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Friday Read: What’s going to drive us to drink after the pandemic?

Published:  29 May, 2020

Rowena Curlewis, CEO of drinks design specialist Denomination, looks at the impact that the lockdown will have on our future drinks choices

There’s something about the past few weeks that has changed the way many of us feel about what we drink and why. When the sun is over the yardarm, we’re less compelled to reach for that Instagrammable hard seltzer. Or the spirit in a ‘category-defying’ bottle. Or the bold wine brand that plays fast and loose with accepted red and white design cues.

Ordinarily, all that stuff might pique our interest. But everything has changed and the world has shrunk, which has led to a degree of introspection and a thirst for the familiar and comforting. Many of us are questioning old habits, too, instead of blindly forging ahead as usual. We’re looking at what we consume and why, how much of it, and at what cost to ourselves and the planet.

In this more contemplative space, it’s those brands that represent stability, trust and reassurance that are more likely to succeed.

Cheers to old friends

Hardys (the 167-year-old Australian brand, and UK number one) hit the perfect note when it launched its new campaign just as we all headed home in March. ‘Certainty in an Uncertain World’ offers reassurance during troubling times. The packaging strategy played into this mood, too, speaking to Hardys’ heritage and sense of tradition.

Ade McKeon, Hardys regional managing director for Europe, summed it up perfectly when he said: “At a time when the world feels uncertain, we know that we can offer a guarantee that Hardys will never let you down.” That’s what people are looking for right now, and will be for some time to come.

As drinks brand specialists, a decent chunk of our time is typically spent pondering how things will look splashed across socials; how they’ll grab attention on back-lit devices and in high-energy retail spaces and bars. Those things still matter – and the current situation won’t last for ever – but maybe we’ll see a broadening of aesthetic appreciation, and that could well continue when the current restrictions have been lifted and life returns to something resembling normality.

Right now, though, with people trying to make the most of life in more confined spaces, the usual Instagram fodder – sunset moments abroad, Aperol spritz or cool craft beer aloft – just makes no sense at all.

The right impact

The pandemic has brought home just how fragile our planet is, and it has exposed globalisation’s fragilities. Look at how fast the international infrastructure enabled the coronavirus to spread to all four corners of the world in record time, and how supply chains buckled as we raced to get PPE to the people who desperately needed it. While the move towards more sustainably produced goods isn’t news, current events have seen its importance further highlighted.

So perhaps it’s the brands that represent a softer, more caring persona and positioning that will shine.

Last year, family-run wine maker Fourth Wave introduced a ‘next generation wine for the next generation of drinkers’ with this ethos at its heart. Tread Softly was created in response to the increasing appetite for light wines that taste good, whilst having minimal environmental impact. Presented in lean, green reduced-weight bottles and with a lower ABV, the wines were developed in response to modern thinking about wellbeing and sustainability.

The brand strategy, while making a virtue of all of the above, took a softer approach too. The labels have been made using naturally flecked uncoated paper stock; the artwork is discreet and understated, but with sensual undertones. The message is clear: being kind to yourself and the planet isn’t about denial, abstention, being boring. It’s beautiful, and it tastes great, too.

Moving on

There’s been much talk of a new normal and habit changes. In truth, some things will return to how they were before – we humans are hugely adaptable and resilient – and some things could remain changed for ever. So brands would do well to stick a finger in the air and gauge the consumer mood.

We’ve had time to press pause and think about what really matters to us. Our lives have been stripped down to their barest essentials (no sport, no nights out, just work, for those of us who still have it, and remote contact with family and friends). The when, where and how all need to be reconsidered.

As we move out of lockdown and slowly return to our pre-pandemic lives – and who knows how long that could take – it’s the brands that understand that there’s been a shift in consumer aspirations, and build brand strategies to respond to that, that are more likely to survive and thrive.

Do I want a shot of celebrity-endorsed vodka from a crystal skull when the sun is over the yardarm? Not really. I’ll have a fresh, lower-ABV Porto tónico from Portugal’s ancient Douro Valley please.