The global Covid-19 pandemic has heightened awareness among consumers about their personal health and wellbeing, as well as the health and sustainability of the planet. 

Consumers are prioritising different needs and starting to think more critically about their values, their role in the world and their impact on the earth.

There has been a move at the top of the NielsenIQ Hierarchy of Health & Wellness Needs, as consumers consider how they can protect themselves and their families from immediate health threats. That has led to a significant shift towards hygiene products and those that prevent transmission of germs.

As pandemic fears have eased, minds have focused more on altruistic, selfless care and improving the world, with a desire for more environmentally friendly and ethical products. COP26 also brought some stark realities to the front of mind for many people in this area. 

A consideration for the drinks industry, then, is how much value consumers put on products that are claimed to be healthier and more sustainable.

NielsenIQ’s February 2022 Homescan Survey showed that 60% of households believe it is important to buy sustainably made grocery products. Reducing food waste is the biggest concern (45%), followed by buying local or British (36%) and products with minimal or no packaging (26%).

Sustainability and health are always going to be intrinsically linked, but reducing alcohol intake is where the two could potentially come together. Trends show that there has been a steady increase in Google search queries for non-alcoholic drinks over the past five years, with New Year and Dry January identified as the peak periods of interest.

So it is perhaps no surprise that no/low alcohol continues to gain in importance. NielsenIQ data for the year to June 11 shows that total low/no was up 4.5%, lapping the pandemic-boosted period of a year ago, and up more than 37% on pre-pandemic levels. 

Growth in total low/no was driven by spirits, up 29.6%, and beer and cider, up 7.3%, the largest low/no segment and now worth £109 million annually. Low/no wine is the only sub-category that was unable to beat its Covid peak, declining by 3.9%.

Changing shopper values over the past two years have seen the focus shift from the protective and urgent me-first care seen at the start of the pandemic, to a much more altruistic view as consumers look to cater for their own personal health or wellbeing needs and to advocate more environmental, ethical, humanitarian and/or philanthropic causes. 

Scotland’s upcoming Deposit Return Scheme and Green Distilleries funding – a UK government scheme to provide money to develop technologies that enable the use of low-carbon fuel in spirits production – are good kickstarts for the drinks industry’s sustainable practices, but there is still more that can be done. 

Showcasing support for such initiatives and/or including sustainability messages on packaging could be one such step forward for the sector, as would shifts to more sustainable or recyclable materials. 

With awareness of both personal and the planet’s health and wellbeing at an all-time high, those manufacturers who choose to commit to more sustainable practices may very well find themselves in a much healthier position commercially as well.