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Inside the Industry

Pandemic Upended the Spirits Industry But Opens New Possibilities

A new year, and the spirits market begins what global market intelligence firm Mintel forecasts as a three-year “recovery period” from the impact of COVID-19. The pandemic accelerated trends in alcohol consumption that will continue to shape consumer demand in 2022. The list:

  • Cocktails at home. Cocktails went home in 2020. During stay-at-home orders, consumers engaged virtually with brands to try new spirits, cocktail recipes, and techniques. As the pandemic wore on, they invited guests over for cocktails instead of going out. While on-premise consumption has resumed in many parts of the U.S., at-home cocktail experimentation is expected to remain important. According to Mintel’s November 2021 research on dark spirits: “Spirit brands and spirit adjacent categories face new opportunities to engage with and develop products for home cocktail enthusiasts.”
  • Less but better. A notable trend of the past few years has seen consumers drinking less but consuming higher-end brands when they do. Heightened pandemic-related health concerns sustained this trend, driving 40% revenue growth in super-premium spirits in 2020. In the super-premium category, American Whiskey volume rose 17%.1 Industry observers expect continued demand for higher-end spirits in 2022.
  • Sober curious. They’re not completely sober, according to Nielsen, but these consumers are open to non-alcoholic drinks and “mocktails” in addition to alcoholic beverages. This is another group that may seek higher-end spirits when they consume alcohol.
  • RTDs. Ready-to-drink cocktails represent growth opportunities in 2022. They can compete in traditional beer-drinking occasions and may appeal to consumers who don’t make cocktails at home. Both brown and white spirits star in these new on-the-go products, but Mintel calls out the potential for brown spirits: “RTD cocktails represent a key growth catalyst for the entire spirits market, especially for dark spirits with strong brand equity.”

Other insight from Mintel’s RTD research:

  • Dark spirit consumers are mostly likely to try a RTD cocktail that contains a branded spirit (39 percent versus 26 percent for the total market)
  • They would purchase RTDs with a unique flavor profile (39 percent) compared with the total market, where 31 percent would be motivated by a unique flavor profile
  • They also want a refreshing flavor profile

As the impact of these trends becomes clearer, distillers may need a partner to create a new spirit or support production of existing brands. MGP is ready with premium whiskeys, bourbons, ryes and more. Learn more here.