Shifting values are re-shaping the way Canadians imbibe (or don’t). “Overall, adult beverages are seeing a slight decline on Canadian menus, down 1.3 per cent in the last year,” shares Katie Belflower, associate editor, Technomic, citing Technomic’s Ignite Menu data.
Looking ahead to 2023, we can expect to see ongoing trends around consumer values, such as health and sustainability, continue to evolve. The enduring impact of habits formed during the pandemic, as well as lingering uncertainty and global instability will also continue to shape the adult-beverage category.
The following are among the top beverage trends to watch in 2023.
1. Fermented Flavours
Fermentation has worked its way behind the bar for a number of reasons, including its health benefits, unique flavours, interest in ancestral food ways and its value as a strategy for reducing waste.
For Toronto’s Mother Cocktail Bar, enhancing “quality natural ingredients” through fermentation is a key element of the bar’s philosophy. Among the bar’s in-house ferments are lacto-fermented grape juice, tepache (a beverage made from fermented pineapple skins), house-made ginger beer and kombucha. These ingredients are used to build complex and unique flavour profiles in beverages such as the Motherland Old Fashioned, made with coconut-infused rye, bourbon, Islay whisky, sweet potato, saffron, elderflower, homemade Woodland Bitters, seasonal lacto-fermented fruit, cacao port and raspberry pickle ($22). The bar also offers cocktail kits such as the Ghost Mule, which features Crystal Head Vodka, clear lime juice, ginger & galangal honey and made-in-house ginger beer ($24.50/two servings).
Technomic Ignite Menu data has also registered a rise in fermented cocktail ingredients on menus. “We are seeing some examples of fermented ingredients in cocktails, especially in independent restaurants,” shares Katie Belflower, associate editor, Technomic. “One example of this is miso cocktails, such as the Paramiso with Toki whiskey, Cointreau, lemon, yuzu and miso orgeat at Boulevard in Vancouver, and the Fortune Teller with Bombay Sapphire, chamomile grappa, lemon juice, grape juice, miso syrup, balsamic vinegar, tonic and Angostura at Proof in Calgary.”
This trend has also begun making its way into the ready-to-drink category, with unique products emerging in the U.S., such as SunDaze’s fermented juice-based cocktails and Ferm Fatale’s wildly fermented zero-proof cocktails.
2. The Off-Premise Experience
Consumers’ relationships with restaurant brands have aevolved over the last few years. In this new environment, having products available beyond the in-restaurant experience is increasingly important in maintaining and deepening connection, loyalty and relevance.
As Massimo Zitti, bartender and co-owner of Mother Cocktail Bar in Toronto points out, offerings such as bottled cocktails and kits really cater to a restaurant/bar’s existing fanbase. They’re buying a piece of the in-house experience to take home. However, he sees creating interactive and educational experiences as a key aspect of the future of offering delivery/take-home products like cocktail kits.
“I am much more focused on teaching people how to make drinks at home [and] giving the value of making your own, because it’s fun,” explains Zitti. “That will make us grow — not just the Mother [brand], but the cocktail scene in general — so much more than just buying [bottled cocktails or kits].”
And he’s not alone in this approach. Toronto-based Evelyn Chick Projects Inc. built Love of Cocktails — a cocktail kit and beverage experience company — around the thirst for cocktail education and interactive experiences. Kits such as the Gin Lover’s Kit allow customers to explore flavour combinations with a preferred spirit, with recipes and ingredients to create three different cocktails (six-serving kit/$85 or 12/$110).
Partners/services that facilitate alcohol delivery also continue to grow within Canada, with SkipTheDishes expanding the service to Saskatchewan in October 2022. “We’ve seen tremendous growth in the category since we began offering this service to our customers, and we’re proud to provide this additional revenue opportunity for our restaurant partners across the province,” says Steve Puchala, senior vice-president, Growth & Restaurant Success.
3. Mocktails and Zero-Proof Beverages
As attitudes toward alcohol consumption evolve and consumers lean toward more healthful habits, mocktails and zero-proof beverage offerings at foodservice have become increasingly sophisticated.
