Jacob Briars: problems are looming for the drinks industry

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The drinks industry is facing some issues that it should be mindful of, announced Jacob Briars, Bacardi’s global advocacy director, as he spoke at the Global Drinks Forum in Berlin.

‘The last 20 years have been a story of positivity, spirits have grown massively. I think over the last 20 years that the industry has been in better health than any other time,’ he declared. ‘I’m fundamentally an optimist, but there are some prevailing winds that are starting to make me concerned about the sustainability and longevity of the industry itself.’

Among the issues he voiced concerns over were:

  • The drinks industry has become self-referential – ‘The World’s 50 Best Bars list looked like the days before the French Revolution,’ he said, before arguing that a lot of the bars driving the conversation at the moment are backed by large restaurant or hotel groups. ‘The drinks on offer here are incredibly highly priced.’
  • Have consumers reached a point of drinks fatigue? – ‘Have we reached a point where the business model is unsustainable? And have we run out of new consumers to recruit?’ Briars asked, suggesting that the craft cocktail revolution is now over.
  • Changing technology – as such apps and websites as Amazon, Deliveroo and Uber Eats begin to bring the dining out experience to the home, and offers new ways to purchase. The turbulence around Uber and the impact of its potential lost licence in London will also affect the on-trade in the city.
  • Other drugs coming in – as alcohol is becoming more regulated, marijuana is being deregulated in some areas and is becoming more socially acceptable. How much of an impact might this have?
  • The rise of no/low-alcohol drinking – ‘This is concerning for many of us – our business models are that alcoholic beverages are the engine rooms of our business. People are actively choosing to cut down their drinking or changing the occasions in which they consume alcohol. Adults in the UK consume an average of just under one bottle of spirits a year, but the generation drinking now is spending one-third of the generation before them. What is that going to mean for the drinks industry?’ asked Briars.

Reasons to be cheerful

Despite all of the doom and gloom above, however, he did pick out some reasons for the industry to be positive…

  • Food and cocktail pairings – ‘One of the biggest opportunities for cocktails is to take them into new places. Drinking with food is unquestioned, and there is an amazing opportunity to create drinks that can be enjoyed with food, blurring the lines,’ Briars declared, before pointing to street food spaces such as Hawker House as a brilliant opportunity. ‘It’s basically clubbing with food,’ he said.
  • Democratisation of drinking – Briars pointed to the idea of drinks being a small, affordable luxury that can be built into people’s lives, much like a Starbucks latte was in the 1990s, and also the importance of sharing basic education with the consumer to pull them in.
  • Hyper connectivity – ‘I remain bullish mainly because of this,’ he declared. ‘Three things help to drive growth in drinks: education, innovation in products, but also the sharing of the information in the industry itself. This is getting passed onto the press and consumers. They may want to drink less, but they want to drink better. It’s this connectivity that makes me most hopeful about the way forward.’

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Laura Foster

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