Changing Tastes


Across the beverage landscape, or relationship with drink is changing – redefining categories and creating new, exciting offers that deliver on emerging desires. Our horizons are being stretched far beyond basic hydration, or the desire for a social lubricant, as we become more discerning and curious as consumers.

Change is happening across categories, with products that were previously seen as commodities now becoming highly valued, premium products. In other categories, such as premium spirits, the classic conventions and cues of quality are no longer relevant to the younger consumer, resulting in new, challenging product development. 

Consumers have become more discerning of the quality of product they consume, whether that’s food or drink, and don’t believe that convenience should equate to a low quality experience. One of the biggest categories in the UK to experience this mind-set is coffee, where greater levels of education and awareness has resulted in traditional market leaders becoming obsolete.

The rise of at home systems like Nespresso, and the increased frequency that people visit coffee shops, mean that convenience and quality are no longer opposing needs, but rather expectations.

Such is the demand for quality convenience, that 21% of coffee drinkers would be interested in fresh coffee being delivered to their door (Mintel). Big brands, such as Starbucks, have identified the increasing need for convenience and have developed platforms to make ordering coffee even more seamless. The “mobile order and pay” app from Starbucks allows you to order ahead and skip the queue – something that 16% of its US consumers are now using every day.

This discerning attitude has also transferred into categories that are full of low-value, commodity beverages, and is further evidence that consumers are continuing to place a high value on everyday products that are delivered in innovative formats. 

One such commodity product is milk – the rising popularity of high protein diets means that diary has been quick to pivot towards the wellness market and reinforce its healthy attributes. Nearly 8% of new product launches globally in the diary sector used “high-in” or “source of protein” positioning – a figure that rises to 17% in the US (Innova Market Insights).

As a result, milk is experiencing a revolution, with new, high-value offers being created in a variety of markets.

Big corporations are leveraging the nutritional properties of milk, and even enhancing it, in order to create a product that meets the needs of a health-conscious consumer. Coca-Cola’s new brand, Fairlife, is one such example – its premium positioning is boosted by its used of a patented cold-filtered system, that produces a lactose-free product with 50% more protein and 30% more calcium.  

However, milk is not the only low-value product seeing change through more exotic options and experimentation.

Tea is also evolving in the mind of consumer, becoming more popular as its healthy attributes and complex flavours are used more creatively.

Th­e Rabbit Hole Organic Tea Bar in Sydney is a case in point – not only are there over 22 varieties of tea to choose from, but the formats it comes in ranges from sparkling to fermented. The success of the bar shows that flavour is not the only area that consumers expect brands to experiment with. Equally, the production process and even serving method all play a role in engaging the consumer within the category.  

Tea is also being used in conjunction with other categories to enhance its value further – to the extent that it’s now used as a mixer in cocktails. The alcoholic drinks category has seen consumers increasingly ask for more unusual and complex flavours, that have more depth to them as an experience.

Based in Tokyo, Soven is a small tea bar that serves a number of tea cocktails with alcohol, such as paring a smoked tea with Japanese Single Malt whisky. Off-the-shelf brands are also being created around the merger of tea and spirits, with the development of Faradi, a premium alcohol brand, made by distilling black tealeaves. Big brands have also tapped into this changing taste, with spirits giant Bacardi releasing Tang, an alcoholic drink completely distilled completely from green tea leaves. 

But it’s not just the commodity end of the beverage market that is seeing conventions change – at the premium end, traditional cues and indicators of premiumness are becoming redundant.

Whisky is a key category seeing these changes, particularly as it’s becoming increasingly popular with Millennials – global consumption is expected to outstrip that of vodka by 2018 (Euromonitor). Having grown up in a culture where experience and story have a greater value than product, old value indicators such as the beverage vintage and ageing have become less relevant and, in some cases, superfluous. 

Heritage becomes less about what the brand has done in the past, and more about what it can deliver right now.

Suntory have crated a range of Japanese whisky that addresses this change in conventions, with its new, no-age-statement - the brand believes that “age should not be the sole parameter of quality”. 

Another brand offers consumers the ability to create their own barrel-aged spirit themselves, creating the taste of a 3-year old batch in less than a day.

Whiskey Elements uses a uniquely designed wooden comb to speed up the maturation process, and allows the user to create a range of tastes depending on the temperature they distil at and the gestation period. Aging a product is no longer the signifier of quality that it once was, and this is line with the general trend within the premium sector.

As our relationship with beverages evolves in line with our increasingly discerning and fragmented consumer tastes, conventions that have lasted years and even decades are being challenged and changed. 

Brands will need to question their long-held beliefs and quality cues, as shifting attitudes towards commodity and premium offerings drive innovation and demand transformation. Growth in the beverage market will rely on more than heritage or convenience – it will be driven by collaboration, experimentation and the ability to deliver new, diverse product stories.

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