Consumer demand for experience in all things has led to consumers expecting experience in all things. The term “experience” is a little misleading, however, when it comes to beverages. When you hear the word, in conjures images of immersive, highly visual tours highlighting local culture and producers—something like a caffeine tour. But beverage experiences, following the lead of what’s happened around craft beer, have become something more personal.
Let’s face it—there’s not really much you can do with a beverage outside of presentation or flavor. You can infuse it with colors, all manner of garnish and all kinds of unusual—even outlandish, to us—international flavors. Still, a beverage hinges on the simple act of drinking it, and that’s the sum of the “experience.”
But wait. You can tell a story with a drink.
Recently AB InBev, the maker of all things Budweiser, announced that it would be creating a beer based on one of George Washington’s original homebrew recipes. The, by itself, would likely be just another LTO that sat on the shelf, looking like it wanted to be craft beer. That is, if not for the historical element lending itself to the overall story of the beer.
It isn’t just an old recipe—it’s a recipe that George Washington, THE founding father, wrote himself while he was brewing his own beer. That perception of a history, of a story, is what beverage experiences have become, and that sense of meaning or connection to something greater is something that no amount of glitter or odd flavors can replace.
Experiences, especially in beverages, are evolving to encompass something less tangible to give meaning to something that has a lifespan of about an hour, at the max. They lean harder on memories, and less on mementos.
Experiences are not the only thing going on in the world of beverage; consumers are looking for naturally good beverages. From sodas to beer to coffee, companies are taking it upon themselves to create healthier and more sustainable options for consumers. “Natural” and “raw” waters (the latter which is potentially alarmingly unsafe) are popular because they offer more “pure” versions of water, which is perceived to be healthier.
This confusion is not a limited-case scenario. Think about the old outrage over products such as Vitaminwater. They were perceived to be healthy, but were later reviled because consumers realized they were akin to soda as far as sugar content.
Speaking of, more so than anything else, sugar has had more influence over the direction beverages have been moving—not necessarily innovation as much as finding ways to make drinking sugarless palatable. The race to find a healthy (or at least, less detrimental) sweetener has seen the launch of numerous new sodas, energy drinks, teas, instant coffees, waters, juices, beers and wines—all in the name of finding that perfect level of sweetness that strikes a balance between taste and health. Governments have begun taxing sugary drinks in order to slow consumption, with the intent of increasing the overall health of their populations. Sugar is going down the same path as cigarettes or alcohol, taxed enough to be a deterrent to purchase, but funding services and programs from the money of those who choose not to resist.
At the end of the day the, all we often want is that the ice-cold glass of relief in our hands will mean something. It may be a greater connection to some kind of culture, or a better diet that helps us feel better. No matter what, the idea of “experience” is redefining what we think beverages can be.