How consumers – and brands – are defining the eco-conscious movement in the beverage category 

Editor’s note: Ken Roshkoff is president of AMC Global, a market research firm headquartered in Blue Bell, Pa. 

Consumers are making their voices known when it comes to preferences surrounding sustainability, and this is particularly evident in the beverage category. In fact, a trip to your local grocery store beverage aisle could be considered a master class in the influence of sustainability on today’s consumer marketing. From kombucha to cabernets, six-packs and their tamer, no-low counterparts, it would seem there is big business in going green, driven by consumer preferences and governmental regulations. 

But there are subtleties to this movement. For example, in the adult beverage space, we are seeing recyclable cartons, fully recycled and recyclable aluminum cans, and other environmentally friendly pack options. And although consumers in our ongoing behavior study do state that this is important to them, a closer look at this particular category tells a slightly different tale. When we examined sales – and took a deeper dive into consumer habits and heuristics – our study found that, if rated against taste and price, the importance of sustainability in packaging and production of adult beverages falls to a low of about 9% importance. This is an example of how attempts to balance divergent consumer demands can be a trade-off for beverage brands. 

My team’s experiences guiding beverage brand launches has made us aware of the capricious landscape facing products in this category – and the obstacles that can materialize along the way. Heeding the call to impart an aura of sustainability around a product may feel like a no-brainer. However, as we look deeper into the major forces at play, we find a more complicated question, one that demands a hands-on approach throughout product development and beyond. 

So, what is really behind the sustainability trend in beverages? And how can you meet what may be contradictory consumer demands? 

Consumer behavior – mind the (mindful) gap

The image of the mindful consumer permeates much of contemporary product marketing and the beverage industry is no exception. Products in the no-low alcohol space, functional ingredient-based beverages and branded “health halos” have seen immense growth over the last few years and are projected to grow their overall market share 31% by 2024. This push for sustainably minded products is mirrored across verticals, but particularly is seen in CPG and food and beverage, as seen in a study we conducted on the impact of packaging on purchase decisions.

While some consumers may say that sustainability is important, teasing out what the term really means – and how it translates into sales – is a whole other story. 

Sustainability efforts in alcoholic and adult-targeted beverages must be measured by what goes inside the bottle as well as its actual pack or production. When looking at specifics of package sustainability, our latest study shows that recyclability of beverage packaging is most important to 29% of consumers. For the production process, 20% claim this is not important to them, with 19% desiring a reduction in waste during beverage manufacturing.

Sustainability in product production and pack design, while not outweighing taste and price, is still an important aspect to consider. When it comes to negotiating where to focus one’s sustainability efforts to appease growing customer interest, pre-launch research like claims testing, choice exercises and idea screening will be crucial to determine what consumers expect from products – and what they can overlook.

Environmental responsibility: Brands taking a greener turn

It’s not just consumer demand and brand image driving sustainability; major brands and smaller craft production teams alike are putting their own spin on what it means to be eco-conscious. Australian brewery Young Henrys made global news headlines in 2020 after they announced a partnership with the University of Technology Sydney to utilize algae to convert CO2 produced in brewing back to oxygen, resulting in a carbon neutral brew process. While craft brew operations are often associated with slow food and local beverage trends, they aren’t alone in their efforts. The parent company of Bulleit Bourbon opened its own carbon neutral distillery in 2021 in an effort to be “part of the solution to tackle the ongoing climate crisis.” 

Concept depicting the issue of carbon dioxide emissions and its impact on nature - trees

While these endeavors are admirable and integral to heeding environmental concerns, they don’t necessarily spell long-term brand success. It is essential for brands to understand their consumer, and how to communicate their environmental responsibility to said consumer. This differentiation can result in increased consumer choice in niche markets. Consideration of the myriad factors that contribute to brand health is required to ensure that eco-minded products have the required longevity to truly make an impact.

Sustainability beyond reduce, reuse, recycle 

The biggest carbon footprint most products will make isn’t on the production line; it’s in the journey they’ll take to inevitably reach consumers. Because of this, sustainable packaging must be both ecologically mindful and sturdy enough to withstand shipping and handling, all while preserving brand intentionality in its design.

A recent report from McKinsey captured the complicated nature of sustainability efforts in packaging, arguing that players in this field would need to look beyond “quick wins” to find viable, long-term solutions with true ecological impact – and also noting that consumer awareness of the importance is rising. How sustainability is messaged can also be derived from consumer research. Our study shows 74% of consumers depend on pack claims to understand sustainability efforts by brands.

Beverage producers, regardless of alcohol content, will find their path to a cleaner carbon footprint more complex than that of non-potable products given the delicate nature of beverage products themselves. For example, glass bottles, while recyclable and preferred for many beverages (according to our ongoing study), are heavy and easily broken. Innovations in sustainable beverage packaging need to respond to flavor as well as frailty when considering new solutions.

There is innovation happening in the adult beverage space to become more environmentally conscious in terms of packs. In 2020, British sustainable packaging company Frugalpac launched a first-of-its-kind wine bottle made from 94% recycled paper which promises not to compromise taste for innovation. Because packaging is so crucial to setting brands apart, it's imperative that product story and pack design are developed to work alongside sustainability efforts rather than contradict the gravitas of product marketing on consumer choice – and design decisions must be based on consumer insights.

The sustainability journey – finding market success 

While companies in the beverage space continue to dabble in sustainability efforts, the final word on the long-term effects of employing eco-friendly production processes and marketing is still out for debate. The no-low beverage category offers a white space to gauge the thought process behind mindful consumer trends, offering claims testing opportunities unavailable to their boozier counterparts. With brands both big and small staking their claim in this territory, emergent products in this space will need a clear road map of potential category gaps, evolving consumer sentiments and the journey ahead. 

Discovery R&D, product planning and consumer co-creation will be the difference between finding products in the hands of consumers … or winding up in the landfill. Identifying, developing and launching the right products and services, based on the right consumer insights, is a critical component of successful organizational growth and consistent market success. 

This research was conducted as part of AMC Global’s ongoing consumer behavior study. The results for the recent sustainability in beverage survey were collected among a general population of n=995 of U.S. consumers age 21+, between February 25 and March 2, 2022. A graphical representation of the study can be found at For more information, e-mail AMC Global at