The future of alcoholic beverages with Adam Fenton, VP of Food and Beverage Consulting

Adam Fenton joined Leatherhead Food Research in August 2020, continuing an illustrious career in the global beverage industry. Throughout his working life, Adam has used his background in biochemistry and engineering, as well as his understanding of the brewing process and human behaviour, to help companies – from household names making soft and alcoholic drinks, through to smaller craft breweries and distillers and even a firm that trains beverage tasters – develop their products and services and increase turnover.

Adam is now using his expertise to help Leatherhead Food Research in its mission to offer practical solutions that cover all stages of a product’s life cycle from consumer insight, ingredient innovation and sensory testing to food safety consultancy and global regulatory advice. Here Adam, VP of Food and Beverage Consulting, lays out some of the current and future trends he believes will be big business in the alcoholic beverage sector.

What are consumers concerned about right now?

“Less is more” is how I would summarise this. We’re seeing consumers are increasingly looking for healthier options. People expect less alcohol, fewer calories and fewer carbs in their drinks and there’s been a real shift towards the functional benefits of a product.

From a taste perspective, sweeter ready-to-drink products have always been popular, particularly among younger consumers, but we’re seeing a move towards drinks like hard seltzers – essentially flavoured sparkling water combined with alcohol that’s packed with low calorie flavour. There’s also been a move away from sweeter fruit tastes towards botanicals, which offer a wider variety of flavours some with woodier, more resinous and herbal notes.

We’ve seen the same in craft beers which, while increasingly popular, are shifting from over the top “Peanut Butter Milkshake IPA” type flavours to more subtle ones. Lower strength beers (4% rather than 5% have been on the rise for some time and, more recently, we’ve seen a big move towards 0.5% and 0.0% alcohol beers, as well as 0% wines and spirits. That presents a challenge, because a lot of the flavour comes out of the use of yeast and other biological processes used in brewing – that’s part of what helps flavours become multi-dimensional.

What are the future trends you expect to see?

We’re going to see a continuation of this health and wellness trend and one area for growth is products containing cannabidiol (CBD), where I envisage the functional benefits becoming more widely agreed upon and understood by the scientific community, as well as anything that’s potentially detrimental to health, of course. I think we’ll see more products becoming available globally, and not just from the smaller craft producers who are doing it for novelty. Part of that drive is likely to come from the “lifestyle” factor, including the health benefits being touted by athletes and others. Lifestyle itself is a trend, with people keen to be seen to be drinking the ‘right’ brands and products.

We’re also likely to see more products crossing international borders. This, of course, presents its own challenges, as companies need to be aware of the complicated regulations and labelling involved. As consumer interest in what goes into their drinks grows, the trends and ingredients will also continue to cross borders. One example of this is the influence of Asian fermentation methods, from which kombucha and sake are derived – we’re likely to see, say, the sake fermentation process applied to beer. We also expect there to be increasingly blurred boundaries between categories which could make drinks such as beer made from grapes, botanical beers and ciders, and hopped wines more popular.

From a practical standpoint, there’s likely to be a shift in how and where we’re buying our beverages. Supermarket own brands are increasingly seen as better quality and perhaps we may see the big chains beginning to own the breweries, stills, etc, that produce their beverages, as this cuts out the middleman. We’ll also see more people drinking retail beer at home and online retailers may even become more popular than off-licences. Something that companies also need to be aware of, thanks to new legislation in the EU coming into force in November 2021, is that online retailers will soon become responsible for the information they carry about food and beverage products they sell in Europe, irrespective of whether they manufactured them. I can see this trend spreading internationally as this largely uncontrolled space becomes more heavily legislated.

How can Leatherhead help companies navigate this changing market?

Here at Leatherhead, we’re uniquely placed to help companies who are moving products across borders to understand legislation, regulation and labelling requirements in different markets. We can help with details such as the alcohol level required on the label and the tolerance range within that, how ingredients need to be listed, and the different font sizes that are used.

We can also help with many aspects of new product development, whether this is from a molecular chemistry standpoint or with more of a consumer and sensory focus. Our team can help with compiling and submitting novel food dossiers for new ingredients and flavours. We can help establish whether product claims comply with regulations and whether those claims resonate with consumers, through our own consumer panels. Additionally, we can provide food safety support for producers who are considering pivoting from their regular product, for example a brewer producing kombucha, or a wine producer looking to brew beers.


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