June 28, 2022

Change is Coming: Increasing Diversity in the Beverage Industry

By Francine Cohen, Les Dames d’Escoffier NY

Change is Coming: Increasing Diversity in the Beverage Industry Food & Beverage

Change is underway. Can you feel it? It’s in more than just the cool, then rainy, then suddenly tropical weather, although Mother Nature’s dichotomy definitely reflects what the beverage business is facing at this time.

While you may not have figured out how you will harness this evolution, know that now is the time to do it. Summer is an optimum time to change course in a way that benefits your business and your customers.

Besides heading to the drugstore for a fresh bottle of sunscreen, what are you going to do this summer to ensure future success? The third annual edition of The Next Big Sip, the beverage forecast from Les Dames d’Escoffier NY (LDNY), highlighted fresh thinking as the answer to promising days ahead for the beverage industry.

Amy Zavatto, a spirits journalist and author who moderated a recent panel discussion based on the forecast, opened by noting that despite the difficulties of the last two years, there is hope: “There are lasting positive effects coming out of this. We are seeing a lot of interesting trends and pivotal, industry-shifting moments (that) we’re heartened to see and happy to be participating in.”

Those industry-shifting moments include everything from evolving consumer trends to education, hiring, and efforts to level the playing field.

At bars and restaurants, Kara Newman of Wine Enthusiast sees a return that reflects different desires from patrons. “Some (are) being a bit more cautious and want things to be just right. They are taking into account the value of investing in the considerable expense of going out. On the other hand, everyone’s sort of dived back in. Especially younger people who don’t have risk factors. They want to reclaim the time that is lost. We’ve just spent two years at home perfecting martinis. It’s no longer enough to have the martini we can make at home. People want a fabulous experience.”

Lydia Richards, founder of Vinoconcierge, sees similar desires among wine drinkers who learned a lot about wine while stuck at home. “People were trying to find new ways to entertain themselves at home. They all wanted to learn something about wine from someone who looks like them — maybe someone younger than what you’d normally think of when you think ‘sommelier.’”

This focus on youth portends great things for the alcohol industry as millennials drive a commitment to transparency, education, and balance. Philana Bouvier, President of Demeine Estates, recognizes the power this generation has to drive sales and shape marketing tactics as she watches wine and champagne sales tick up. “Wineries are now thinking about lifelong and lasting experiences for consumers. The luxury wine business is better than ever. The millennial generation has made us think cleaner. Your message has to be on point, and you have to be able to back it up; it is important to be honest and open and diverse.”

That diversity is appealing to consumers — and it’s something that’s been missing from the beverage industry.

Slowly, that is shifting. Companies like Constellation have initiatives for female and minority-owned businesses; WSWA (Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America) continues its long-term commitment to nurturing and supporting women beverage leaders. These initiatives mirror LDNY’s original mission of mentorship and scholarship that began 45 years ago when founder Carol Brock launched the organization to make a place for women in the hospitality industry who weren’t welcome to join the business conversation.

It’s been repeatedly proven that a diverse workforce makes for a more profitable business. When all perspectives are considered and reflected, the resulting product feels more welcoming.

Embracing diversity and enhancing business is what motivated Rhythm Brewing’s brewmaster and founder Alisa Bowens-Mercado to create the is behind Change In The Air Festival. She saw the long-term importance of diversity and partnered with New England Brewing Co., The Connecticut Brewers Guild, and Sacred Heart University to create the CT Brewers Guild African American Brewing Scholarship, which makes education in the brewing sciences more accessible to Black and Brown brewers.

This endeavor may not have been possible years ago when mindsets were different and diverse people couldn’t see their place in certain spaces. Now that these doors are opening, consumers are willing to pay to walk through them.

Bowens-Mercado concluded with a thought about rising prices that reflect taxation, complicated logistical and supply chain issues, and rising wages. She points out that none of these are a deterrent if you’re offering a good product that represents the like-minded values of the producer and consumer.

“I think in general, people are not settling for less anymore. We have one life to live. People are very specific now about what they are buying. They will invest. They’re investing in our visions. In companies. In communities. They say, ‘We’d rather spend extra into something we know you spent hard work into.’ If you’re purchasing wine, spirits or beer, you are going to strategically and consciously start purchasing now.”

Portions of this story excerpted in the April 2022 issue of totalfood.com