By Tom Mabon – DVJ Insights UK

Anyone who has been on news websites or social networks in the last year, will have seen a dramatic rise in the headlines stating that certain activities were in decline, or in more sensational articles, maybe even dead. There’s even a suggested Google search of “millennials are killing”, a search which generates 2.1 million results, and proclaims the death of everything from bars of soap to playing golf. According to recent press, the current topic lying in the path of this destructive trend is the consumption of alcohol. A threat that I was very concerned about.

Fortunately, a recent study conducted by DVJ Insights has allayed these fears, finding that 68% of adults drank alcohol on a weekly basis. Of this group, 48% were drinking every day or almost every day. Once again, and unsurprisingly, it appears that the lazy segmentation themed headlines are wrong. Not only is drinking alcohol not “dying out”, it’s in roaring health.

The “crafty” rise of consumer choice
With “craft” being the new industry buzzword, appearing on the labels of beers, spirits, and wine, the options for the consumer are greater than ever; with new brands, new products, and new spin offs popping up in accelerating succession. Whilst this is great news for the consumer, it spells trouble for the corporations, as they struggle to fight off an ever-growing list of competitors for a dwindling share of the spend.

Companies have approached this challenge in different ways; some prioritise their on-trade customer experience, others controversially purchase up-and-coming challenger brands, whilst some opt for a packaging and logo refresh. Regardless of the tactic, the strategy remains the same: give the customer what they want.  The companies that win are the ones who spot the trend ahead of the demand, rather than those who react to them, and consequently turn up rather late to the overcrowded pub, barely in time for last orders.

Drinking in the learnings
In the alcohol study DVJ uses a storytelling technique, which asks consumers to share details about their last drinking experience, and then asks them to get creative and design their own, ideal, alcoholic drink. The respondent then selects various attributes of their story with the use of story markers, to add a quantitative element. Comparing the performance of the story markers between the last drink to the ideal drink, creates an index which demonstrates where the gaps in the market are.

Top of the leader board with an index of 227, is ‘a twist on a classic’.  More than double the amount of people included this characteristic when dreaming up their ideal drink, but not when describing their last beverage.  As an example of what that might mean, one respondent created “a chocolate flavoured spiced rum” in their story.  Furthermore, the tropical theme that is currently exploding across many sectors (there are 12 different coconut products at my last count), continues to play out in alcohol, with many stories mentioning “coconut” or “mangoes”. Whilst this theme may not appeal to everyone, it’s at least permission for breweries and distillers to start thinking a little more outside the box.

Second, with an index of 170, is that the drink should be ‘indulgent’. Whilst there is a need state of ‘drinking to celebrate’ or ‘as a treat’, this trend of indulgence isn’t limited solely to these occasions. Indulgence, with its many positive associations and connotations, was evident in stories of consumers wanting a drink to transport them somewhere – most commonly a beach.
Interestingly, consumers also subconsciously link mouth feel and texture to indulgence.  Many of the stories contained “creamy”, “crispy”, “refreshing” and “lightly sparkling” or similar.

Both ‘twist on a classic’, and ‘indulgent’ are beautifully captured in the following story:

“It would have to be something light with minimum alcohol. A pale fizzy drink similar to an Elderflower champagne to be consumed on a night out or a celebration. It could be bought anywhere and drunk from old fashioned Babycham type glasses. It would appeal to women and look classy but be healthier and it wouldn’t affect you as much as Prosecco.” 

I’ll take a bottle of innovation please
So, alcohol producers of the world, you can rest a little easier this evening: the runaway train of destruction is not headed your way.  Your industry and products remain honoured and admired by many British people. However, if you want to get ahead of the game, you might want to start considering breaking out of the confines of safe, mass-produced, bland alcohol with a jazzy label, and start looking towards the edges of the industry, perhaps even looking to the lessons from the success stories in the snacking market.

Whilst “a chocolate flavoured rum” or “rhubarb flavoured wine” may not appeal to every discerning drinker, consumers will respond to the creativity. Make your drinks rich in perfume, bold in flavour, and complex in profile.  Sloppy, beige, mundane drinks simply don’t cut the mustard anymore. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to brew some low alcohol, fruit flavoured, fizzy wine that can be drunk out of Babycham glasses. Sounds like it’ll make a killing.