Cannabis, Food Democracy And The Trouble With Apps - Ten Takeaways From The Global Drinks Forum

Posted: Nov 19, 2017

The Global Drinks Forum in Berlin last month hosted 11 presentations from all corners of the drinks industry. Talks at the day long international conference ranged from Bacardi's view on the headwinds and tailwinds affecting the industry, to the convergence of food and drink from Diageo. In this, the second part of her review of the conference, just-drinks deputy editor Lucy Britner rounds up the key forecast trends from the presentations.

For part one of this review of the ten takeaways from this year's Global Drinks Forum, go to Part 1 of Death of Craft Statements.

The App effect
Taxi app Uber has helped open up new local bar scenes as more on-premise operators can benefit from lower overheads outside of city centres, according to Bacardi's head of brand advocacy Jacob Briars. "There have been some phenomenal beneficiaries of Uber, in terms of providing a more sustainable nightlife," he says, "bringing people into neighbourhoods with lower rent that in turn enable the cocktail model - new bars and restaurants - to open."

However, in London, Uber is under threat after the city's transport body decided not to renew its licence. "If services like Uber suddenly hit the skids, then what does that mean for an entire ecosystem of bars and restaurants that have been pushed out?" asks Briars.

While some apps help sustain nightlife, others can be more disruptive. The on-premise acts as a shop window for brands, so what happens when people don't need to visit the shop?

"Services like Deliveroo, MiniBar, Uber Eats all have the opportunity to disrupt this business model by sending drinks directly to consumers," says Briars. "What will that do to the really vibrant bar and restaurant scene that has built up over the last ten years?"

Democratisation of food
Food is basically the socially acceptable form of nightlife now

The rise of food culture outside of the traditional restaurant construct has allowed cocktails to break into new spaces, believes Bacardi's Briars. "Food is basically the socially-acceptable form of nightlife now," he says. "We have seen a boom in the different places people can eat - the democratisation of the restaurant scene." He uses the example of Hawker House in London - an indoor street food market set in a 2,500 capacity space.

"You walk into this hall on a Friday or Saturday night and it is actually clubbing with food," explains Briars. "It has got all the same behaviour - people are walking around, they are networking, handing out phone numbers in exactly the same way they would've been doing at 2am. Here, they are doing it over street food."

Diageo's global future & culture planning director, Zoe Lazarus, backs up this theory in her presentation about food and drink convergence. She cites Mintel figures showing that the "annual admission for UK nightclubs fell 23% in the past five years".

When it comes to the opportunity for spirits companies at venues like Hawker House, Briars warns against trying to use spirits to replace wine with meals. "People perennially talk about spirits and food pairing," he says. "I don't necessarily think that's the way forward. Instead of pairing spirits with food, there is an opportunity to make the sorts of drinks and the sorts of occasions where people can just have a drink with food - blurring the lines of consumption."

Diageo's Lazarus adds that food and drink will continue to converge, from a flavour, ingredient and physical on-premise perspective ,"changing what, how and where we will be drinking in the future".

Cannabis highs and lows
"As alcohol becomes more heavily regulated," Briars asks, "what is the impact of the deregulation of some other drugs of choice?

"On the one side you have a drug that is coming in and becoming more socially acceptable, just at the same time ... as the drug that we are in the business of supplying is becoming more regulated and perhaps less socially acceptable."

Constellation Brands seemed to take the hint when, just under a month after the conference, it bought a near-10% stake in Canada-based medicinal cannabis company Canopy Growth Corp.

Anyone who thinks alcohol and marijuana can't co-exist should just listen to some 90s hip-hop

While several commentators have talked about the "threat" of cannabis stealing share from drinks categories, Bacardi's Briars doesn't foresee a problem: "Anyone who thinks alcohol and marijuana can't co-exist should just listen to some 90s hip-hop."

Other recent M&A moves point to a market for cannabis within the functional drinks space. Earlier this month Priority Aviation swapped the private jet charter business for the purchase of Telluride Health Co, with the intention of launching a bottled water designed to enhance cannabis highs.

Changing face of convenience
The shift away from traditional retail towards online is well-documented. However, IWSR senior analyst Tim Simmons believes cloud-based voice services, such as Amazon's Alexa, will move the shopping experience even further away from physical shops.

"Ten years ago," he says, "it was all about bricks and mortar - you had to physically go somewhere to buy a product. Five years ago, you could search for it online and pick it up. Now, it's all about apps and taps."

He highlights the Alexa platform: "'Alexa, can you deliver whatever?' And, it'll come."

Drinks firms are starting to tap into the new ways that consumers are shopping and searching. Patron's VP of marketing, Adrian Parker, used his talk at the Global Drinks Forum to highlight how Patron completely redesigned its website, making it easier for people to create drinks. is a cocktail website that features 395 recipes from 50 bartenders around the world. The platform also uses Amazon Echo (Alexa's mouthpiece) and you can read more about it from our new consumer trends commentator, Laura Foster, here.

By Lucy Britner
November 16, 2017

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