Digital will keep drinks flowing in 2021

By Jon Reay

- Last updated on GMT

Are online tastings a blessing or curse? Pic:getty/demaerre
Are online tastings a blessing or curse? Pic:getty/demaerre

Related tags digital Digital marketing

Are virtual experiences a second best or a new premium? What's next for D2C after a pandemic boom? Jon Reay, founder and CEO of Rewrite Digital, shares four key insights in this guest article.

The drinks industry was shaken up more than anyone could have predicted in 2020, and there’s now no going back to how things were before COVID-19. This year, consumers will expect even more from at-home and in-venue experiences as they reopen. What will stick, what’s going away and what’s coming up next?

Jon Reay of Rewrite Digital shares four key insights gathered from industry experts. 

1. What’s happening in digital in the drinks industry this year?

Without doubt we’ll see continued growth in consumer expectations and delivery of them. There will be less disruption and despair and more positivity as we see transformational change culturally and behaviourally bed in. We’ll see how events and experiences evolve not just virtually, attracting globally-distributed audiences, but in combination with physical audiences too.

2. Are virtual experiences a second best or a new premium?

Novel Wines started virtual events during the pandemic out of necessity but found that in doing so they could reach more people and bring more authenticity and intimacy. They launched Virtual Tastings​ and say they will continue to run virtual events even when physical ones return.

Replicating a premium cocktail experience at home isn’t so easy but you can create new meaningful experiences at home like Diageo did with Talisker Tasting​ and voice assistants.

Beer Hawk had a distributor solution delivering cold beer to pubs and bars (Beer Hawk Fresh). They pivoted to a consumer proposition during COVID-19 (Beer Hawk Now), bringing fresh cold beer to people’s homes within the hour. Consumers saw the possibilities of a premium experience without having to leave their homes.

Virtual event 'Digital in Drinks 2021' featured a panel of growth pioneers in the industry who shared their experiences and forecasts for the year ahead.

Hosted by strategic consultancy, Rewrite Digital, the event opened with a glimpse of some of the latest digital advances to expect this year – from social and livestreaming ecommerce to VR recreations and screens you interact with in mid-air.

Rewrite Digital’s CEO & Founder, Jon Reay, remarked that “during times of crisis, innovators shine through”. An expert panel of such innovators answered questions from Reay and other attendees:

  • Will Harvey – Global Digital Innovation Manager at Diageo
  • Andrew Morgan – Innovation leader for the drinks industry (ex-ZX Ventures)
  • Becki Stephens – Marketing Manager at Caleño
  • Ben Franks – Founder of Novel Wines

A full recording of Digital in Drinks 2021 is available to watch here.

3. What’s next for direct-to-consumer (D2C)?

Caleño ​was predominantly a retail brand when COVID-19 hit. They then rebuilt their website and quadrupled D2C sales. Now they have a larger audience to connect with and educate in the non-alcohol category, and are using data to enable richer personalisation across their digital channels.

Diageo uses consumer insights and Artificial Intelligence to help people with their drinks choices and better forecast market distribution. What’s Your Whisky?​ builds up an individual’s flavour profile to find their perfect single malt.

Many producers are also partnering outside of their category to share insights and offer customers more choice.

Traditionally brand owners wouldn’t have any data. The D2C shift has enabled both large and small producers to access and harness data to enhance the customer experience.

4. What will stick from 2020 and what will change?

Consumers will expect more choice. People like to shop from local independents but want choice too, so even small businesses will need to expand their offering.

The high volume of packaging and the distribution and logistics of getting drinks to consumers needs to become more sustainable.

In home events will reach greater maturity. People will still want an entertaining, social experience without the hassle of going out, with hybrid in-venue & at-home events being commonplace.

The trade environment will become even more frictionless. There’s already been a huge cultural shift in the use of smartphones in venues from contact tracing to at-table ordering and payments. There will be more to come in “scannable media” and the merging of physical and digital experiences.

About the author:​ Jon Reay is CEO and founder of Rewrite Digital: a consultancy that helps drinks businesses grow their reach, revenue, reputation and profitability by elevating how they look at and harness digital - from business models to customer engagement, use of data, automation and innovation. Its comprehensive audit gives drinks businesses an overall score for their digital maturity and effectiveness, a comparison score with key competitors, top priorities, recommendations and a roadmap to bridge digital gaps.

Related topics Industry voices

Follow us


View more