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One of the main industries which is directly and monumentally impacted by local culture and regulations, the beer, wine and spirits industry operates under the umbrella heading of ‘Alcohol’ – with every country offering and monitoring alcohol under its own guidelines and set of rules. Not only does this mean that access to the industry varies across the globe in terms of who can purchase alcoholic beverages, but it also means that advertising and marketing in different locations differs hugely in terms of ascertaining and reaching the target audience, sharing coupons and deals across the right marketing platforms, and selecting imagery which is appropriate for the ideal consumer.
If you enter any ecommerce site dedicated to alcohol, you will likely be asked via a pop-up whether or not you are of the regulatory age in the region that you are shopping in. Likewise, the purchase of alcohol in a grocery store or drinks outlet is often accompanied by a request to see ID; meanwhile entire pubs and bars require a minimum age band even to enter the premises. Of course, the rules and regulations vary in severity depending on the location, however for the most part it seems fair to summarise that the beer, wine and spirits industry is one of the most heavily policed across the entire retail sector.
Before moving into the top retailers and trends in the industry, the first thing to explore is the breadth of the industry as a whole – understanding that beer is not just beer; rather it can be an ale, a lager, a pale ale, or anything else which is classed under the heading “Beer”. If you enter a supermarket or convenience retailer in particular, the likelihood is that the shelves and products will be arranged in terms of different beer types and different intensities of flavour – with the strongest beers sitting on one end of the store, while those infused with fruity hints and other flavours may be sat in a different section altogether. And while this entire operation is planned to a tee under the “world beers” industry sector, to the consumer the most inviting thing about a beer will likely be the price point and the label.
The fact remains, as with so many other grocery purchases, that when it comes down to it, consumers are driven by the aesthetics of a package as much as they are by taste – with many passing over the label contents in favour of the colour of the beer and how its label fits in with something that we think we will like.
The same is largely true of the wine sector, with wines operating across a much wider scale – primarily due to the vast range of wines which are available, and which sit under the one heading. For example, those new to or with little knowledge of the industry may simply see the wine sector as split between red and white. However, with more experience comes more of a breakdown – adding sparkling wine to the mix, before realising that between the red and white there is also rose; and that if a sparkling wine has been made in a certain region of France then it is known as a Champagne whereas if it’s made in Italy then it is called a Prosecco. From there, we return to the red and white selection, learning over time that red wine is split into a whole range of different types dependent on the area and country of growth and the style of grapes used; with the same true of white wines. In short, the industry may be termed ‘wine’, but once you really delve into the heart of the industry and start to break it down, you realise that there is a lot more to it than its simple headline name.
And then we come to the spirits industry, largely renowned for housing the strongest and most intense variety of alcoholic drinks; the ones which boast the most flavour and the highest percentage of alcohol included. One of the most interesting things about spirits in particular is consumer response, and how this varies across different demographics – something we will look at in greater detail in the trends section.
Far from being an industry relegated to any area which sells food and other drinks, alcoholic beverages are one of the driving forces of local economies all over the world – covering supermarket purchases, instant serve bars and pubs, off licence retailers and convenience stores, restaurants, and even airport duty free. Alcoholic beverages, with their higher price point when compared with the majority of the food and drink sector, attract more vouchers and deals than most other industry sector – not only offering standard deals in supermarkets but also providing discounted products through the duty free sales at airports and abroad, offering inflated drinks options across bars and pubs only to drop the price back down through deals and happy hour offerings designed to entice consumers through the doors, and creating gift sets which combine different alcoholic beverages as part of a growing trend around giving alcohol as a gift.
As such, the top retailers in the industry cover a great expanse of the retail sector; including but not limited to:
The last in this list identifies an ever-growing and expanding section of the industry, which deals with the increase in the number of small brands which are making their way into the mainstream media and which are creating new and improved recipes and flavours across the alcohol sector. Of course, ecommerce sales within the alcohol industry are challenging and have had to overcome various obstacles with regards to delivery safety, customs checks and age verification – however it seems as though marketplace sites have made this much easier, with examples such as Etsy and NotOnTheHighstreet giving brands a safe and reliable platform through which to sell to their target audience.
