As the year draws to a close, FoodBev is continuing to offer a retrospective on the past 12 months in the global food and beverage industry. Here, we take a look at the innovations that went viral this year and what it says about the sector as a whole.
‘Jane Walker’ Scotch
The most popular new product story of the past year was Diageo’s release of a chic ‘Jane Walker’ Scotch – a twist on its Johnnie Walker brand – that was designed to promote gender equality. It’s a fitting tribute to one of the industry’s most pressing issues: with just two female chief executives at the food industry’s 100 largest companies (Hershey’s Michele Buck and Beth Ford, who was made CEO of Land O’Lakes in July), there are signs that the sector is beginning to get its act together on female representation in the boardroom. Diageo aims to become the UK’s best employer for women, while US rival Constellation Brands announced a $100 million fund earlier in December to be invested exclusively in female-led start-ups.
But targeting gender inequality is not always a smooth ride: BrewDog will be left wondering why its release of Pink IPA – a repackaging of its flagship Punk IPA designed to promote equal pay – was met with a completely different reaction when it was launched just a week after Diageo’s Jane Walker whisky. Social media users criticised it as uninventive and clichéd, and BrewDog issued an apology – of sorts – and acknowledged that the campaign had missed the mark. It was a similar story for former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, who was caught out at the start of the year saying that women needed different Doritos to men.
So there’s a clear warning here for bigger companies: gender equality is not an issue to be commercialised or politicised at the expense of substantive action.
Two in 100: Progress on female CEOs is starting to stall
Read Harriet Jachec’s analysis on the departure of former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, which left just two female chief executives at any of the 100 largest food and beverage firms. [Read more…]
Barilla’s lentil and chickpea pasta
In September, FoodBev explained how Italian pasta maker Barilla was launching a new range of pastas made using either lentils or chickpeas – and the story went viral on social media, in particular LinkedIn. Launching in the US, the range taps into demand for simple and minimally processed foods by using just one ingredient in each box. The pastas, including red lentil penne and chickpea casarecce, debuted in the US at $2.99 a box.
Health is one of the most powerful forces driving consumer purchasing behaviour at the moment, so companies cutting out ingredients for healthier and more wholesome alternatives are likely to find favour among consumers. While sugar is the focal point of consumer scrutiny, it is evidence that other food categories are beginning to feel the pressure. Indeed, last year FoodBev reported that Italian consumers were eating 10% less pasta than five years previous – in part because consumers were more likely to avoid carbohydrates.
Jim Beam and Budweiser lager
In August, Budweiser and Jim Beam collaborated on a new lager that celebrates the 85th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition in the US.
Called Budweiser Reserve Copper Lager, the beverage is an American-style lager, brewed with two-row barley and aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrel staves. The charred American oak staves, which previously served as barrels ageing Jim Beam for four years, are said to create a toasted oak aroma while the beer has a “nutty taste with caramel rye and vanilla notes and the classically smooth Budweiser finish”.
The launch is characteristic of the industry’s new-found ‘open culture’, which has led to record numbers of accelerator programmes and incubator schemes run by larger food and beverage companies, all keen to tap into the next lucrative idea. This has also led to a new wave of hybrid products, which, as well as Jim Beam and Budweiser’s collaboration, has included a gin-flavoured cheese and an Indian pale ale developed jointly by Kingfisher and the UK’s Freedom Brewery.
In many cases, companies are recognising consumer demand for ‘instagrammable’ foods and beverages that provide an experience beyond just the product itself.
Lighter and lower-ABV beer
At the same time, one of the biggest burgeoning trends in the beverage category is lighter and lower-alcohol beer. There have been a raft of innovations in the past 12 months led by Carlton Zero, a 0% ABV alternative from Anheuser Busch-owned Carlton & United Breweries. Carlton Zero is said to be slightly hoppy with a fruity aroma and is designed “for beer lovers who want more opportunities to enjoy beer responsibly”, the brewery said.
And it’s in good company: since the beginning of 2018, MillerCoors, Skinny Brands, Michelob Ultra, Bud Light, Guinness and Carlsberg have all launched or expanded their ranges of lower-calorie or lower-alcohol beer. Aside from cannabis, low- and no-alcohol could become the beer category’s biggest driver of growth in 2019.
Yet, as with any action – as with dairy-free yogurt and meatless sausages – there is bound to be an equal and opposite reaction, and lower-alcohol beer risks becoming the next free-from category to face the scrutiny of regulators.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020