Bacardi encouraged its employees to visit bars in more than 100 cities for ‘barstool research’ on Thursday. The Back to the Bar activity - now in its third year - puts a focus on connecting with bartenders, who Bacardi calls the “trend spotters and tastemakers of the spirits business.”
From surveys with bartenders and bar ambassadors in 2019, Bacardi studied the cocktail landscape for 2020 in a new trend report. Unsurprisingly, it found that low-to-no alcohol products and cocktails are gaining fast traction in UK and US bars.
It is part of the ‘mindful drinking’ trend, and 83% of bartenders reported seeing low-alcohol drinks as popular. There was also an increase of 42% in online searches with the word 'mocktail' in 2019.
Bacardi found that 20% of on-premise consumers claim to typically consume low-to-no offerings. The UK market alone of low-to-no alcohol spirits is forecast to grow 81% by 2022.
This wider category shift has created an increased interest in naturally low-ABV fortified wines, amaros, sherries and vermouths. Bacardi said more vermouth-based cocktails are emerging, and consumers want flavorful alternatives to the traditional high-ABV spirits.
“This doesn’t mean people are willing to sacrifice on flavor or experience. Low-ABV offerings are growing in sophistication and are seen as additions to a bar rather than a replacement for full-strength cocktails,” Bacardi said.
Natural ingredients, affordable luxury
Premiumization is always a major market driver in spirits, and bartenders are seeing demand for high-quality, aged dark rum. In the past five years, UK rum sales have grown 15% by volume and 32% by value.
“Affordable luxury is driven by the rise in the middle class. More consumers now have the disposable income to elevate everyday moments. Despite political uncertainty, consumer confidence is rising and consumers are exploring new flavor profiles and categories,” Bacardi said.
A preference for ‘natural’ products is sweeping food and beverage, and alcohol is catching on to the trend. About one-third of bartenders (31%) said they are increasingly interested in using local, fresh ingredients in their drinks. Consumers are looking for ingredients they can pronounce.
Ginger, lavender and grapefruit are all trending flavors and ingredients in alcohol, and 45% of British consumers identified berry as their favorite cocktail flavor profile.
And with inspiration from the demand for natural products, culinary-style cocktails are using seasonal, savory and herbal ingredients. Bacardi found that 91% of bartenders currently use vegetables in their cocktails.
“Heavily sweetened, crazy-colored beverages are no longer a part of the daily routine, and support for sugar taxes reflects how people are instead demanding balanced, natural, fresh, and healthy ingredients,” Bacardi said.
Evolving drink occasions, new mindset
A focus on sustainability is definitely influencing cocktail trends, as 58% of bartenders said that zero-waste ingredients are their top interest and 66% agreed that sustainable drinks are in demand right now.
There has been an 18.5% increase in organic spirits sales over the last three years. Bartenders are also interested in ferments like kombucha and kefir as ingredients in cocktails (51%), coffee (39%), flavored tonics (35%), herbs (32%) and flavored bitters (32%).
Outside the bar, RTD cocktails are growing and improving in taste quality and health level. There has been a 26% increase in canned cocktail shoppers in the UK, and 33% cite convenience as their top reason for buying RTD alcohol.
Where people choose to drink is everything to the future of the alcohol industry, Bacardi said. Drinking occasions are evolving, and drinkers of all ages are prioritizing experiences and destinations over material goods.
Bacardi expects consumer demand for experience, transparency and innovation to continue, and believes that alcohol brands are best built in bars, not boardrooms.
Jacob Briars, Global Advocacy Director at Bacardi, said “In an era where people are flooded with data, there is no substitute for putting feet on the street and seeing first-hand what’s happening at the bar. When something excites the bartenders, we know that it is a matter of time before we start to see a shift in the mindset and behaviour of our guests.”