How Adult Beverage Brands Are Prioritizing Sustainability

Two weeks ago, BuzzFeed ran an article with the attention-grabbing headline “How Climate Change Will End Wine As We Know It.” (Additional point to BuzzFeed for the accompanying “Apocalypse Noir” visual.) The piece discusses how warming temperatures around the globe already are seen subtly affecting harvest schedules and how climate change likely will have a significant impact on which wine grapes can be grown where. Central California could become too warm for Pinot Noir, while Scandinavia could become more amenable to grape growing.

Among the points offered in support of its headline, the piece cites the federal government’s 2014 National Climate Assessment, which asserts that the U.S. area “capable of consistently producing grapes required for the highest quality wines is projected to decline by more than 50% by late this century.”

It’s a sobering (no pun intended) assessment. And winemakers aren’t the only adult beverage producers who will have to confront climate change. Droughts, like the severe drought California is experiencing (and like the kind predicted to increase in number as a result of climate change), can affect the starches contained in barley—in turn affecting the taste and quality of the beers that that barley goes into. This isn’t to mention the sticker shock that consumers could face at the liquor store if a drought in the U.S. or Germany significantly stymied barley or hops production.

Several adult beverage producers are addressing climate change head-on through their products and practices; in so doing, they’re getting out in front of a topic that is likely only to rise on consumers’ radar in coming years. The conservation-minded methods they have adopted to maximize their use of natural resources aren’t inexpensive, but they may represent a vital investment in brands’ future—and for now, they also can help suppliers seize upon consumer interest in eco-conscious products. (Technomic’s MenuMonitor online resource finds that the number of specialty drinks containing the word “organic” climbed 30% from Q3 2013 to Q3 2014, driven by the addition of drinks made with organically produced spirits.)

Which adult beverage producers are taking eco action? Here’s just a sample:

Bonterra
Mendocino County, CA-based Bonterra, as its website notes, has produced wines from 100% organically grown grapes since 1993. Moreover, Bonterra’s wines are certified Biodynamic—a trademarked approach to wine production that emphasizes biodiversity and the use of composting, cover crops and other measures to ensure the continued health and viability of the land. Bonterra saw volume and retail sales climb by more than 8% in 2013.

American Harvest Organic Spirit
American Harvest touts that the organic wheat for American Harvest Organic Spirit—not called a vodka, though recommended to be consumed as one—comes from a family-owned and -operated farm in Idaho, and that the spirit’s continuous column distillation process saves energy. American Harvest added 8,000 cases in 2013, Technomic’s 2014 SpiritsTAB Report notes—a volume gain of 67%.

Prairie Organic Spirits
Prairie debuted with its Minnesota-made, corn-based original organic vodka in 2009 and last year added an organic cucumber vodka and organic gin. (Volume for the spirits maker rose more than 45% in 2013.) Before fields are planted with single-vintage organic corn seed, they’re prepped for three years to allow the soil to “cleanse itself from any contaminants and to regenerate its nutrient base,” Prairie says. Buffer crops also are planted around Prairie’s fields to keep away any undesired chemicals from nearby farms. Prairie doesn’t use herbicides or pesticides, either, instead relying on prairie fires and wildlife to hep control weeds and pests. Leftover corncobs are turned into biofuel, and leftover grains are returned to farmers to use as feed.

Sierra Nevada
In 2012, Sierra Nevada diverted 99.8% of its solid waste from landfills via composting, recycling or reuse of materials. Organic waste from the brewery is composted for use in Sierra Nevada’s hop and barley fields and on-site gardens, and solar panels and on-site fuel cells provide the Chico, CA-based brewer with a combined 60% of its needed energy.

AB InBev
The world’s biggest brewer is aiming to maximize the efficiency of its water use by sharing best practices across growers and—in an acknowledgement of the challenges many of its farmers are facing—developing drought-tolerant barley varieties. According to SustainableBrands.com, AB InBev reduced water use by 5.4% in 2013, good enough savings of $2.5 million. The brewer last year also committed to eight environmental goals related to water management, packaging, and supply chain and logistics improvements that it aims to meet by 2017.

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Christine LaFave Grace

Christine LaFave Grace writes for and produces Technomic's Trends & Directions e-newsletters. She joined Technomic in 2013 as an associate editor. Her previous roles include assistant digital editor for Crain Communications’ Modern Healthcare magazine and associate editor at Reed Business Information’s Restaurants & Institutions magazine.

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