After a year marred by a global public health crisis, 2020 has left many thirsty for in-person social gatherings with friends and family. Morning catch-ups at the coffee corner, afterwork happy hour at the favorite waterhole or weekend drinks in town have mostly been replaced (for now) with coffees-to-go, virtual apéros, or alfresco drinking in winter like in summer. Consumers have become today their own baristas and bartenders, imbibing alone at home or at a distance outside.

So how, and with what, will we quench our thirst in 2021?

Five iconic gin tonic cocktails are so 2021!! 
Low to no alcohol cocktails are on the rise this 2021

In this pandemic-era, there is no doubt that the megatrends for the new year will center around  healthier and ‘cleaner,’ more sustainable, premium and socially responsible products in line with the mantras – good for me, good for the planet – and quality over quantity.

With movements like mindful drinking and “sober curious” gaining popularity, research indicates that alcohol consumption has declined with younger generations drinking less as they show greater interest in holistic wellness and health. And the beverage industry has been paying attention to these shifts in concern, consciousness and habits.

Functional and healthy beverages are on the rise, and no and low alcohol ready-to-drink offerings from North America to Europe and Asia-Pacific have boomed as they prove to be both a more convenient and ‘safer’ option in a world still plagued by COVID-19 measures and barrier gestures. But globally, we’re seeing an array of interesting new product developments, packaging innovations and surprising mergers and acquisitions with the lines between the health movement, the low- and no- alcoholic category and the wider drinks industry becoming increasingly blurred.

Beyond these general tendencies, we take a look at six particular drink trends for the year ahead.

1. The bubble tea craze goes global

Despite being invented in the 1980s, bubble tea is set to see its popularity soar to new heights. From the US to Germany, China to Brazil, the bubble tea industry is going global with its market expected to grow by almost $2 billion to reach $4.3 billion by 2027.

The refreshing Taiwanese tea-based drink with its tapioca or fruit jelly ‘bubbles’ is appealing to health-conscious individuals enjoying the healthier variants low in sugar, with organic soya milk, green tea or fruity mixes as well as a younger generation seduced by its 200 or so different flavor combinations and even more customizable options making for a truly unique, tasty and fun drink.

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2. Fermented drinks as a health-booster

Increased awareness on the importance of fueling our body with quality and nutritious food and drink is driving a rapid growth in fermented beverages, occupying a significant portion within the functional and healthy drinks category.

It’s estimated that probiotic beverages are expected to achieve over $77 billion in sales by 2025, almost double the revenue generated worldwide in 2018. While kombucha has been topping the leader board for some years, it’s now got some serious competition.

Water kefir, with its more diverse probiotic strains shown to help boost the immune system and aid digestion, is gaining momentum and creeping into the mainstream. As is the fermented Mexican soda Tepache – another healthy, flavorsome, sustainable alternative to kombucha. While not new in itself, it has promising prospects in this ‘health-conscious’ era, but hey, it’s just a gut feeling!

3. Wines and champagnes with star power

Celebrity beverage endorsements are nothing new. Think George Clooney and Nespresso, Jennifer Aniston and Smart Water, or countless sporting stars endorsing energy drinks. But expect to see more and more vineyards and champagne houses partnering with big names to capitalize on their glamorous images and extend their respective brand portfolios.

After John LegendKylie Minogue or Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz is the latest celebrity to venture into the wine business with her “clean” wines. The range comprises of an organic and vegan French rosé and Spanish white with no added sugar, with Diaz tapping into both the wellness trend and that of the growing ‘thirst’ for ‘pink’ wine.

Such partnerships are also strategic in helping introduce wines and champagnes to new consumers, in particular millennial drinkers drawn to celebrity and wellness lifestyles, and who aren’t impartial to the Instagrammable aesthetic of a fizzy or rose-tinted drink.

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4. Boxed wine as a sustainable (and sanitary) choice

Did you know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, bag-in-a-box wine was the supermarket alcoholic “go-to” beverage?

The draw? Beyond the product within the bag, boxed wine is easier to store, it better preserves open wine, and is proving a more hygienic and sustainable option, in particular for restaurants. With each three-liter box generating about half the carbon dioxide emissions to that of a glass bottle, boxed wine is also cheaper to transport, stock and more environmentally-friendly. Something that even the more premium wine houses can’t ignore.

While wine connoisseurs may jump to the conclusion that boxed wine equates to poor quality, industry experts are suggesting that that’s changing, and fast, as sales are forecast to continue surging around the world in 2021.

5. Canned cocktails with premium products

While some may have enjoyed following online mixology tutorials to create their own home-made cocktails, many long for the days when original creations were served ready-made for immediate consumption.
Well, spirit brands and hotel chains like the Marriott have wasted no time to offer the perfect solution and create a variety of delicious, bartender-quality, ready-to-drink cocktails in cans. Tipped to be the hottest trend in the alcoholic beverage space in 2021, the development of prepared cocktails-to-go has, according to Nielsen Premium Panel data, accelerated 171% in 2020, and shows no signs of slowing down.

With high-quality ingredients, authentic flavors, options between low-calorie, sugar and alcohol or premium spirits, and convenient and sanitary packaging – grab-and-go cocktails are here to stay.

6. Spiked sodas and alcohol-free beers and spirits

With interest in low and no alcohol by volume (ABV) drinks skyrocketing over the last few years, more and more people are looking for a middle ground between tee-total and drinker, between functional and indulgent, between high-quality and convenience.

Consequently, low and non-alcoholic beverages are flooding the market and is the space to watch. From non-alcoholic beers and premium mocktails by spirit brands to the boom of hard seltzers now spilling over into hard coffees and kombucha – consumers are going to be spoilt for choice. Whether it’s wanting something with less sugar and alcohol, with premium products, looking for a slight ‘kick’ in traditional non-alcoholic beverages or an alternative to beer, this growing category ensures there’s something for every taste bud and type of drinker.

As we look to turn our backs on 2020, and raise our glasses to a new year, the question still lingers as to whether the drinking habits developed in a COVID-era will prevail in a post-pandemic world. While there is still so much uncertainty, what is clear is that the increasing consumer interest in health, wellness and mindfulness is shaping the beverage industry as a whole as it seeks to quench this thirst for holistic balance.

For being able to choose alcohol-free beverages without having to sacrifice flavors, fizz or authenticity. For indulging in a drink without having to abstain completely. For a return to more simplicity with natural and ‘clean’ products. For drinking less in quantity but better in quality.

Cheers to that!


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