What we learned at the Non-Alcoholic Beverage Strategy Congress

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Club Soda was invited to organise two roundtable discussions at the Non-Alcoholic Beverage Strategy Congress. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it had the words ‘non-alcoholic’ in, and the event was in Barcelona, so we thought we would go and see what insights we could get about the changes in the drinks sector. We were not disappointed. We will have more to say about the roundtables later, but first, we’ll share some of the industry experts insights from the event.

Non-alcoholic drink trends

The growing demand for healthier drinks came up several times. People want less sugar, fewer calories, and also less artificial ingredients: drinks that are “better for you”. Legal and regulatory changes are also high on the agenda, the UK sugar tax is only one timely example. And many of the smaller drinks producers talked about the difficulties in getting their drinks into shops and bars – an issue that we at Club Soda have come across many times already.

Philip Coverdale from GlobalData shared some of their findings about the latest global consumer trends. He identified these four key insights and what they mean for drink producers:

1. Individualism and Self-branding

Social media is creating a digital narcissism, especially in younger consumers, and driving lifestyle trends. In a survey, 72% of consumers said that feeling physically attractive and creating a feeling of wellness was important to them – meaning they were engaged in actively seeking positive lifestyle choices.

Drink brands can join this trend by crowdsourcing campaigns (by setting up social media competitions etc), making sure their branding and packaging is shareable, and highlighting how they align with “clean” and “healthy” lifestyles.

2. Shareable and Sensory Appeal

Products that “excite the senses”, that are enjoyable and unique,  and designed for the digital world, will increasingly be the most attractive to consumers. Vivid colours and colour combinations and effects get noticed and shared. Consumers are also more and more open to new, exotic and foreign concepts and tastes.

60% of consumers globally find how enjoyable or unique a product is influential when buying soft drinks. 18% of those on social media share a photo of food or drink once a week – that may seem small but imagine how many photos that is.

3. Influencer Power

The biggest social media influencers and bloggers have millions of followers, and are trusted by consumers as authentic, real people. Collaborating with an influencer who shares important values with your brand can help reach the right audience; and don’t forget that a smaller following may equate to a more authentic connection.

Like Club Soda, where our reach is not only on social media, but also in the mainstream media, and connecting with bloggers ourselves. You just have to see the media hits we have had this year and also how much attention our festivals have received.

4. Digital Activism

Consumers expect brands to be more socially responsible, and will use social media as a tool to influence the world around them. They are also willing to pay a premium for products that align with their values and beliefs. It is therefore important to minimise your environmental impact, and to ensure your marketing is not seen as discriminatory to any group in society (it is not difficult to think of advertising campaigns that have seriously backfired).

Perceptions and misconceptions

At the two Club Soda roundtables, we were joined by companies such as Heineken, Carlsberg, Pepsi, Kerry and AGBarr, and we spearheaded a discussion about “Perceptions of alcohol-free drinks to consumers and how we can disrupt the norms to sell more”.

What are the issues that are stopping customers drinking more alcohol-free drinks, and venues from stocking them?

Many of the comments noted things we are already well aware of: the chequered history of this drinks category and the fact that the taste of some of these drinks is still not quite comparable to their alcoholic counterparts; the lack of knowledge by bar owners and managers; lack of demand; and the expectation that alcohol-free drinks should always be cheaper than alcoholic ones.

There were also many interesting thoughts that we may not have heard expressed before: for example the lack of strong brands that everyone would be familiar with, and which would be widely available in most venues. This means that customers have to ask for “something non-alcoholic” rather than a specific brand, and then negotiate with bar staff to try to find something they know (and know that they will like).

It was also pointed out that most advertising for alcohol-free drinks is not linked to going out, so the perception may become that they are not the right drink to have in a bar in the evening. In the same way, the image of alcohol (created in part by advertising) is of “fun”, whereas it is not for alcohol-free drinks.

When asked to think of possible solutions to one of the issues they had identified there were some great ideas, including treating alcohol-free cocktails exactly the same way as alcoholic cocktails: not to separate them to a different list, making them visually equal, and generally making it easy for customers to order them.

Improved branding, promotion and education (both of consumers and trade), as well as increased variety (for example creating many different beer types, not just another lager) were also discussed.

And finally, we again noted that there is a desperate need for a new name for all the “adult non-alcoholic drinks” – if you have an idea we’d love to hear it!

We also tasted some new drinks at the congress, and will share a couple of our favourites in a later post.


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