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U.S. alcohol retailers seek to gain ground in wellness market

2019-07-25 11:41 Thursday

As the health and fitness market continues to grow, several areas of the food and drink industry that have traditionally been seen as unhealthy are trying to switch their focus and promote a more appealing image – not least when it comes to alcoholic beverages.


Quaffing a beer after a hard day at work is relaxing and sociable, but not something many would consider healthy. In the U.S., millennials are spending less money on alcohol than both their parents and grandparents according to a 2017 survey.

Some millennials are even flirting with giving up alcohol completely, or at least drinking it more mindfully. This plays strongly into the generation’s mindset for embracing wellness and self-care.

It has made some industry observers nervous, and caused shockwaves in wine, beer and liquor businesses with hundreds of years of history.

Therefore, to tempt back younger customers, alcohol brands are turning to “wellness” as a selling point, putting forward the argument that their products are a natural component of any balanced, healthy diet.

Will it work? A raft of new and innovative products has hit the market, and some have already found considerable success. Some are marketing their alcohol as functional drinks, from "wellness beers" targeted at athletes to paleo- and keto-diet friendly wines and so-called “clean spirits”.

For example, GEM&BOLT is a recently-launched artisanal brand of mescal. It touts the functional value of an ingredient called damiana in its drinks.

“In the realm of plant medicine, damiana is prescribed as a natural antidepressant, mood regulator, and organ tonic,” says Elliott Coon, co-founder of GEM&BOLT. "It is also used to promote overall sexual well-being in both men and women."

Coon added,“From my perspective, millennials certainly seem to embrace the concept that ‘thy body is thy temple.’”

While the ingredient damiana has historically been used to increase sexual desire and treat some symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and menopause, there is little evidence from a scientific standpoint that supports its effectiveness in treating these conditions.

Spirits are not the only niche getting a makeover. When it comes to wine, today’s millennials are highly selective.

Natural vintages said to be made with fewer chemicals and less processing are less likely to leave the drinker with the dreaded Sunday morning hangover. These wines are becoming increasingly popular.

Dry Farm Wines is a Napa Valley company that claims to offer quality, sustainable natural wines that comply with their "strict standard of health." The company's wines are touted as sugar-free (containing under 1 gram of sugar per liter), paleo- and keto-friendly, and low carb. Their website describes them as well as "pure, artisanal, and deliciously clean."

The producer also claims that the relatively low alcohol content of its wines gives the consumer a "better, cleaner buzz."

Even more so than with wine and liquor, the beer industry has been given the turnaround by millennials. Nowadays, they appear to be less interested in beer than wine and spirits, according to a survey from 2018.

A novel approach has certainly been put forward by Sufferfest Beer Company. Their branding espouses drinks not only as something to share with a group of friends, but as a tool of the post-workout recovery session.

“We invite you to nix those post-sweat sugary sports drinks and have a beer,” writes the company in promotional material for their new beer, ‘Fastest Known Time’ pale ale.

‘Fastest Known Time’ includes salt for potassium and magnesium – just like a regular sports drink – and gives the beer “its quenching flavor,” according to the website.

Meanwhile, the sister product ‘Repeat’ is made with bee pollen, which reportedly contains 1.2 grams of protein per tablespoon, lending it that extra added appeal for protein diet aficionados.

Also, take Harpoon Brewery’s ‘Rec League’ beer. It is brewed with “a groundbreaking blend of healthy and delicious ingredients,” according to the company, made with sea salt from the Mediterranean and chia seeds and only 3.8 percent alcohol content.

The health-focused marketing angle seems to be working. GEM&BOLT mezcal is sold in more than 700 bars, restaurants, and stores in the U.S. and Sufferfest Beer Company seems poised for growth as well.

Sufferfest became the subject of the first-ever acquisition by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, the 3rd-largest brewing company in the States by sales volume.

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