Driving sales in adult beverages: AUC’s Nichole Simpson on the trends that will shape 2024

Michael Browne

Thanks to factors such as the explosion of social media (TikTok, anyone?), celebrity partnerships, product innovation and other trends, the adult beverage category is expected to continue to see moderate growth in 2024 — but the who, what, where and why behind this growth continues to change.

From canned cocktails to premium tequilas, mocktails and low- and no-alcohol drinks, and yes, even more entries in the hard seltzer segment, consumers’ adult drinking behavior continues to evolve. Total adult beverage purchases across retail channels have been inching up the past three years, according to NIQ data, and sales reached $89.8 billion in 2023. Much of that growth began in the COVID year of 2020, when sales skyrocketed to $90 billion from $76 billion in 2019. Those numbers have dipped only slightly since.

Retailers have reason to remain optimistic for 2024, says Nichole Simpson, senior vice president of business development and customer leadership for Advantage Unified Commerce, an Advantage Solutions commerce agency. In a recent article for Food & Beverage Magazine, “Adult Beverage Trends to Raise a Glass to in 2024,” she outlined six key trends that will impact the adult beverage category in 2024:

Millennials are bringing sexy back: For younger demographics, the trend is toward “premiumization” – a focus on creating an upscale experience. “Social media influencers have helped drive this idea of drinking as a signifier of sophistication and lifestyle,” says Simpson. “Look for the future of the food and beverage category to evolve into a sexier space than it used to be thanks mostly to a younger generation of consumers.”

Different kind of mixing: “In 2024, you’ll see more consumers going out for ‘drinks’ but alternating between alcoholic drinks, mocktails, CBD or cannabis-infused beverages, and maybe an energy drink if they feel sluggish,” Simpson says.

Influencers matter: Right now, social media influencers have as much purchasing influence as the experts and connoisseurs who have spent years understanding the particular nuances of adult beverages, particularly in wine and spirits. “Retailers may want to consider brands that are trending on TikTok as well as what Wine Connoisseur magazine says when deciding what brands to feature on their shelves,” Simpson suggests.

Celebrity connections: Be it George Clooney, Ryan Reynolds, Jay Z or Bethenny Frankel, the celebrity adult beverage partnerships that succeed long-term are the ones where those involved are more than just a spokesperson. “People don’t connect with the latter anymore,” says Simpson. “They see through that and decide pretty fast if this is something they would like to drink.”

Seltzers still not flat: Given the number of hard and low- and no-alcohol seltzers on the market, retailers might be tempted to think this product category is maxed out — but new flavor and product innovations are keeping sales bubbling along. Bottom line: If your marketing is clever, and your taste and flavor profile are on point, along with a correct price point, brands can find success.

Values still matter: Consumers, particularly younger ones, care about where they spend their money. They want to support brands that align with their values on issues like sustainability, employee safety, and the politics of the CEO. All of it is fair game for consideration when making purchasing decisions. “Brands that have a compelling story to tell in the area should consider ways to communicate that, particularly on social media,” says Simpson. “Those that do not shouldn’t pretend to.”

Read Nichole Simpson’s full article here.