Cans, D2C, sustainability and celebrities – the biggest trends in spirits

close up of two cans of cocktails in front of a person in lilac trousers

From how spirits are packaged to how they reach the consumer and who promotes them, Maverick Drinks co-founder Michael Vachon pinpoints the most important trends in spirits for retailers

Every brand in a can

Brands such as Gordon’s have long been available as a gin in a tin, but with the RTD market projected to continue outpacing the growth of the wider spirits category, it seems just about every spirits brand is looking at how it can get in on the can action.

There has been a flurry of new canned cocktail releases from brands big and small, but there is only so much shelf space that can be dedicated to this convenient format. Established brands see it as a way to extend their reach into more convenient occasions, while smaller brands see it as an ideal way to drive trial with simple serves. 

That said, we’re starting to see a wave of larger brands branching out into more complex cocktails, highlighting not just the signature spirit & mixer serves, but the cocktails they hope consumers will continue to associate them with, such as Absolut’s latest canned entry, the Absolut Passion Fruit Martini. 

D2C and independent retail

The pandemic no doubt accelerated drinks companies selling their products through their own websites, as traditional routes to market closed down, and for independent retailers, this is often seen as fundamentally detrimental to their business – every bottle sold directly through the brand is a bottle that isn’t purchased from a traditional retailer, right? However, this ignores how consumers actually shop - consumers want to buy their favourite brands in the most convenient way possible, they want to support local independents more than ever, and there are often cheaper ways to purchase than directly through the brands’ websites. 

The brands that are executing D2C strategies well are those that are using the platforms to grow and engage with their communities, and above all else, learn more about who their consumers are and how they use their products. This provides them with valuable data to enable them to more effectively target opportunities and provide support to the traditional routes to market. D2C doesn’t replace traditional retail, but rather supports it with better information about what works and what doesn’t from a marketing perspective.

Sustainability standards

We’re beyond paper straws, people. Consumers increasingly expect that the products they buy don’t just not hurt the planet, but actually make things better. Enter B Corp and their gold-standard certification for ethical brands, which are increasingly being given shelf space in the major retailers to help consumers who want to vote with their wallets.

Spirits brands such as Two Drifters Rum and the newly-launched Ellers Farm Distillery have made it a core part of their mission to be carbon negative from day one.

Some of this is down to necessity. The tequila category, for one, has been a victim of its own success, with sales absolutely booming in the US and, as a result, mature agave (which can take 10+ years to grow before it can be used for tequila production) has been in short supply. This rapid depletion of the agave crop has ushered in a new wave of environmentally conscious brands, such as Mijenta Tequila, with an increased focus on sustainability and transparency. 

When it comes to transparency, businesses including Provenance.org take it a giant leap forward, empowering brands to make their entire supply chains transparent, all backed up by evidence and stored on blockchain. Their platform is used by spirits brands such as Avallen to show every step of their production, from tree to glass. 

Mainstream low and no

This is certainly not a new trend, but the no and low movement is finally starting to crack into the mainstream with every major brewer now firmly on-board with alcohol-free beers, wide availability of non-alc spirits, and even boozeless wines now gracing the shelves of the largest grocers. No longer are they catering to just the people who can’t drink, they’re increasingly appealing to people who, for whatever reason, simply choose not to. 

This is no doubt helped by the quality of these products getting better every year, with some not just approximating their alcoholic counterparts, but outright trouncing them on taste. This is all further confirmed by the IWSC, who have seen a huge increase in entries into the No/Low category and with more than ever earning high praise.

Celebrity status

The last trend that shows no sign of slowing down is the proliferation of celebrities attaching themselves to new brands. After the success of George Clooney’s Casamigos and it’s nearly $1 billion acquisition by Diageo, celebrities of all types have looked to replicate the model across nearly every drinks category. It’s no longer just actors and musicians getting in on the act either. Recent launches have included spirits from Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, who launched his brand Howler Head at London’s O2 Arena to great fanfare, and Jensen Button debuted his blended whisky, Coachbuilt, to a select group of whisky writers and influencers. These partnerships have so far had mixed success, but the ones that seem to endure are where the celebrities most seem to have an authentic appreciation for the spirit and enthusiastically promote the drink in a genuine way.

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