Some examples of the most popular brands across the beer, wine and spirits industry include:
On top of these known brands, supermarkets and bars often have their own brand of specific drinks, mainly with own-brand beers and wines which have been produced on vineyards and brewery sites owned and operated by the retailer themselves.
When it comes to spirits in particular, one of the leading trends across the industry is the way in which spirits are viewed and approached by different target audiences and demographics – with younger customers seeking spirits as a fast track to getting drunk, while older consumers approach spirits in a much more conservative way, enjoying a whisky at the end of a long day, or an Irish liqueur mixed into a coffee. This vastly different depiction of spirits is not necessarily condoned in brand advertising however it plays an important part of brand marketing messages particularly spirits, with a key example being the tagline “Enjoy responsibly” which is attached to the messaging of many alcohol adverts and commercials.
Another leading industry trend which is having an immense impact on the sales of spirits in particular is the ever-growing importance and prominence of cocktails within the alcohol beverage sector. Not only do cocktails rely on a grand aesthetic appearance and pleasing taste, but they are also vastly considered as a very upper class way of enjoying spirits; with bars and restaurants now just as likely to provide a cocktail menu as they are to present a wine list or drinks menu. The fact is, cocktails make spirits more approachable, more recognisable, and more stylish to drink – a great example being the recent rise in popularity of Campari spritz, which took a very out of date spirit (Campari) and combined it with the stylish prosecco in order to create a cocktail blend which pretty much every bar and restaurant is now more than used to serving.
An additional side to this trend around cocktails and the use of little known and underrated spirits, is the way that this also helps to drive sales across supermarkets and off licences – with many spirit brands and retailers picking up on the popularity of cocktails and using recipe cards and cocktail concepts to mark a specific place in the market for their product. Those with more influence and a greater budget can take this idea and actually create a cocktail gift box – meanwhile those with less of a market presence tend to start by marketing their spirits with recipe cards and end product photography, and take it from there.
Of course, while the beer, wine and spirits industry primarily deals with alcohol and regards alcohol as the main driver of its profit margins and constant market demand, one of the leading trends taking hold in the modern consumer market is the rise of non-alcoholic drinks and the demand for alcohol-free options which replicate, taste like, and are even made by the suppliers who provide those much coveted leading beer, wine and spirit brands. Over the past decade, the rise in alcohol-free solutions has largely matched the rise in allergy friendly foods and products designed with specific lifestyle choices in mind – that is, it has understood the shift in consumer behaviour, and it has responded appropriately. The number of brands now offering alcohol free beer and wine has risen exponentially, meanwhile entirely new alcohol-free spirit brands have started popping up online and in local bars and pubs, offering a soft option to those engaging in one of the leading charity fundraising trends of alcohol-free months, for those who may be pregnant or unable to drink for whatever reason, or for those who simply want a soft option for their favourite drinks.
Our final trend is the way in which the beer, wine and spirits industry approaches its target demographic, and the way in which it widens its audience reach and appeal – through tailored product placement and adjustments designed to suit various buying influences and experiences. An example of this is the rise in miniature bottles of different spirits, making these drinks immediately accessible to those who are travelling; giving transport hubs a way to provide single serve drinks safely and in a monitored fashion. Another example is in the rise of wine and beers, as well as spirit bottles, across the gifting industry – with personalised gifting sites and retailers offering bottles of alcohol with adjustable labels, whereby the buyer can input the gift recipient’s name and the occasion onto the front of the bottle to create a memorable keepsake. Bottle-shaped gift bags only add to this growing trend and make last minute gifts much easier.
Night life and social settings will always have an impact on the popularity of wine, beers and spirits – particularly with regards to sector specific drinking options such as breweries, vineyards and cocktail bars, which each offer the visitor a direct link with one style of drink. The increase in consumer interest in where our products are coming from and how they are made has led to a vast spike in the number of breweries, distilleries and vineyards now offering experiential visits and tasting, with the industry lending itself nicely to the concept of gifted experiences and days out. While these types of occasions are often operated by specific brands, buyers can find a plethora of different options across different locations on central experience sites like Virgin Experiences and Red Letter Days.
And when it comes to shopping for beer, wine and spirits, a little cross-comparison and research may lead you to try new brands and retailers you would never have expected – especially if you open your shopping experience up to various deals and voucher, and follow the best prices wherever they are.
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