4 drinks trends retailers need to know now

25 February 2021, 08:38 AM
  • Speciality Food explores the biggest influences on today’s beverage marketplace, from the at-home drinking boom to the most exciting modern formats
4 drinks trends retailers need to know now

The world of beverages has long offered fine food retailers with a refreshing blend of tradition and innovation, and while trends come and go, there are some which stand the test of time and prove themselves to be well worthy of investment. Below are the trends showing no sign of letting up, and with their influence on the market only getting stronger now’s the time to act.

At-home drinking

While consumers have long enjoyed a quality tipple at home, in the recent absence of pubs, bars and other drinking-out establishments as a result of Covid they’ve taken at-home drinking to another level.

The conscientious home drinker has branched out in their choices, with cocktails seeing a particularly impressive boom. According to Craft Gin Club’s Big Gin Report 2020, 90% of British consumers plan to make more cocktails at home as 2021 draws on, with the past 12 months seeing 65% spending more time than ever perfecting their cocktail-making skills and 15% hanging out at their very own bar at home – with more planning to create their own in 2021.

Jon Hulme, co-founder and managing director of Craft Gin Club explains, “The past year of lockdown nights-in has created opportunities for people to get in touch with their inner bartender and bring a little bar-style flair into their homes.”

For those customers whose confidence has not yet reached amateur bartender heights, ready-mixed cocktails are the answer. There are plenty of ready to drink options out there, ranging from Niche Cocktails’ Blood Orange Old Fashioned and Manuka Honey Whisky Sour to Thomas Tipple’s Raspberry Bellini and Passion Fruit Mimosa.

NIO Cocktails, provider of conveniently ready-mixed cocktails through the letterbox is onto a winner with its combination of convenience and quality. Richard Sager, general manager explains, “One of the core pillars for NIO Cocktails is convenience; this includes not requiring any additional ingredients or bar implements to enjoy your cocktail, rather you simply need to shake, open and pour over ice.”

While online services such as Craft Gin Club and NIO Cocktails are going great guns right now, that’s not to say that indies aren’t in with a shot at the drink-at-home pound. “Many speciality food retailers and delis have already nailed their offering, with a selection of drinks to suit a variety of budgets and drinking occasions,” explains Becky Davies, head of commercial at Ten Locks.

“Offering premium spirits gives shoppers inspiration and ideas for creative drinks, whether as an impulse buy or a planned purchase as a weekend treat.” When it comes to what to stock, Becky suggests that, “simple serves that can be easily prepared, poured, mixed and presented at home are a ‘go to’ for consumers, so store managers should ensure they stock the essential ingredients for drinks for households to enjoy together. Offering both pre-mixed cocktails and premium spirits with interesting mixers gives customers inspiration, which in turn helps drive sales and profit margins.”

Modern formats

As well as mastering the convenience element of at-home drinking, NIO Cocktails offers a prime example of reinventing a product’s format to suit the customers’ needs.

“Whilst lockdown has meant most people are at home when deliveries are made, we are a pre-Covid brand and recognised the frustration of not being home when oversized parcels are delivered and the hassle of having to rearrange delivery or to physically go and collect the parcel yourselves,” explains Richard. “We’ve removed that frustration and hassle by designing our cocktails to firstly be letterboxable, i.e. they can fit through the letterbox.”

Sustainability was also a consideration. “Our packaging is light; there is no glass so no risk of smashed packaging, it uses less energy to create and to transport and less secondary packaging material as cocktails can be placed directly next to one another,” Richard continues.

“We use only FSC Paper (paper from responsible sources) that’s 100% recyclable for their unique sleeve, and the inner liquid pouch is currently 40% biobased. Our packaging is widely recycled and we only ever use card for the letterboxes and cocktail sleeves, with every iteration of the cocktail pouches increasing the percentage of biobased material used.”

Director of Silent Pool Distillery Ian McCulloch also ticked sustainable boxes with his decision to launch a spirits bottle made of cardboard – a truly innovative move. “The packaging for our new Green Man Woodland Spirits range, from Frugalpac, is made from 94% recycled paper, uses 77% less plastic and the liner is recyclable too,” he explains. “Not world-saving by itself, we admit. But if we’re going to do what’s right by the earth, we figured we’d do it right here where we live in Surrey, Britain’s most wooded county.”

Meanwhile, industry newcomer Waterdrop is working towards a future without plastic bottles. It sells flavourful cubes to drop into your reusable water bottle – options include FOCUS: lime, acerola and baobab; DEFENCE: cranberry, rosehip and moringa; and RELAX: hibiscus, acerola and aronia – satisfying the growing consumer demand for functionality and health benefits alongside sustainable credentials. 

Health credentials

As the physical health of the world is brought into focus as a result of the pandemic, it’s only natural that shoppers will look to the food and drink they consume to offer a delicious and convenient way to up their own health.

“Consumers now expect a product to not just satisfy their thirst/hunger but also do them some good, too,” explains Charlie Knockton, founder of Happy Inside Drinks. “It’s a segment that’s growing and will only grow larger as we all become more educated about what we are putting in our bodies.”

A street food vendor with ulcerative colitis, Charlie had long struggled with the gut-friendly options available on the market – they were either too sweet, bloating or dairy-based – so decided to launch Happy Inside Drinks to plug the gap.

Similarly, Anita Rae, founder of Crave Drinks, found that the industry lacked a truly healthy and functional option for shoppers wanting to buy energy drinks. “Consumers are not only looking for a quick source of energy, but also other added benefits such as immunity support, increased brain function, rehydration and antiaging,” she explains.

