is often of equal quality to bottled product, and high-end producers move toward the quickly evolving keg wine packaging. Operators and suppliers collaborate to address the challenges of tap cocktails and of managing the rotation of seasonal craft beer and cider through category management.
  5. Truly special specialty drinks stand out. Barrel-aged and bottled cocktails expand in high-end libation lounges, while communal cocktails, punches and tiki drinks bring something unique to the bar or table. Some on-premise operators move toward a “less is more” mentality, menuing not only low-calorie but also lower-alcohol drinks.
  6. “Come together” is a theme for both products and categories. Hybrid products and drinks that mix categories abound: beer and spirit cocktails, alcohol milkshakes and products that combine categories (such as Malibu Red or Blue Moon Vintage Blonde). These blended offerings afford new taste experiences, inviting experimentation and innovation both at home and in restaurants and bars.
  7. Independents innovate and grow. Nimble and motivated, independent retail and on-premise operators take the lead on many trends to differentiate, connect with consumers, ramp up service elements and realize sales growth, ultimately outpacing chains. At the same time, many independent restaurant and bar operators feel comfortable raising drink prices.
  8. The new-product parade continues. The steady stream of new spirits, wine and beer products, including seasonal, limited-time and specialty items, prompts on-premise operators to move toward category-management initiatives to optimize product placement and capitalize on consumers’ interest in trying new products.
  9. Next-level craft beer rises. A double-digit growth rate continues for craft beer but slows as consumers and operators seek clarity in defining the category as well as relief from the often overwhelming number of new brewers, brands and styles. Also, craft distilling continues to expand, delivering small-batch spirits to consumers eager for unique, artisan and “authentic” libations.
  10. Hotel and high-end nightclub drink sales ramp up. Hotel bars and restaurants realize strong adult beverage program growth as they continue to invest and innovate, while high-energy, high-end nightclubs outperform the industry overall on drink sales.

Donna Hood Crecca

A veteran of the foodservice industry, Donna Hood Crecca leads the firm’s Convenience Store Practice and is active in its Adult Beverage Practice. She develops research-based insights and recommendations for leading and emerging supplier and operator companies to enhance their go-to-market and product development programs and strategies.

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