By Alex Clough, Creative Strategy Director

In the last twelve months, we have seen some of the most significant cultural and behavioural shifts in how people eat and drink since we started working with brands in the category fourteen years ago. 

There is now more opportunity than ever to connect with people, but with unprecedented progress comes significant challenges and potential pitfalls. Packaging and wastage, ingredients and quality, honesty and story authenticity, are all among the most critical considerations and brands ignore them at their peril.

Fundamentally, we are in the age of increasingly people-powered consumerism. The industry can change rapidly and only those with agility and a true understanding of what people want – and why – will prevail.

This week, we’re headed to the bar to discuss drinks…

Welcome Back To Gin Alley

Gin is officially the nation’s favourite drink, according to the latest poll by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). With 47 million bottles sold in 2017, we are seeing innovation across the board as brands try to capitalise on the wave of gin supremacy. The need for differentiation is affecting even more mainstream products, evidenced by an increase in unusually created, flavoured and coloured gins. 

The likes of Crucible are enabling bartenders to evolve from just serving to making liquids by providing access to expensive, experimental equipment. At the other end, even Aldi has got in on the trend by launching a pink gin in a particularly unsubtle quest for the millennial pound. The gin rush is very far from over. 

The Whisky Revolution

In 2016, Jack Daniel’s officially passed traditional scotch as the UK’s preferred whisky, a huge moment in the national drinking habits and something that has prompted a new wave of innovation on both sides.

Bourbon brands are strengthening their position, and scotch brands are pushing out a new wave of innovative releases and limited editions, such as Glendfiddich’s experimental series and the IPA Release, whilst the democratising ambitions of the folks behind the #OurWhisky movement is indicative of the new, more diverse whisky drinker. Elsewhere, other spirits have tried to get in on the whisky buzz, such as UWA Tequila, the world’s first tequila aged in Speyside whisky casks. Cheeky. 

Think Bigger Than Scotch

Despite its growing popularity, Scotch restrictions mean it’s unlikely we’ll see it match gin’s meteoric rise in the UK any time soon. So, for a lot of the most innovative whisky production you have to look beyond Scottish shores to world whiskies.

From the award-winning Paul John in Goa, the Diageo-backed Stauning in Denmark, the highly personal experience at Mackmyra in Sweden and of course, the wealth of globally popular whisky from Japan, Korea and Taiwan; more nations than ever are taking the best elements from age-old traditions and using local innovation to create something that is distinctly their own.

The Year of the Rum?

Gin may be Brits’ favourite tipple, but rum is the spirit seeing double-digit growth in some quarters. In the 2017 Waitrose Food & Drink Report, rum sales are up 11 percent and nearly 30 different rums are now on offer in-store.

The liquid’s history and the colourful cultures that gave birth to it are increasingly attractive to a more globally-minded audience. It has the right variety and creativity to potentially dominate the conversation in the coming year, provided it can do away with headline-grabbing question marks about authenticity.

Better When It’s Bitter

The widespread popularity of the Negroni (it even has its own WEEK), as well as the growing traction of the sweetly bitter Spanish Vermut and the uptick in craft porter and stout sales, all suggest the embracing of darker, more bitter flavours in the national palette.

It’s worth noting, though, that sales of the Porn Star Martini have also shot up by 1,449 percent, suggesting perhaps that this is instead all part of a huge wave of drinks aspiration taking over UK culture, all the way from craft ale houses to Be At One.


We Can Do It, In The Mix

It’s not just our alcohol that needs to be more premium than ever. Fever Tree sales in Waitrose are up 75 percent and more premium mixers (or mixers-with-a-difference) are joining the party, like Double Dutch Drinks from the de Haas Sisters, or The London Essence Company, both of which are taking the more affluent market by storm.

As higher price point alcohols become more popular, people seek drinks with craft, authenticity and the mixers to match. The best bartenders and home-mixologists are even making their own infusions, mixers and bitters, seizing the opportunity to add something homemade into the drink as a way to cultivate their own social currency among friends and customers.


Wrapped up in the need to pair premium spirits with premium mixers is the expectation that good establishments will offer a selection of sophisticated, intelligent and complex drinks that contain no alcohol at all. 

The farm-born Seedlip – interestingly self-styled first and foremost as a ‘Nature Company’ – is currently advertising for a ‘Farm Lab Manager’ to lead their real-world farming operations. They are growing fast. Last year, the Distill Ventures report suggested alcohol-free drinks for adults was the “biggest opportunity in the category”, so it’s no surprise those leading the innovation are investing heavily in the things that make them truly distinctive.

Let’s Drink To The Future  

Some experts predict that up to 50 percent of drinks enquiries will be made through digital assistants and voice search by 2020, meaning the rise of intelligent technology in the home will mean people start to turn to their digital bartenders and drinks wizards for inspiration. Moët Hennessy are on it, as are Pernod Ricard.

But, while it’s easy to imagine the ordering of products, and even the search for quick cocktail recipes while busy preparing ingredients, it will take far longer to replace the power of discovery and inspiration at the hands of good bartender. Perhaps never. 

Watch out NEXT WEEK for the trends in how and what we are eating…