3 - 4 July, 2023
Olympia London

The future of the UK drinks industry

It’s been – and this is an understatement – an interesting couple of years for the UK drinks industry.

A pandemic, Brexit and even the war on Ukraine has seen it in the headlines for both challenging and difficult reasons.

Analysis has seen that consumers are looking for premium items. Unknown categories are also having their chance in the spotlight. Lastly, supply chain issues and staffing shortages are all compounding the future of wine, beer and spirits in the years to come.

But there are some micro-trends and emerging initiatives that are working hard to build the industry back better. From NFTs to new formats and more inclusive practices, what does the future of the UK alcohol industry have in store?

Non-fungible drink tokens?

Love them or loathe them, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have entered the world of drinks.

For anyone still trying to get their head around the term, an NFT is a one-of-a-kind digital token storing valuable data that can be bought and sold as you would a piece of art.

They are created in the same way as the likes of bitcoin are and is based on blockchain technology. It can’t, however, be exchanged for a similar product.

Whisky has been quick to adopt the trend with the likes of The Dalmore and The Glenturret releasing numerous expressions as NFTs.

Bars have even taken a slice with Adam Handling’s Eve Bar launching what is thought to be the first cocktail menu collection as an NFT.

The drinks world hasn’t necessarily accepted NFTs with open arms but there is no arguing that they’ve caused a stir, but will they be around in the long run?

Drinks Brands with purpose

As the drinks market continues to grow, more and more brands are committing to do good not just when it comes to creating liquid, but for the communities surrounding them.

Coffee liqueur brand Maraba from Gorilla Spirits in Basingstoke has relaunched with a new charity partner, the Kula project. They work with coffee communities in Rwanda (where they get their coffee from) to help bring their people out of poverty and build entrepreneurial skills, as well as empower the women working there.

Mijenta Tequila’s foundation is working to support jimadors in Mexico to preserve their jobs.

The beer brand Wrestling Demons is also putting proceeds towards supporting people in hospitality with their mental health.

With more consumers and bartenders looking to drinks and to use products that go beyond their liquid, we can expect to see more brands investing in meaningful causes.

Table Service, please!

While bars, pubs and restaurants may be refilling with guests enjoying being able to eat and drink outside of their homes, the pandemic and Brexit have left the UK hospitality industry short of staff.

With European workers returning to the EU and a gaping skills shortage in the UK meaning that skeleton teams are operating across the country, industry bodies and bar owners are having to work hard to fill the gaps.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 164,000 hospitality vacancies between January and March 2022.

The Drinks Trust is one of those bodies trying to turn the tides. This year it launched its Develop initiative, working with educators and drinks brands – from the European Bartending school to the Institute of Brewing & Distilling, WSET and Plumpton College – to provide free qualifications for people in hardship to enter the industry.

Once candidates have finished their courses they are connected to employers, and hopefully, fill some of those thousands of jobs.

 

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New packaging formats

Boxes, pouches, cans: the vessels consumers and the trade can now buy their wine and spirits in has never been more wide ranging.

Calvados brand Avallen will soon be launching its paper bottle to the UK, while brands like Whitebox, MOTH Drinks, Uncommon and Kiss of Wine are making canned options for bar/retail hybrids even more accessible.

Perhaps most impactful for the bar has been the adoption of pouches. This is alloweing bars to continue to reach their consumers at home in an easily transportable format.

The close-loop distribution technology of Ecospirits has also brought more sustainable practices to bars too.

It’s worth keeping an eye on the weight of bottles too. Producers are opting for lighter bottles, such as Giffard, but will brands be penalised by the trade and consumers for not following suit?

A more inclusive industry

The last two years have also seen the focus on inclusivity in the industry sharpen dramatically.

Equity behind bars and across the worlds of wine, beer and spirits has been, thankfully, a topic that both sides of the bar are addressing and commitments are being put in place to make sure that minorities are represented more equally across the spectrum.

Foundations and organisations most recently launched include Equal Measures and the OurWhisky Foundation.

Equal Measures, led by Deano Moncrieffe and Hannah Lanfear, was founded to support marginalised groups and individuals and enrich possibilities for those from Black, Asian, and other minority ethnicities. They also support other marginalised groups, such as queer and gender queer persons, those who are neurodivergent, or who face systemic barriers to their progression. 

Equal Measures has already partnered with Spotfiy and Timeout London to raise awareness and give its candidates platforms to showcase their skills on.

The OurWhisky Foundation, founded by Becky Paskin, is also working to recognise, support and empower women working in the whisky industry through mentorship, internships, qualifications and more.

Pritesh Mody, Founder of World of Zing, will be hosting a masterclass on "Spotlight on… emerging drinks trends" at the upcoming Imbibe Live event on 4-5 July.

View the full masterclass programme and register now to get your ticket to Imbibe Live, the UK's biggest drinks trade event.

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