Kiwis are drinking better than ever

If you thought the pressures of a global pandemic were influencing how we drink, you’d be right. But did you know that Kiwis are drinking better than ever? Government data shows that alcohol consumption continues to trend downward (around 25% less than in the 80s), fewer people are drinking, and hazardous drinking is declining. Globally, alcohol consumption declined 6% in the past year. The pandemic has spotlighted the global health and wellbeing trend – people are making better decisions around alcohol based on their personal circumstances and lifestyle. All in all, a great result.

Your next thought might be, why on earth would the alcohol industry be pleased with that result?

Well, we think the positive changes to our drinking culture are something to be celebrated. As a nation, we’ve moved on from the days of the six o’clock swill towards taking a more moderate and mindful approach to how we drink and that’s okay. Alcohol needs to be consumed in the way it was intended – brewers, distillers and winemakers craft their beverages to be enjoyed and appreciated. If people choose to drink, the focus needs to be on keeping safe and social and a balanced lifestyle. If people choose not to drink, people should respect that as well.

Changing attitudes

Our attitudes and behaviours are more focused on moderation and being sociable. Social pressures to have that ‘big night out’ or ‘one for the road’ are becoming less acceptable. Research has shown 91% of Kiwi males wouldn’t care if a friend chose not to drink alcohol on a night out, and 65% of Kiwis say they feel comfortable not drinking alcohol on a night out.

Quality over quantity

How we drink and socialise is also changing what we drink. We have seen a significant shift to premiumisation, with 62% of Kiwis saying they had a premium drink in the past year, such as a craft beer, fine wine, cocktail or a premium spirit or liqueur. Nearly half said they consumed a premium drink at the same speed as a regular drink, but it was no surprise that 42% said they drank a premium drink slower. So, if we are choosing to drink full-strength beverages, we’re taking a ‘sip and savour’ approach to enjoy the flavours and the experience of the beverage in a slow and relaxed way.

Normalising no- and low-alcohol

The turning point in Kiwi’s attitudes toward balance and moderation has seen no- and low-alcohol drinks become the new normal. Forty per cent of Kiwis say they consumed low-alcohol beverages last year.

Around 80% of Kiwis say they would like to alternate more between drinking non-alcohol and alcohol-based drinks when socialising with their friends. So, it’s important people have choices whether they are out with friends in a bar or at a family BBQ. With an increasing consumer demand for more no and low options, we are seeing a rapid expansion of no/low category products.

This is a positive story of moderation, innovation and consumer choice. Beer and wine producers are working hard and innovating to meet changing consumer needs. The craftsmanship and dealcoholisation technology behind zero-alcohol beer brands shows there is no compromise on quality or flavour. Kiwi winemakers have similarly perfected crafting 0% and lighter wines under 10% abv.

Learning to love local

New Zealand tends to follow global trends in beverage experiences, flavours and new products. However, the pandemic has made us take pause and appreciate the fantastic handcrafted local products on offer – boutique wines, craft beers and premium spirits – embracing locally sourced botanicals, hops, yeast and grapes. So it’s been a year of people supporting, experiencing, and appreciating local – that loyalty has not just helped to grow the local market, it has helped to keep producers and their suppliers in jobs.

Under the influence… of overseas trends

Gin and vodka reign supreme in the year ahead, but the global popularity of other spirits such as tequila and mezcal will influence cocktail lists. Our sophisticated palates welcome an apéritif before dinner, so the appeal of a negroni and Aperol spritz will continue. High-end rum, scotch whisky and cognac are our on-trend digestifs.

The prettiness of pink will influence flavours and hues in our rosé wines, gins, beer and cider – from subtle rose, summer berries and pomegranate to brighter bursts of pink grapefruit, rhubarb and plum.

Better-for-me seltzers really took off in the past year, offering a low-carb, low-sugar, and lower-alcohol drink with subtle but refreshing fruit flavours. Iced teas are becoming just as popular. We’ll soon start seeing a general shift in flavour profiles from soft botanicals like elderflower and hibiscus to bolder flavours like turmeric, anise and rosemary. Distinct citrus flavours will continue, but we can also expect things to get a little hot’n’spicy with hints of mustard and chilli. No- and low-alcohol cocktails will also give consumers plenty of options to have their tastebuds tickled.

Convenience is also a driver, particularly the emerging trend of high-end canned cocktails, otherwise termed premium-RTDs. Cans also make it easier to track how much you are drinking.

Sense and sustainability

Consumers are also mindful about the environment and the packaging their beverages come in. Our major alcohol producers and many small businesses have significant sustainability plans based on renewable energy, minimising waste, sourcing local, reducing carbon, and reusing and recycling materials. So it’s no wonder that the recyclability of glass bottles, cans and plastics is part of the purchasing decision.

Contributing to NZ’s economic and social economy

We are proud our industry makes a significant contribution to the economy through over $1.7 billion in taxes, over $1.9 billion contributed to GDP, $2 billion in exports, and over 30,000 jobs directly and indirectly, what’s more, we’re also part of the fabric of the social economy. It’s a privilege to produce quality beverage experiences for consumers to enjoy whether they are doing so with family at home or enjoying the vibrancy of hospitality businesses in the heart of our city centres and local neighbourhoods.

The pandemic has impacted most businesses, particularly hospitality. Yet, the passion and drive of our industry will continue to play a vital role in keeping people in jobs and communities connected as part of our nation’s economic recovery in the uncertain times ahead.

By Bridget MacDonald, Executive Director, NZ Alcohol Beverages Council