It’s no secret: Americans like to drink. From beer and wine to hard drinks, the average American enjoys an alcoholic beverage on a regular or semi-regular basis — whether they drink to celebrate, unwind, or for any other reason.
Yet as all bar owners know, it isn’t always easy to determine exactly what consumers want to drink — and how + where they want to drink it. While predicting bar industry trends isn’t an exact science, examining data from studies and surveys can help you make better decisions about the direction of your business’ growth. From lower calorie and low sugar drinks (like hard seltzer) to fancy cocktails with fresh ingredients or unusual flavors, we’re breaking down the next big things for the bar business.
What National Statistics Reveal About How — and What — Americans Drink
Each year, the federal government performs a survey of approximately 70,000 people aged 12 and older for the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). This study provides important information on tobacco, alcohol and drug use, as well as issues related to mental and physical health. The survey is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency in the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
These surveys provide important information on patterns of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drug use and misuse. They also reveal trends in the use of these substances. The most recent survey results, the 2018 NSDUH, were released in 2019.
This report contains data that can be incredibly useful to bar owners. In 2018, 70% of American adults aged 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol in the past year. 55.3% stated that they drank in the past month. 86.3% of people reported that they had drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime.
According to the 2018 NSDUH, an estimated 139.8 million Americans aged 12 or older were current alcohol users (i.e., they drank in the past month). Most of these Americans were aged 26 or older, with 118.8 million people in this age group reporting that they drank alcohol in the past month. 18.8 million adults between the ages of 18 and 25 were current alcohol users.
In contrast, the 2017 NSDUH, 51.7% of respondents aged 12 and older reported that they drank alcohol within the past month. This includes 56.3% of people aged 18 to 25 and 55.8% of people over the age of 26. Overall, this represents 140.6 million Americans who used alcohol in the past month.
Of course, the NSDUH isn’t the only entity conducting surveys on alcohol use in the United States. The IWSR analyzes alcoholic beverage trends in the industry, and offers its reports and analysis tools for sale on its website.
According to a report from the IWSR, the global consumption of alcoholic beverages fell by 1.6% in 2018 — down to 27.6 billion cases sold and consumed worldwide. While the consumption of alcoholic beverages is declining, the non-alcoholic beverage industry is poised to grow. Currently, the non-alcoholic beverage industry makes up just 0.5% of the total U.S. beverage alcohol market. However, the industry is expected to grow at an annual rate of 4.4% per year.
In 2019, the IWSR conducted a survey of bartenders in 15 American cities to produce its US Bartender Strategic Study. According to this report, there is a growing demand for low sugar and low-to-no alcohol drinks at bars across the U.S. The bartenders also shared that customers currently have a strong preference for hard seltzer, spicy drinks, and drinks made using fresh ingredients. The IWSR predicts that sales of hard seltzer will triple to more than 281 million cases by 2023.
This report provides a lot of useful information for bar businesses. For example, it lists the most popular brands of alcohol asked for by consumers:
- Whiskey: Maker’s Mark, Jameson, Bulleit, Woodford Reserve, and Buffalo Trace
- Vodka: Tito’s, Ketel One, Grey Goose, Absolut
- Tequila: Casamigos, Don Julio, Patrón, and Espolon
- Gin: Bombay Sapphire, Bluecoat, Plymouth, Tanqueray, and Hendrick’s
- Other: Aperol, Campari and White Claw
U.S. consumers drink more tequila than anyone else in the world. Bartenders reported a growing interest in mezcal due to its smooth, smoky flavors. Other popular flavors include spicy, bitter, and herbal flavors.
As U.S. consumers become more interested in low sugar and low alcohol drinks, the volume of wine consumed has not risen as sharply as consumption of spirits. A wine industry report for 2020 predicted that wine will continue to be less popular than spirits and drinks like hard seltzer. The price of wine in the United States has been dropping.
Alcoholic Beverage Trends to Expect in the Bar Industry in 2021
Based on these bar industry statistics, there are a number of trends that you can expect to see in 2021. Depending on your brand, you may want to incorporate one of more of these trends, such as:
- Stocking hard seltzers
- Offering mocktails
- Providing speciality brews, like barrel-aged beers
- Creating a menu of low sugar or low calorie cocktails
- Using different or interesting ingredients to create cocktails, like kombucha or jalapeños
- Experimenting with CBD infused drinks
One of the hottest bar industry trends to sweep the nation right now is CBD infused drinks. 77% of restaurant chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) identified cannabis/CBD-infused drinks as the number one trend in the restaurant industry right now.
Of course, these bar industry trends may not be right for your business. Before taking on any of these trends, carefully consider whether it makes sense to do so based on your brand and your overall marketing strategy.
How These Bar Industry Statistics and Habits Can Help You Adapt Your Business Model
These statistics and habits can be used to retool your bar business for maximum success. One of the most important takeaways is that a greater percentage of Americans — 55.3% versus 51.7% — are current alcohol users. This is important, as it represents a bigger potential market for your bar.
At the same time, reports from The IWSR demonstrate that health-conscious consumers increasingly want drinks that fit their lifestyle — whether that means beverages without alcohol, low calorie drinks, or low sugar drinks. At the same time, customers want beverages that taste good — and are interested in more unique flavors than they have been in the past.
If your bar currently lacks a selection of alcohol-free beverages, consider changing that up for 2021. Choose some delicious no-alcohol beers to offer as part of your regular rotation. At the same time, ask your bartenders to develop mocktails that offer a delicious alternative to alcohol-based beverages.
These mocktails could even be a version of alcoholic beverages that you or your staff creates. For example, if you craft a jalapeño-infused martini, think about how you could infuse non-alcoholic drinks with similar flavors. Keep the top flavor profiles in mind when creating both cocktails and mocktails — spicy, smoky, bitter and herbal — and be sure to use fresh ingredients when possible.
To appeal to health-conscious consumers, think about stocking popular low calorie favorites like hard seltzer. When developing a menu of signature cocktails, consider how much sugar is going into each beverage. Providing a menu with ample low-sugar options can help you increase your overall sales.
You can also stock your bar with new and interesting spirits, like mezcal or even locally brewed spirits. Having a wide selection of both the most popular alcoholic drinks as well as unique new options can help to increase your market share.
Of course, these ideas are just that: ideas. If your bar is branded in a particular way, such as a spot for no-frills drinks, it doesn’t make sense to start offering hand-crafted cocktails that feature fresh herbs or infused spirits. Having an incoherent brand strategy can actually hurt your bottom line — so stay focused on what makes your bar unique, and stick to the brand that works for you.
How We Can Help Bar Owners with Branding
No matter how many alcoholic beverage trends — if any — you choose to incorporate in your bar this year, expanding the reach of your business is still a top priority. Whether you run an upscale dive bar, a sports bar, or a lounge-style bar, there are any number of ways to grow your market. A branded plastic cup or even custom stadium cups can put your brand right in the hands of your customers.
At Budget Branders, we are committed to offering custom disposables for less. Traditionally, branded cups and other items were an item that only the biggest chains could afford, ordering millions of cups at a time. We offer custom-printed restaurant supplies at prices and quantities that are doable for small and medium-sized bars, restaurants, and more. If you’d like to know more about how we can help your bar, contact us today or submit a quote request for one or more of our products.