A clear testament to the growing demand for these offerings is the increased prominence they’ve been given on many menus. In fact, Katie Belflower, associate editor, Technomic notes, “Restaurant originals/mocktails have shown growth on Canadian menus in the last year — up 16.4 per cent.”
Massimo Zitti, bartender and co-owner of Mother Cocktail Bar in Toronto, also points to the growing range of hydrosol/zero-proof ‘spirit’ brands available, such as Seedlip, as a key indicator of how this category has evolved.
For example, Ace Hotel Toronto’s Alder restaurant mixes up its Hippocratic Martini with zero-proof gin, zero-proof vermouth and lemon oil ($14).
It is also common for these non-alcoholic creations to leverage fermented drinks such as kombucha and ginger beer to create the complexity and depth of flavour that is often attributed to the spirits in traditional cocktails. This can be seen in Vancouver-based Coast’s Pineapple Mule, which features pineapple, lime, thyme and ginger beer; and Cactus Club Cafe’s Soul Revival made with ginger beer, mango, lime, turmeric, jalapeño and Thai basil.
Research from Mondor Intelligence forecasts increasing global demand for premium alcoholic beverages, driven by increased consumer spending power. Although not mutually exclusive, appreciation and demand for craft spirits also plays a role in the expected growth of premium products, as customers place value on flavour, ingredients and quality.
“What makes people trade up is ego,” Garett Senez, VP Marketing, at Vancouver-based craft-beer, wine and spirits distributor PACRIM Distributors, says. “Craft beer is a badge,” he offers as an example. “You’re [willing to pay more for] it because you want to embody the brand identity and akin it to yourself.”
The mindset around what makes a product premium is evolving, too, with sustainability, innovation and uniqueness carrying increasing value.
Martin Kovalcik, beverage manager of Vancouver’s Global restaurant, has seen first-hand how supply challenges have cultivated a deeper appreciation for the quality products offered by local distilleries. “While on the hunt for the suitable replacements [for unavailable products], many [bar managers] were amazed by perfectly crafted west-coast spirits and mead-vermouths from Vancouver Island and the lower mainland,” he shares.
And, when it comes to paying a premium price at a bar, Zitti notes the value proposition encompasses all elements of the experience. Zitti points to the prices of Mother’s cocktails, which are “a reflection of the service skills, the actual bar skills, the flavour profile, the glassware — all those little things create the valuable experience.”
5. Natural Wines
Interest in ‘natural’ wines has grown alongside demand for sustainability, quality and responsible practices. In fact, U.K.-based IWSR’s Organic Wine Report, identified organic wine as the wine category expected to post the strongest increases in worldwide consumption (2017-2022), forecasting a compound annual growth rate of 9.2 per cent.
And while organic is perhaps the most widely understood quality of wines identified as ‘natural,’ there is currently no strict universal definition of what natural wine production is. Rather, the category encompasses a range of sustainable vineyard practices — commonly broken down into organic, biodynamic and sustainable viticulture — as well as varying degrees of intervention in the wine-making process.
To provide clarity on its menu, Saskatoon-based Taste Hospitality Group employs a ‘V.S.O.B. program’ at its Una Pizza + Wine brand, which marks wine offerings with vegan, sustainable, organic and/or biodynamic designations.
In this landscape, sommeliers aren’t always turning to certifications and claims to select natural wine offerings. There are also producers working in sustainable ways that honour natural processes, but may hold formally certifications. This means it’s often up to sommeliers and beverage managers to do their homework on the subject in order to bring customers offerings that meet demand for sustainable and responsibly produced wines with unique character.
As the natural wine category grows, clarity, regulation and consumer understanding will continue to grow too. In fact, a formal charter for natural wine was introduced in France in 2020, which has already provided the category with greater clarity and clout. In order to use the new vin méthode nature denomination wines must be produced using indigenous yeast and hand-picked grapes from organic vines, among a number of other stipulations.
BY DANIELLE SCHALK