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How the pandemic changed drinks category behaviour

Ben Sillence from brand design agency Lewis Moberly explores how the attitudes of drinks brands and consumers have changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic

Ben Sillence Lewis Moberly

In a turbulent world, we are threatened by dystopian fear, yet hopeful of a utopian future. The pandemic has accentuated these polarised attitudes, permeating everyday behaviour; how we socialise, where we shop, what we value.

These shifting attitudes are becoming more evident in the drinks category. Previously emerging trends have been accelerated into the mainstream and category conventions challenged. 

Those that see the tumultuous state of the world as a chance to ‘reset’ envisage a more progressive, optimistic future. Accepting of radical change for environmental gain, they have driven a recalibration of what luxury means, particularly in conservative drinks categories, such as Champagne.

Previously expected cues of quality are being contested by more progressive brands. Ruinart, for example, has dispensed with conventional, heavy giftboxes, instead introducing a moulded paper case complete with a paper ‘button’ closure which fits around the bottle like a second skin. The sleeve is 100 per cent recyclable and nine times lighter than conventional Champagne packaging, but retains beautiful detailing and finishes, as appropriate.

With sustainability top of mind for consumers in premium categories, brands are making brave moves that may well redefine the aspirational codes in packaging and product. While aesthetics and its execution will challenge sustainability in categories like Champagne, they no longer have to be mutually exclusive. 

The confinement of the pandemic has also driven an appreciation of what’s closer to home. This, in turn, has driven a greater celebration of provenance, making it more an expression of character and community.

A limited-edition mezcal from OAX Original embodies this shift, with its bottle structure inspired by the particular architecture and materials of the small town it is produced in. This hyper-local approach sees provenance become something more intrinsic, with a texture and shape you can touch.

The flip side of this optimistic mindset, is the fear that we are slipping into a dystopian world – one that’s more fragmented, isolated and divisive. As society struggles to adapt to seismic changes to everyday life, we look for ways to regain a sense of control. 

This is manifesting itself in drinks with consumers increasingly taking a hand in what they consume – even down to making it themselves. Homebrewing has seen a 500 per cent increase over the lockdowns (according to data published in The Telegraph), with some new, innovative brands looking to make the process easier to adopt.

Given the stratospheric rise of craft beer, the founders of The Greater Good Fresh Brewing Co believed that the category was due a 21st-century reinvention. After running a crowdfunding campaign earlier this year, the company has launched The Pinter, a unit that allows you to brew 10 pints of fresh beer or cider from the comfort of your own home. 

With its contemporary brand aesthetic, practical product design and letterbox-friendly refill packs, it may well pull homebrewing away from being the niche hobby its known for now and into the everyday kitchen of the future.

One of the prominent features of the pandemic, which drove a more pessimistic outlook, was the level of misinformation, ‘fake news’ and subsequent distrust. This cynicism has elevated drinker’s wariness over ingredients and production processes, driving greater adoption of products that profess to be ‘clean’. 

One category that’s been particularly impacted is wine. Launched by American actor Cameron Diaz and entrepreneur Katherine Power in 2020, US wine brand Avaline entices drinkers with transparency over its additive-free credentials. For example, each of Avaline’s wines features a detailed ingredient list that explains which additives were used in its production and why. 

Brands will need to look at the examples of Avaline, and adopt bolder, more direct communication of authenticity to cut through to sceptical consumers. In a post-truth world, do not expect consumers to take you on your word.

With some seeing turbulence and uncertainty as an opportunity to reach for a better future, brands have responded with more purposeful products that challenge the norm. Alternatively, drinkers are looking to take more control, and demand ever greater levels of transparency from brands in a world drowning in misinformation.  

However drinks brands decide to respond in the future, we can be sure this dichotomy of attitudes will continue to harden. 


17 September 2021