2023 Beverage Alcohol Summit Takeaways

Rachel Hoffman | October 5, 2023

The two-day 2023 Sovos ShipCompliant Beverage Alcohol Summit virtual event included a wide variety of speakers covering topics that affect every level of the industry. Some of the highlights from the event are presented below.

Actionable DEI Strategies for Growth

Dr. J Jackson-Beckham, of Brewers Association, shared five strategies to build diversity, equity, inclusion and justice into the culture of your organization. Diversity drives innovation, and as Jackson-Beckham pointed out, innovation and nimbleness are necessary in the current bev alc space. Diversity, equity, inclusion and justice are not just a program or initiative, they must be a holistic part of your organization to produce the benefits all wish to see.

Emerging Applications for AI in Beverage Alcohol

Nathan Westfall of Vine Valley Analytics & Strategy and Erlina Doherty from Vinicola discussed the use case for AI in your day-to-day business. Tools like ChatGPT can be helpful in drafting emails, blogs and social posts (though we promise this one was written by a human). Other AI tools can write code for your website, act as a chatbot to offer customer support and for pricing optimization. Many may feel hesitant about losing the human touch with tools like these, but Westfall reiterated that this isn’t meant to take jobs, but rather make the more mundane parts of your day easier, freeing up your time for the more complex and nuanced tasks facing your business. Generative AI tools “learn” from data supplied by users, so you may find that its outputs contain biases. Because of this, Doherty cautioned that it’s the responsibility of the users to consider intellectual property and product liability rules before using content created by tools like ChatGPT.

Movement to Extend Interstate Sales for Beverage Alcohol Suppliers

Sovos ShipCompliant’s Alex Koral moderated a discussion between Chas Runco of Runco & Proffitt and Bethany K Hatef of Davis Wright Tremaine focusing on suppliers who wish to add direct-to-consumer (DtC) shipping to their strategy alongside three-tier distribution to better meet consumer demand.

The trio shared the options available for producers, importers and suppliers to ship beer, wine and spirits. The rules vary depending on who you are and the product you sell, and guilds across the country are engaged in grassroots efforts to further open up the DtC beer and spirits markets to achieve parity with the DtC wine market.

Self-distribution also came up as another interstate sales option that has drawn recent interest from bev alc producers. In the few states that allow it, Runco says it’s an incredibly valuable tool for breweries, distilleries and wineries to get their products to retailers or consumers. So-called three-tier direct-to-consumer services that offer established suppliers to market, advertise and sell onto their websites were also discussed, with all three speakers warning of the legal concerns associated with this business model.

Today’s Category-Agnostic Drinker

Kater Bernot and Bryan Roth of Good Beer Hunting shared how category-agnostic drinkers are shaping the wine, spirits, beer and other beverage alcohol categories, and how producers can use data to better understand and react to today’s market. By conducting interviews with Millennial and Gen Z drinkers, they found that switching between categories isn’t motivated by taste preferences per se, but rather by mood and who they are drinking with. Alcohol companies are adapting to the mind shift of consumers by marketing to the flavor experience, focusing on seasonality, occasion and emotion rather than calories or ABV.

TTB Hot Topics Updates, Priorities and RTDS

Each year we aim to have the regulators themselves speak at the Beverage Alcohol Summit, and this year was no different. Janelle Christian and Chris Thiemann, representatives of the TTB, offered news, updates and general advice about interacting with the bureau for your regulatory needs. They offered updates on an executive order regarding competition in the wine, beer and spirits industries and new labeling rules regarding alcohol facts, allergen and ingredient information. The bureau’s top priorities are updating and modernizing the customer experience of the TTB website, simplifying the list of materials needed for permits and tax forms and keeping processing times down.

Legal Professionals Panel

Legal experts Shauna Barnes, Elke Hoffmann, Arielle Albert and Alex Koral wrapped up the two-day summit by discussing the major issues and concerns in the industry. They offered the legal perspective around developing products like ready-to-drink spirits, hard seltzers and non-alcoholic beverages. They stressed the importance of realizing the limits of each license. For instance, a producer can only go-to-market with an RTD cocktail if the base alcohol is the same as what they are already licensed to produce—a brewer cannot just go ahead and make a spirits-based RTD, nor a distiller a malt-based one. Additionally, the laws around non-alcohol beverages, another newly popular product category, can get complicated and require careful review. In one state your product may be considered juice, while another views and regulates the same product as beer.

For more information on the topics covered in the Sovos ShipCompliant Beverage Alcohol Summit, check out our blog. There, you’ll find the latest updates, trends, news and insights affecting the beverage alcohol industry.

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