In times of crises, people are known to seek comfort in the familiar. Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, beverage alcohol consumers have turned to products with nostalgic flavours as they seek both comfort and indulgence. This trend has manifested in a number of drinks categories, leading to an increase in products inspired by dessert and confectionary.
“For many people, pandemic lockdowns amplified aspects of creating coziness. Flavours and smells like chocolate chip cookies, fresh-squeezed lemonade or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich bring back the nostalgia of childhood and are simple comforts,” remarks Emily Neill, COO Market Research, IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.
“I think that distilling technology has come a long way and this allows us to accurately capture flavours,” adds Laura Carl, marketing product owner at Atom Labs, the innovation arm of UK drinks maker Atom Group. Carl highlights Atom’s Jaffa Cake Gin, which is made using real jaffa cakes. The product was launched in the UK in April 2020, when the country was in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, and demand “hasn’t dropped off” as the country navigates its way out of the pandemic. In fact, this year Atom added a rum and vodka to the Jaffa Cake spirits family, with plans to release more iterations in the future.
In the US, peanut butter-flavoured whiskey is a trend that has been growing for some time, and has continued at pace throughout the pandemic, albeit from a low base. Collectively, the leading five peanut butter whiskey brands in the US increased sales by more than 250% from 2019 to 2020, according to IWSR data. As the trend evolves and pandemic-induced nostalgia continues, more brands are incorporating flavours of chocolate.
“The peanut butter whiskey trend that has captured consumers’ interest over the past few years has paved the way for dessert inspired whiskey-based indulgences,” says Neill. “As a flavour, chocolate works well with peanut butter so it’s not a surprise that labels are being approved for chocolate peanut butter whiskey brand lines in the US. Other relevant chocolate inspired flavours currently in planning include chocolate mint, original chocolate, s’mores and dark chocolate banana.”
Some brands are channelling the flavours of the ‘Bourbon ball’ dessert, which consists of crushed cookies, chopped pecans, chocolate, bourbon and powdered sugar. Among them are Ballotin Bourbon Ball, Barton 1792 Distillery Chocolate Bourbon Ball Cream Liqueur and Ole Smoky Bourbon Ball Cream Liqueur. Other brands are offering no/low alcohol alternatives that tap into flavours of nostalgia as well, such as Ritual Zero Proof’s no-alcohol bacon maple cookie dough-flavoured whiskey alternative.
The dessert whiskey trend so far has remained largely confined to the US, but has international potential, particularly as drinks makers create their own iterations inspired by regional flavours. For instance, Atom Brands’ Bourbon Bourbon – a blend of Bourbon whiskey and traditional chocolate Bourbon biscuits – has proved to be particularly popular over the past year, says Carl.
In RTDs, lemonade flavours are satiating consumers’ desire for comfort, while also providing the simple and refreshing taste they crave. In rum, banana has become a popular flavour trend with brands such as La Hechicera, Red Leg, Dead Man’s Fingers and Rockstar Spirits launching banana-flavoured expressions in the past year.
Pastry beer is another sub-category that is gaining traction, tapping into consumers’ desire for comfort and decadence. Particularly popular in the US and UK, pastry beers initially exploited the rich and dessert-like qualities of stout, with the inclusion of two or more confectionery-inspired adjuncts. While the trend started with stouts, brewers are now experimenting with pastry-flavoured lagers, lighter beer styles, non-alcoholic beers and even pastry-inspired hard seltzers. Evil Twin Brewing for example aims to attract and retain fans of the brand with its pastry-inspired seltzers.
How will the trend evolve in the future? “The taboo of enjoying these sweet, indulgent flavours seems to have waned over the past year, and more brands are likely to release their own nostalgic flavour iterations. We’re also likely to see more flavour combinations hit the market, as well as flavours that reflect regional products or desserts,” remarks Neill.
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