“Traditionally energy drinks have contained high levels of sugar, taurine, artificial flavourings and sweeteners, with links to obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.” The field was open for Anita’s launch: a carbonated and non-alcoholic, naturally flavoured and sweetened energy, vitamin and amino acid drink.

“Each plant-based drink contains 80mg of caffeine from organic green coffee beans, delivers 100% of daily recommended intake of vitamin C, 50% of the recommendation for B vitamins and 480mg of BCAAs,” she explains, making them a viable option for health-seeking consumers and forward-thinking retailers.

Meanwhile, Three Spirits Drinks is bridging the gap between physical and mental health with its three-strong range of nonalcoholic drinks: Livener, Social Elixir and Nightcap. “Function for us means going beyond aesthetic and flavour. It means delivering on feelings, pleasure, that ability to shift your state,” explains Dash Lilley, co-founder.

“We focus on pleasure without the pain by creating drinks that are there to help pick you up at the start of your evening, or shift your mood and help you to unwind and chill at the end of a long day.”

Containing active compounds such as theobromine from cacao, L-theanine from green tea and myrcene from hops which are considered by some to offer powerful therapeutic effects, these drinks are designed to alter the headspace of its drinker. “We use a mixture of adaptogenic plants and nootropics to create liquids that can suit different occasions,” says Dash. “They can dial up the bliss, dial down the noise and allow you to tune in.”


As the British shopper has become increasingly conscious of the part they play in the health of our planet, not least through the products they purchase, the fine food and drink industry has followed suit by evolving their processes to be more sustainably-minded.

Marlish Waters, recently launched, is a side step for a Northumberland farm which until now had been using its on-site natural spring to look after its animals. Co-founders and cousins Joe Evans and Elizabeth Walton used this natural resource to create Britain’s first canned-at-source spring water range.

“Canning and packing at source significantly reduces transport mileage, allowing us to reduce our carbon footprint where possible,” explains Joe. “We appreciate that this isn’t the end of the journey, so to further counteract environmental impact, solar panels support and power our on-site factory, and we plant trees annually as a means of giving back to the environment that has enabled us to create our business.

“We also have a responsibility to look after our local community,” he continues, “be that through employment, the land or the ingredients we source. It is incredibly important for us to give back to the community who buy the products and/or who live in the area in which we operate. Sustainability to us is about giving back to that from which we take out.”

Marlish opted for cans for the majority of its range, citing its environmental ticks as one of the reasons for the decision. “The convenience, recyclability and easy-to-chill nature of aluminium cans has helped the company reach new target groups whilst also tapping into alternative and more spontaneous ‘on-the-go’ consumption occasions,” Joe says.

Happy Inside Drinks’ Charlie also considers cans to be the best format option for a environmentally conscious drink: “Cans are very environmentally friendly; 100% of a can can be made into a new can, while with plastic the return is only 6%. Also, they are lighter to transport than glass or plastic; this drastically saves on CO2 emissions,” he explains.

“Plastic bottles seem a bit archaic now and there are all the obvious ecological factors; watching David Attenborough with a hermit crab using a bottle as a home is pretty depressing,” he continues.

Meanwhile, Seedlip, pioneers of non-alcoholic spirits, have recently taken an additional step in their quest to make their tribe ever more sustainability-conscious. They have launched a platform named We Are Nature, in which they set out all of their environmental commitments including being entirely carbon neutral by 2022. Ben Branson, founder, explains, “As a species, human beings have forgotten that we are all part of nature and to live more harmoniously with it, we first must be reminded of how wonderful and magical it is.

“Seedlip sources the best ingredients from nature to make delicious drinks. So, if there’s no nature, there’s no Seedlip. And for us, there is therefore no choice but to do our bit and our best to inspire as many people as possible to fall in love with the natural world.”

Hard seltzer brand Berczy has found that younger shoppers are particularly interested in increasing their environmental awareness – and minimising their footprint. “We know that in recent years consumers are looking to purchase more responsibly and are actively seeking out sustainable companies to buy from. This has only been intensified as Generation Z in particular are willing to invest more in products that they consider to be sustainable,” says Nick Graham, co-founder.

“People are looking to change their spending habits and try and consume less, so the purchase choices they make become even more important. As well as being close to our hearts as a team, we want to ensure that we align to the values of our customers, by being a sustainable producer and offering them products that have minimal impact on the environment. At Berczy, by ingraining this thinking in our business early on, we hope to be able to be sustainability and social champions for years to come.”

At the brand, such efforts take the form of a portion of all sales being donated to their charity partner, Plastic Oceans, and beach cleanups, as well as compact UK-based supply chains, use of sustainable packaging and an aim to be B Corp accredited in the near future.

Fellow SME drinks producer Freestar is also conscious of the impact it has on people and planet. Felix von Hurter, co-founder, told Speciality Food, “Growing a business we’re proud of is just as important as creating a beer we’re proud of. It really doesn’t matter how big or small your business is, you should be aware and proud of the impact that your business leaves behind – both on the community and on the planet.

After two years and nearly 400 recipes, Freestar’s pioneering production process emits 90% less CO2, uses 80% less energy, 80% less water and ends up with 70% less waste than conventional brewing processes. “We’re super proud of those stats and it’s because of our innovation in sustainability that we’ve become the first alcohol-free beer to certify as a B Corporation,” Felix states, concluding: “I urge all SMEs to share our common goal of building a more inclusive and sustainable economy.”

more like this
close stay up-to-date with our free newsletter | expert intel | tailored industry news | new-to-know trend analysis | sign up | speciality food daily briefing