For an event entitled Alcohol Trends and Innovations the day’s conference included a surprising amount of content around the drive for low and no alcohol. Doubtless driven by those pesky Millennials and Gen Z lot who don’t seem to value the good old fashioned binge drinking culture my generation and those before worked so hard to establish (only joking). Equally the omnipresent march of the health and wellness trend, will have had a fair amount to do with it, as consumers look to reduce calories, drink less and generally consume more wholesome food and drink. That’s not to say volume drinking is dead, Jägermeister themselves don’t condone or promote the ‘Jägerbomb’, but there is no denying this consumer-led ritual is alive and well in UK bars and clubs. However, despite the UK having a drinking population of 30 million (the large majority of whom, 96%, drink within the recommended limits, with only around 4% straying into the realms of ‘a problem’ – I’ll refrain from naming any beans) there is an overall trend for consumers to drink less, but better, with an increased focus on the quality, provenance and brand story. Drink still plays an important part in our social culture, both out of home in bars and restaurants (on trade) and when purchased in retail to drink at home (off trade).

The day was crammed with interesting insights but here are my top ten:

1. If anyone can create a no/low alcoholic wine or sparking wine that actually tastes great they will be millionaires over-night!

2. Far from its laddie image Jägermeister is an 83 year old German brand and is made up of 56 natural herbs and spices, including ginger, cardamom and star anise (as well as 35% alcohol). A shot is served 2,600 times a minute, if you drop the bottle it doesn’t break (allegedly-maybe don’t try this at home), they persuaded 1,600 people to get tattooed with the brand as part of a campaign in Spain, it’s the 8th largest premium spirit and is nearly always ordered as a social group drink with on average 3.2 shots ordered. They are currently re-positioning the brand with a five year strategy and the help of brand ambassadors and brand partners such as The Gibson, Brunch, Warner Music, Soho Radio and alike. Core to this is their 8 brand commandments and an ethos of ‘Irreverent Perfectionism’ along with an ICE ‘Ice Cold Execution’ perfect serve and with these underpinning the brand they are looking to carve out a new more premium positioning for Jägermeister which is true to its routes and yet manages to accommodate both the volume and the premium drinkers.

3. Operators like M&B are looking to move more drinks like rose and cocktails onto draft. The latter helping with service turnaround and consistency, but possibly at the price of theatre. ‘Soft-tails’ (or what I would have called mocktails once upon a time) are growing in importance as consumers look for exciting grown-up soft drink options when out socialising.

4. Craft Beer is drunk by 7.7 million consumers out of home and is the exciting and dynamic part of the beer market that everyone wants a piece of, but actually only accounts for 5.6% of beer in the on-trade and is growing at only 0.5%. Unsurprisingly it over indexes in London which has 30% of the total craft beer volume. Big trends include ‘craze for haze’ (cloudy beers) and sour beer, but it seems the USA are streets ahead of us when it comes to beer and cider innovation so if you’re looking to be inspired then head state-side.

5. The time has come for Iced Tea! Having worked on an Ice Tea brand in the past I know how tricky it once was to get us Brits to get our heads around ‘cold tea’ but Harry Brompton’s seems to be doing it. Maybe it’s the timing as the health trend truly hits and consumers are looking for lower calorie (under 100cal) options, maybe it’s the grown-up soft drink positioning of a craft brand, maybe it’s the taste, maybe it’s the fact two of the varieties have vodka – who knows? But this quintessentially London brand seems to be making it work. Parent company Tudor Drinks co. has also just launched another brand Loveau (fruit infused water) and set up a charity link with Diabetes UK, so it’s certainly one to watch.

6. The ‘no and low alcohol’ category is in its infancy but is set to make waves. Seedlip, the trailblazer for alcohol free spirits stressed the need for more authentic brands with a story to enter the market. Seedlip has high hopes for category growth category which will doubtless be driven by healthier and more discerning consumers who want exciting grown-up non-alcoholic options and are prepared to pay for them. However, the challenge remains in the on trade for higher priced ‘soft drinks’ to compete with the kind of margin operators make on pre-mix soft drinks. If consumers want them (which it looks like they rightly do) they will demand them and we’ll have to see what that does to the out of home market.

7. The espresso martini is the 9th most ordered cocktail and coffee cocktails are on the rise with a little help from Tia Maria’s marketing dept. So it seems that just as the UK is coffee shop mad (with 20,000 today and 30,000 coffee shops predicted for 2025) we are equally keen to get our coffee kick from our cocktails. Want the best Irish coffee in town? Head to Soho and Swift bar, where it’s their signature serve and their best selling drink, alternatively why not try a White Russian, a Nitro Espresso Martini or Tai G&T (Mmm… not so sure on the last one).

8. Italy may be a country known for its wines and of course Prosecco, but it seems that according to Asahi, beer is taking hold and out-selling wine in regions like Calabria, Lazio, Puglia and Sardegna. While traditionally drunk with pizza (70% of beer volume is consumed with pizza) it is now extending out into other occasions and winning over the hearts of Italians.

9. Premium gins are still going strong. You could be forgiven for thinking that the premium gin bubble is due to burst with the proliferation of craft brands popping up at every turn. However, the figures are in and it looks like currently the spirits world is basically being propped up by premium gin. At the last count there were 315 distilleries in the UK (possibly more by the time this blog goes live) that’s up a massive 172% (mainly due to the relaxing of the minimum volume requirement regulations). We exported £532m of gin last year up from £422m in 2015. Looking at spirit growth, only premium gin is growing at any real rate, but our speaker from WSTA made a good point…If you want to make whisky (the booze not the office dog) you have to make gin first and then age it in barrels so perhaps in a few years’ time there will be a whisky boom as those distillers move onto the second phase of their game plan!

10. English sparkling wine may be coming into its own with the recent JD Wetherspoons announcement to serve Denbies (down the road from us) instead of Champagne. UK wineries have never had such a spotlight and with vineyards across the south producing some great wines, now is the time to get on board with Camel Valley, Nyetimber and Denbies.

With lots of different perspectives from on trade and off trade, as well as a mix of suppliers and manufacturers the conference offered a strong balance of content, now you’ll have to excuse me as I head off to make that million producing no alcohol wine!