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What's coming up in beer in 2021? - Predictions for the Year Ahead - comment

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As 2021 kicks off, beer commentator Stephen Beaumont offers his views on the key trends that are set to shape the category during the next 12 months.

What does this year have in store for the global beer category?

What does this year have in store for the global beer category?

If ever there was a year to prove the folly of attempted predictions, it was 2020. Looking back over my prognostications from one year ago, they all seem, well, quite quaint, really. Hard seltzer, 'green' initiatives, CBD beverages…and not a word about a global pandemic or the near-decimation of the on-premise channel.

Still, one must give it the old college try, mustn't one? And so, here are my crystal ball views for the approaching eleven months.

  • Seltzer Days I

While I remain unconvinced that the rise of hard seltzer in the US is really anything more than the industry's most impressive introductory curve ever - with massive news coverage and publicity convincing people of the need to try each and every flavour on offer - there's no denying the segment's impressive strength. That said, there's also little doubt that at least some of its enduring popularity is fueled by the regular launch of new flavours, which in turn makes me wonder if the January release of Boston Beer Co's Truly Iced Tea Hard Seltzer mash-up might ultimately prove to be, if not a full-blown 'shark tank' moment, at least the point when the category begins to cool down.

  • Seltzer Days II

Notwithstanding the above, entrants continue to flock to the hard seltzer category, eager to snap up a piece of the small part of the market not already claimed by Truly and White Claw. In 2021, this will almost assuredly lead to the 'craft-ification' of hard seltzer, with small brewers loudly declaring their uniqueness via the employment of real fruit as opposed to fruit flavours, unusual combinations such as the Wild Basin Habanero Piña Colada from Oskar Blues Brewing Co, even hop-forward seltzers like Fulton Beer's Hopped! and sweeter options such as Evil Twin's Evil Water Pastry Seltzer line.

  • Everyone comes gunning for beer

The US beverage marketing year kicked off with Jim Beam firing a shot over the bow of the international brewing concerns with their 'Need a Break From Beer' campaign. Touting the joys of a Bourbon & ginger ale as the "perfect alternative for those who are bored of beer", the ads are intended to be aired throughout the year and obviously take aim a perceived weakness in the beer market.

With hard seltzer already seen to have exposed a vulnerability in the beer market - rightly or wrongly; some data suggests that the majority of hard seltzer consumers are coming from wine or spirits - it's a safe bet that others will follow Beam's lead as the year progresses.

  • Whither cask?

Crossing the Atlantic to the UK, it may come to pass that COVID's most high-profile victim in the beer segment is cask-conditioned ale. Utterly dependent on pub sales, cask ale took a beating during 2020's various stages of lockdown, and the start of 2021 isn't looking any more promising, with no less a champion of cask-conditioning than Timothy Taylor's announcing in early-January the cessation of all cask ale production.

When pubs finally do reopen, cask will face the twin challenges of winning back drinkers from draught versions of the canned and bottled beers they've been drinking at home and trying to assure quality, while beleaguered publicans attempt to work through old stocks of beer. One hopes that it doesn't all prove too much for the survival of England's traditional pub tipple. 

  • Speaking of lockdowns...

As more people are vaccinated and the pandemic finally starts to recede, the world will begin its return to normal - superficially, at least. In reality, however, it will likely take some time for consumers to shake off their lockdown-imposed behaviours, which will mean fewer patrons at bars and pubs for some time to come, and different needs and desires among beer drinkers.

Such needs will have to be met by brewers, and in some cases already are, as seen in Asahi's new Nama Jockey can for its Super Dry flagship, which is said to replicate the finer foam of a draught beer. It's even possible that 2021 might finally be the year when, after innumerable false starts, at-home mini-draught systems finally catch on.

  • Back to bottles

Whatever becomes of the hospitality trade, whether it stagnates for some time or bounces back as is suggested by recent activity in Australia, it's a sure thing that draught beer sales will continue to drag for some time to come. And so, we turn our attention to packaged beer, and the present shortage of aluminium cans. 

While firms such as Ball Corp, the global leader in can manufacturing, suggest that the shortage might not last much beyond the end of this year, that still leaves many months of limited can availability, a situation that's especially concerning for smaller brewers who operate without extensive reserves of materials. 

Fortunately for those same breweries, their smallness is also their strength, as they can be nimble enough to shift between packaging options on, if not quite a dime, then at least something close to it. Bottom line: Expect to see more bottled beers as the year progresses.

The beer category in 2020 - Click here for just-drinks' Review of the Year


Sectors: Beer & cider

Expert Analysis

United States of America Beer and Cider Market Insights 2020 - Key Insights and Drivers behind the Beer and Cider Market Performance

United States of America Beer and Cider Market Insights 2020 - Key Insights and Drivers behind the Beer and Cider Market Performance

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