Like most major industries, the world of beverages has seen shifts in consumer habits in recent years, especially towards a more health-conscious mindset of low-alcohol, low-sugar imbibing, and a more intentional approach to eco-conscious packaging. We learn more from some key players on the scene.
Envision this: It’s the perfect September day and you’re on a beach with friends; the weather is hot but tolerable; the breeze tickles you gently as you reach over for a drink – a drink contained within that most optimally recyclable of packaging: an aluminium can. Pat yourself on the back. Your beverage may or may not be healthy for your liver, but with the crack of the opening and the hiss of CO2 escaping, you find the chill of the drink is perfectly retained, the flavour still deliciously expressed.
Grab a Can
There was a time when, compared with glass bottles, cans were seen as inferior receptacles for drink. Cans were cheaper and, by association with the price, deemed of lower quality and status. However, a growing awareness of environmental concerns combined with better education in the food and beverage industry has led to a shift in public perception of this very versatile commodity.
“All single-use products are problematic,” says Leigh Powrie of Hong Kong seltzer brand Dragon Water and the craft brewery Double Haven. “Our brand ethos is to minimise the impact of this by making the best and most sustainable choices we can at each point in the creation and manufacturing process. Both aluminium and glass are recyclable in Hong Kong, but we chose cans as there are fewer components to a can compared to a glass bottle. Glass bottle caps are not recyclable; the lifetime of a can is much longer than a bottle; the transportation costs of a can are lower due to weight, and less storage space is required, which further decreases the potential footprint of the product. Cans are also better at protecting the liquid from light and heat, both factors of which are detrimental to the flavour and quality of the product over time.”
Flora Ma and Jonathan Der, the founders of Hong Kong’s first zero-sugar and zero-carb vodka soda, ONLY Beverages, echo her sentiments: “Cans are lightweight, convenient to carry, and easy to dispose of when compared to glass bottles, which are heavier and prone to shattering,” they say. “This makes cans perfect for consumption on the go at the beach or a barbecue, and on a boat or the dancefloor.”
Unlike most developed countries, our city still lacks large industrial material recovery facilities, and recycling remains costly. For such a small geographical area, Hong Kong produces an unsustainable amount of waste and, to compound the problem, our landfills are filling up rapidly. “We wanted to ensure that our packaging is sustainable, so our cans are made from aluminium coils that contain more than 60 percent recycled content and are produced primarily from renewable energy sources,” say Ma and Der.
A Refreshed Movement
As the conversation about eco-wellness continued, it also appears that environmental wellbeing means more than merely a one-stop strategy for sustainability – the movement ties in with a lifestyle shift towards low-alcohol, low-sugar (LALS) drinks.
“There’s no denying that consumers, not only in Hong Kong but around the world, are gravitating towards a more health-conscious lifestyle that starts with what you put in your body, and the alcoholic beverage industry is no exception,” say Ma and Der. “This is evidenced by the astronomical growth of the spirit-based seltzer category in North America, which began around 2018.” Keeping to their word on introducing a product “without compromise”, they became involved at every step of the development process in Australia, creating recipes using only natural flavours and premium, five-time distilled vodka for a zero-carb, zero-sugar and zero-gluten product.
Powrie agrees about providing healthier alternatives. “Covid restrictions certainly accelerated our understanding of the need to be more health conscious,” she says, “but compromising all the good things in life isn’t a sustainable way to live. Our Dragon Water seltzers hits the low-sugar sweet-spot with a healthier alternative to drinking and a refreshingly palatable experience. Providing this key combination is definitely the nexus we operate at.”
Meanwhile, bar-industry veterans and award-winning mixologists Antonio Lai and Alex Ko have just launched a canned sparkling tea cocktail named CHAKO, which we’re told has been flying off the shelves. “We know Hongkongers have really active and fast paced lifestyles,” they say. “Cans are lighter, chill faster, are more compact and aren’t prone to breaking, so you can throw one into a backpack and go up a mountain.“
With the shift to lower ABV drinks, well, watching one’s health is incredibly important, and we definitely had that in mind when we were designing the drinks. We pushed the sugar content as low as we could while still having great balance of flavour. On top of that, we also chose a can size that we hoped would help people control the amount of alcohol they would consume.”
It comes as no surprise that this trend has even crept into private venues, many of which now offer drinks for the casual or health-conscious imbiber. “Our members are increasingly looking for sophisticated no-and-low drink options. There are some amazing non-alcoholic spirits out there,” says Lauren Davis, bar manager at Soho House Hong Kong. The club offers botanical “non-alcoholic spirits” from Cornish brand Pentire.
Perhaps it’s a natural turning point with age – hangovers are no fun – but lately we’ve been more inclined to embrace this new world of conscious consumption. To risk being philosophical, isn’t change, whether for our palates or the environment, the one constant law of life?
Hero images courtesy of Dragon Water/Double Haven