The beer, wine and spirits industry is built on product trends. Brands build buzz around products using digital marketing and on-premise partnerships. Shoppers start to look for the products at their local liquor store. Local liquor stores increase their inventory of those buzzy products.
From there, products become bar cart staples and make their way into bigger scale liquor chain or grocery stores.
By this pattern, then, the independent channel becomes *the* place to chart when a product trend catches on.
We wrote about this phenomenon in-depth in our latest white paper, ‘The Independent Channel: Where Trends Take Hold.’ If you want data and insights on four modern product trends (Aperol, Tito’s, canned cocktails and Champagne), highly recommend digging into it.
Here, we’ll illustrate the high-level trend trajectory and show you how to use it.
Product trends start out-of-home
Most modern trends begin at the bar. Whether through concentrated marketing campaigns and menu partnerships or by becoming a bartender go-to, beverage alcohol brands meet drinkers on-premise.
But the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns shook this truth up. People didn’t have a bar or restaurant to go out to — but product trends (like canned cocktails and RTDs) exploded nonetheless.
In the case of canned cocktails, it was the absence of the on-premise that influenced the trend. People missed mixed drinks and wanted to recreate the hip bar experience at home. Add in the convenience factor of a cocktail in a can, and boom.
Then, trends trickle into the independent retail channel
The positive bar and restaurant experience with a product leads drinkers to their local liquor store. At first, as product trends are building, those sales will trickle in. With something like Aperol, which was propelled by the Aperol Spritz, adjacent or co-purchases are also a sign. (If people are buying Aperol and Prosecco together, they’re probably recreating the Spritz at home.)
Why the independent channel? This network of independently owned beer, wine and spirits stores boasts more than 50,000 businesses with millions of product SKUs. It is a specialized place for drinking communities, where they can find curated selections, opportunities for discovery and trial, and people with industry expertise.
This is where the trend incubates and accelerates. Without the independent liquor retail channel, trends would have nowhere to grow.
Finally, trends hit the mass market
After trial at the bar and adoption into the home bar, products become staples. That’s when a trend reaches critical mass — and moves toward mass-market sales.
This can show up as incremental volume growths (like Tito’s Handmade Vodka) or exponential ones (like canned cocktails). It can take shape through legislation (e.g., attempts to lower excise tax on canned cocktails to make them as accessible as beer) or through inventory (e.g., finding a trendy brand at a store like Costco or Kroger).
When trends go big, they don’t leave the independent channel. Sales are still propelled through those local liquor channels. But staple products take on a more everyday presence, becoming part of a grocery or convenience store run and less of a discovery destination.
How to track product trends through the independent channel
Analyze industry data.
Data-driven partners (like us!) can help you discover who your customer is, where they shop and what they buy. Use transactional data to analyze shopper behaviors and patterns, then compare those insights to your own brand (and your competitors) to find opportunities.
Gather digital metrics.
Look at your digital data: deliveries, e-commerce visits and conversions, digital marketing engagements. Pull in market-level transaction data for your category or subcategory. Then, filter with a localized lens.
Where are deliveries most prominent? Push marketing with that message in that area. Which types of people are most likely to visit and browse your e-commerce site? Target your marketing to that audience.
Capitalize on new occasions.
After lockdown, anything and everything becomes an occasion. Social lives are accelerating — which means trends will follow.
Take a pulse of the people. How are drinkers discovering and trying new brands? Where are they enjoying those drinks products most often? Are the products tied to other trends (like Tequila’s rise alongside the popularity of the simple margarita)?
Product trends move from hip bar to home bar through the independent channel
With a beat on what’s moving through those local liquor stores, brands can proactively improve business futures.