Research in Focus - The New Consumer and the Alcoholic Drinks Industry
The fiscal maelstrom of the' Great Recession' has had a profound impact on the global socio-economic landscape. Sweeping across the world in 2008 and 2009 and causing havoc in countries as diverse as Latvia, the US, South Korea and South Africa, the sharpest contraction in world output since the Great Depression dramatically reshaped consumption trends, bringing about the arrival of a new norm. Temporary or permanent, radically fresh or an acceleration of pre-existing shifts in drinking, going out, socialising and spending patterns, such dramatic movements are but the post-natal convulsions following the birth of a new type of consumer. Euromonitor International’s latest global briefing, Beyond the Crisis – The New Consumer and the Alcoholic Drinks Industry, is an attempt to identify and contextualise the shifts, decipher their implications and point to the direction the alcoholic drinks industry will take in response. Spiros Malandrakis, alcoholic drinks analyst with Euromonitor International, investigates.
Among the megatrends currently holding all FMCG industries (including alcoholic drinks) in their grip is the quest for value. Either appearing under the solemn guises of frugality and thrift or millennial-focused internet savvy shopping, the perennial ‘flight to quality’ is surfacing as the first-born offspring of the Great Recession. Further polarisation, trading down and across, the rapid expansion of internet retailing and discounter penetration and a flood of innovative packaging initiatives are the methods the alcoholic drinks industry is using to turn this trend into a tangible opportunity.
Every quest has a destination and the quest for value is not much different. Although escapism has been consumption’s ultimate cornerstone - even more so for alcoholic drinks – the heavy shadow of doom and gloom in our daily lives has made the need for escape all the more vital. This intrinsic desire is finding its champion in the proliferation of on-the-go drinking formats. Easier to manipulate and ideal for boosting impulse sales, convenient on-the-go-oriented packaging has been driving innovation, primarily focusing on wine - can, bag-in-box and pouch formats have revolutionised entrenched ideas regarding wine consumption. However, launches in beer and RTDs are also tapping into this trend, which is gaining momentum.
Meanwhile, although countless consumers have seen their incomes drop, many cannot forgo the 'wellness' habits they have got used to over time. With only a small number of countries escaping the obesity epidemic, weight management is becoming a necessity, while relying only on slimming products is no longer sufficient. Low-calorie, low-carb, low-abv, organic and natural alcoholic drinks variants are thus providing a ‘health and wellness’ halo for our increasingly beleaguered industry and are expected to increase their footprint in the future as health advocacy groups and government agencies continue their scathing attacks.
At the same time, consumers are spending more time at home with their friends and families, but they also want to have fun in this new entertainment hub. They are recreating the restaurant experience at home, cooking and baking from scratch. What consumers are drinking might be changing, but where they are drinking is changing too. While the trend itself is not new, it has led to a shift away from on-trade alcoholic drinks towards the off-trade channel in many markets for a number of years.
Within this context, more consumers are also replicating the bar experience at home, and have been aided by a flurry of new product launches ranging from at-home kegs and cocktail pre-mixes to wine barrels and constantly-evolving home draught formats.
While entrenched socio-cultural attitudes towards drinking outside the home and in a social context are further insulating on-trade sales, particularly in emerging markets across Asia-Pacific, these are also not immune due to the gradual introduction of more stringent legislative initiatives. As such, regulatory factors stand to benefit off-trade alcoholic drinks consumption in emerging markets over the longer term, prompting more off-trade-focused new product launches and increased investment in the segment.
The downturn has also forced consumers to reflect and aspire to more than just materialism and self-indulgence. As increasing numbers are becoming more interested in corporate responsibility, there are ways for them to find out which companies are green and what they are doing for the environment. Websites are now available for consumers to discover which companies are the most eco-friendly and which beers are more ethical. Many alcoholic drinks companies now publish information on environmental activities in sustainable development reports. Manufacturers are responding by launching products catering for this demand; examples include reducing packaging and/or changing packaging type from glass to PET. Going forward, eco-awareness will continue to be a key trend and although it will continue to be a relative niche, it will become more mainstream in the long term.
Last but not least, demographic issues, major growth discrepancies, ageing populations and the concurring shift in regional and country-specific consumption footprints spell the arrival of a new world order. With the world’s population set to reach some 7.2bn people in 2015, up by nearly 12% from 6.4bn in 2005, a generic focus on developed markets appears rather outdated. Adaptability and diversification will be the name of the game as new audiences ranging from seniors to female consumers will have to rescue the industry from the pull of maturity.
Acknowledging the arrival of this new norm is the first step - adapting to it follows. Those quick enough to move with the times will be the ones to lead the industry in the still tumultuous years to come.
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