Pandemic challenges aside, one thing people didn't lose in 2020 was their thirst. Instead, consumers amped up their search for unique tastes and products authentic to their lifestyle and beliefs.
“Now more than ever the brands we consume are an extension of who we are and what we stand for,” says Charles Nouwen, head of the Passion for Beer program at AB InBev. “In 2021 you can expect even more demand for products that are better for you, your community and the world.”
Here's a look at these and other big trends on the radar of brewers and beverage innovators this year.
Better for you
Health and wellness trends are not losing steam in 2021. Options with low or no carbs and calories for people with an active lifestyle are still on the rise and refreshing hard seltzers are expected to keep leading the way with consumption projected to triple by 2023. Watch for even more brands to get in the game with their own unique takes, like Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer, which made its debut in the US in January. Consumers' desire to be more mindful of their drinking also has no- and low-alcohol beers growing in popularity, with Budweiser Zero and Stella Artois 0.0 both entering select markets last year.
Juicy, locally inspired flavors
Despite the challenges of pandemic shutdowns, “People definitely experimented more with what they drank at home in 2020 and I think that will continue into this year,” says brewmaster Rob Topham of England's Camden Town Brewery. Brewers there hope to expand on their popular Arch 55 series from last year that included a kettle-soured lager, italian grape lager, and a pina colada-inspired beer.
Locally grown ingredients are another big draw, especially now as the economic downturn prompts even more people to support local. Craft brewers are tapping into unique flavors, whether it be a beach plum gose from New York's Blue Point Brewery, or Cerveza Patagonia's Sendero Sur made with the Argentinian fruit, maqui, or India's 7Rivers brewers whose wheat beers showcase the quintessential flavors of the region.
Seemingly universal are explorations of fruity, sour or barrel aged beers. Our Goose Island brewmasters in China and South Korea both report growing interest in all three. Xiaomin Zhang, in Putian China has plans for a sour beer series and says there's still plenty of demand for new takes on IPAs, especially hazy, low- and no-alcohol variants. CH Lee in Seoul says dessert-like beers such as fruited sours and pastry stouts caught more consumers' attention in 2020 and will likely keep growing in popularity.
Close to home
Demand for online home delivery services exploded with the arrival of pandemic lockdowns. Millions discovered the convenience of having their favorite products just a few clicks away – and beer was no exception. Platforms that connect retailers with local consumers seeking home delivery are expected to expand their unique offerings and experiences this year, including AB InBev's e-commerce platforms and partnerships such as Beerhouse.mx in Mexico, UK-based Beer Hawk, Argentina's Siempre en Casa and Brazil's Zé Delivery.
Better for the world
A lot more attention is also being given to products that have a minimal impact on the environment. Using renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, is one way AB InBev is giving consumers the power to choose lower-carbon products. Budweiser has been a champion of renewable energy and sustainable production, brewing nearly seven billion bottles of beer with 100% renewable energy in 2020.
To reduce packaging waste, new solutions, like replacing plastic rings with recyclable paper packaging, are also getting noticed. Purpose-driven products are also well-loved by sustainability-minded consumers. For instance, 100% of profits from Água AMA mineral water go to social projects bringing drinking water to underserved communities across Brazil. Another is EverGrain, a new company launched in January that's upcycling the barley leftover from brewing into protein and fiber ingredients to create nutritious food and beverages.