With a juggernaut of change impacting virtually every aspect of consumers’ lives and livelihoods, it’s little wonder so many brands have been forced into making gut-wrenching decisions. Do you pivot or persevere when nothing goes to plan and forces are entirely out of your control?

The pandemic continues to accelerate a mix of well-known consumer trends, and one among these is reduced alcohol consumption. Despite widespread reports of increased alcohol sales over lockdown, recent surveys indicate that younger generations consume less alcohol than their elders did at their age, with today’s youngsters significantly more likely to teetotal altogether. In Bacardi’s Brand Ambassadors Survey of last year, it revealed that globally consumers are drinking 20% less alcohol. In fact, the spirits giant predicts a 400% growth in the no- and low-alcohol category in the next four years.


New energy for hard seltzer market
Equator collaborated with a global big-box supermarket to create a new brand that would emulate freshness, energy and modern thinking.
Image courtesy of Equator Design


Dry January 2021 underscored the strength of the no lo alcohol movement. Consumer demand for non-alcoholic wine and beer climbed significantly, with sales of low- and no-alcohol wines rising by 40% at one major UK supermarket, according to grocer.co.uk. Meanwhile, demand for low- and no-alcohol spirits rose by more than 50%.

That the trend has been spiked by widespread pandemic-era focus on health-conscious habits and behaviors — fueling the low- and no-alcohol industry into a strong growth trajectory overall — is evidenced by the 32% rise in sales observed during the first lockdown last March.

Isolation and working from home have provided consumers more downtime, and the ability to renew their focus on health goals which were previously deprioritized or put off for other commitments. And with health becoming reprioritized in everyday life, consumers are increasingly searching for healthful alternatives that deliver that moment of relaxation at the end of the day but still support their overarching health objectives.

Low-calorie and organic wines have been keen contenders within the category, however the vast majority of news headlines have been dedicated to the “explosive growth” of hard seltzer in North America. Despite relative newness, the hard seltzer market was valued at $2.5 billion last year, with sales climbing by more than 240% in 2019, according to market leader White Claw.


Source: grocer.co.uk. Bubbles illustration by FrankRamspott / DigitalVision Vectors via Getty Images


We can expect hard seltzer to move into hard everything else, say experts, so we may as well get ready for hard kombucha, hard tea and more. Buoyed by the trend of at-home bartending, zero-proof spirits such as vermouth and gin are also set to boom. This growth will inevitably trigger a rush of NPD, and we can anticipate more upscale ingredients, artisanal flavors and elevated packaging as the category expands.

Plus, as we delve into drinking as a consideration in areas of both physical and a mental health we’ll certainly see evermore innovative products, which aim (and sometimes claim) to improve both body and mind. For example, take CBD-enriched wines and spirits, which contribute to “optimal relaxation” but mitigate the health risks tied to alcohol consumption. Other intriguing new entries to the category include low ABV “medicinal” mushroom beer Fungtn. Billed a “hangover-free” option, the beer is made from the adaptogens group of plants and fungi which, the brand stresses, are known for helping the body adapt to psychological stresses, restore homeostasis and support the immune and endocrine systems.

What We Do…

For a designer, the expansion of the no lo category means an opportunity to steer the evolution of a category from its jumping off point. It’s a chance to shape the future.

But this newness also emphasizes how important a robust approach to strategy really is. Thorough research and keen auditing of competitors, category cues and product origin, are just the beginning. As spiked seltzer emerged as the fastest growing category in adult beverage, Equator collaborated with a global big-box supermarket to create a groundbreaking new brand to compete with incumbent national brands. Aiming to engage the highly sought after millennial market, flavor and lifestyle were central to the communication strategy — the distinctive brand would emulate freshness, energy and modern thinking.

Setting colors that “pop” and bold typography against the can’s silver substrate, the designs ensure the brand stands apart from others in the category, who mostly use white. A retro-yet-modern feel has been created using patterns, also drawing attention to “Gluten Free” and “Made with Real Cane Sugar” callouts underscoring its health benefits. Designed to look amazing on shelf in cartons and corrugated trays, and eye-catching in a can, responding to dry-offset printing limitations.

There is tremendous scope for brands with the vision and courage to stake their claim. Entering an alcohol sector that has been reinvigorated by consumer focus on health and wellness could just lead to what brands want most — a healthy bottom line.

Part of the Equator team since 2017, Aaron Funke brings more than 21 years of experience in building brands. Throughout his career Funke has designed or led initiatives for some of the nation’s most well-known retailers and national brands including Walmart, CVS Pharmacy, Molson-Coors and Gatorade.