These trends from the Global Drinks Forum in Berlin can be useful to your bar

Bacardi-Martini’s Jacob Briars kicked off the day. Photo: Constantin Falk
There’s a change afoot.

The Global Drinks Forum was held the day before Bar Convent Berlin began, and it gathered a few dozen drinks industry heavyweights (and us) to discuss marketing, strategy, and insights for the global drinks business. It’s the kind of thing we’d usually move away from very quickly in the opposite direction, too afraid of a torrent of ‘touchpoints’. But this one, well, it was different. We wanted to work out just what we could take from it that would be of use to bartenders and bar owners.

So that’s what we did. And the exec summary, the in brief takeaway?

You’re all doomed.

OK, that’s perhaps a pinch of hyperbole. But there are challenges ahead when it comes to the global drinks industry of which you, dear bartender, are a part. There’s actually some positives in this story, but we’ll begin with the dark clouds on the horizon.

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The next generation of drinkers are coming (or are they?)

Will Rowe is the founder of Protein, a Shoreditch-based company doing brand advocacy work, and he shared some highlights from their recent report looking at the next generation coming down the pipeline, those aged 16-24.

The key concern for the brands in the room, and for those owning and operating bars, is that this next generation isn’t as keen on drinking and getting laid as, well, just about every other generation that has come before them.

They looked at a group of 4,500 people aged 16-24 who were early adopters and influencers and found a few things. 

The first, possibly scariest finding, was that those in this age group are a stay home generation, who are far more at ease connecting with others online than out in public and IRL. Which, we figure, could have an effect for bars. Whereas for previous generations the only option for meeting people outside your circle was to rub shoulders and to do so most often in bars and clubs, the people of this forthcoming generation have other online avenues for hooking up. As a result, they’re less likely to do things the old fashioned way, three drinks in.

Rowe said that this generation is driven by a few things, among which was the idea of common control — they’ve had enough of being dictated to, and instead they want to take control of their experiences and their relationships with brands. In a bar setting, this means they’re less likely to revere the mixologists among you dishing out the omaksae style, bartender’s choice style of menu.

They’re also driven by their own branded existence. They’re creating their own brand, and they have been raised in a world in which they’re more savvy to what brands are all about — which means that if they love your bar then it’s likely to be ‘on brand’ for them and part of who they are.

They’re also drinking less and taking their own personal wellbeing more seriously than, well, most bartenders of an older generation, for one. And they’re quite comfortable with virtual, online socialising.

There’s a lot of buzz about nonalcohol drinks

Dan Gasper from Distill Ventures, a drinks industry start up accelerator, said that over the last four years they’d been increasingly looking at nonalcohol drinks. He said that the industry is moving away from the idea of ‘mocktails’ and simple juices and sodas for those not drinking alcohol when they’re at a bar. He cited bars like London’s Dandelyan who were putting more emphasis on creating a great nonalcoholic drinking experience.

His suggestions for how to do this? He said there were no rules at the moment, but they are developing. The best examples are crafted and served beautifully with complex flavours, natural ingredients, and a mouthfeel that is more akin to sipping a spirit, rather than smashing down a mere glass of soda. 

Patron’s Adrian Parker provided some killer stats. Photo: Constantin Falk
Packaging and design can do the heavy lifting

With bartenders bottling their own cocktails, and with more thought going into the presentation of drinks and menus, we were interested in what Greg Dillon and Ivan Bell, from the brand packaging design studio, Stranger & Stranger, had to say.

You may know their work from such brands as Kraken. Indeed, illustrating the power of a great label and packaging, Dillon said to the forum that Kraken went from zero bottles to 100,000 sold in just 10 months, with the unique design doing the heavy lifting. They had no advertising support, just a bottle that stood out from the crowd, so much so that they ended up shifting 700,000 bottles after three years.

Dillon said that, based on anecdotal feedback from their clients, around 80% of a brand’s success— and some 95% for spirits — is the packaging where all else is equal.

This obviously has applications for the bar and the way your drinks are presented; bottle that cocktail with a hastily put together label and the customer will assume it’s a hastily put together drink. But give the bottle a design that’s memorable, and not only will they remember it, they’ll likely share it across social media (and thus do your marketing for you).

Dillon also said that these days, punters are more sophisticated in what they want and more eager than ever to discover new tastes. “Spirits drinkers have changed a lot over the years,” he said. “They no longer say my favourite is this; they may have favourites but they’re all looking for something new. They are increasingly moving away from traditional big  brands and want the unknown.”

This isn’t to say that it’ll be simple to sell them on your 10 day fermented avocado seed wine, but they’re at least more open to the idea these days.

Dillon also had a few suggestions for what makes a great bottle pack, and you can apply the same logic to your drinks. When it comes the label, they try to incorporate  three or four things that reinforce the story of the brand so that bartenders and customers have reference points that they can then remember and use, say, to recommend the brand to a friend.

They also suggest that the pack be desirable — heck people want bottles to adorn their homes now, because like a coffee table book it tells you something about them. 

The last point he made seems an obvious one, and it’s to do with differentiation. A great pack is unique, and it stands out against the other on a shelf. To that end they suggested a great way for smaller brands to make a name for themselves is to go anti-category, using visual cues you don’t expect to see for any given category of spirit.

Here’s the killer stats

There were some killer stats thrown out over the course of the day, too, which might give you some insight into how to shape your menus and your drink offerings. The big dog for marketing at Tequila Patron, Adrian Parker, recently led the revamp of Patron’s website for the US and in the process did some market research to understand what people need from a site and how they find their favourite drinks.

When it comes to discovering new drinks at the bar, he said, 86% of the people they surveyed find new alcohol through a friend’s recommendation. When it comes to how customers decide what they drink at the bar, for 77% of people, it’s only when they arrive at the bar do they decide. This, obviously, will favour those brands and drinks that grab the guest’s attention, whether at the bar or on the menu. 

He said that 50% of people have tried drinks after seeing friends post about it on social. Think about Continental Deli Bar Bistro’s Mar-Tinny and Can-Hattans, and how often these cocktail served in a tin with some smart packaging will be uploaded to social media — because it just looks that damn good — and you’re on your way. 

With customers doing their own research on a bar before walking in, they’re looking at the bar’s social media pages, and they’ve got an idea of what to expect about the place when they arrive.

The interesting stat we found was that it’s just 28% people who know what they want to drink when they enter the bar. We’d wager that figure would have been much higher a decade ago, but guests are, as Dillon said earlier, more willing to venture into unknown territory these days.

And just 28% of people will ask for a recommendation at the bar, Parker said, which means that most people want to work it out for themselves when they’re there. 

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