From Sustainability to Purpose: A Reshaping of Priorities in Drinks and Tobacco

February 2021

The pandemic is influencing sustainability in drinks and tobacco. This is evolving to include consumers’ welfare concerns, with brand action on social issues and community needs. The pre-pandemic environmental focus and pledges are retained, even strengthened. Recycling and reuse is rising while responsible sourcing, supply chain transparency and net-zero goals will also shape brands’ onward sustainability path and innovations.

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This report comes in PPT.

Key Findings

A mindful, safety-conscious consumer amid health and economic crises

COVID-19 has changed the way consumers work, eat, drink and shop. For the drinks and tobacco industries, out-of-home alcoholic drinks sales remain most compromised by pandemic-related restrictions and consumers’ health, safety and economic concerns, meaning it will be a slow recovery. At-home consumption will remain important.

Sustainability is more purpose-driven: people in focus as well as the planet

Sustainability has broadened in the pandemic beyond the environment to be purpose-led, linking to fair economic models that do not exploit people or natural resources, and encompass social concerns. This is expected to last. Corporate attention will be on both their human capital and environmental footprint for the health of people and the planet.

People matter: welfare of employees, suppliers and consumers

There is greater consumer expectation for companies to be active in the wellbeing of people and suppliers, to embody equality, diversity, inclusion and fairness. Community and employee support, education and taking a stand on injustices are gaining momentum in brands’ sustainability strategies, to bring people-orientated fairness.

Reducing waste via regenerative agriculture and packaging circularity are top environmental priorities

Minimising waste is a key environmental issue. Pre-pandemic, plastic waste and the drive for a circular economy via packaging reuse were key priorities. Health and supply put a temporary pause on this, but circularity, from cigarette butts to beverage bottles/ caps, continues to demand progress. Consumers show broader concern, from ethical sourcing to climate impact. Governments and business are challenged to act on all aspects of the production lifecycle, from water security to packaging, to embed regenerative agriculture and renewable energy, to build back better.

Embed digital to smartly accelerate transparency in sustainability

The accelerated digitalisation arising from COVID-19 will see more investment in technology as a means to illuminate supply chains, advance recycling and communicate with consumers, to build trust in provenance, safety and the circular economy, while also effecting internal efficiencies. There will be greater use of traceability tools, such as blockchain and AI, to advance sustainability, from ingredient sourcing to energy use.


Scope: global drinks and tobacco industry in 2020
Key findings
Alcoholic drinks to remain the hardest hit by COVID-19
Glass loses most amid operating restrictions; opportunities arise for PET
Sustainability broadens to be more people- and purpose-driven
Social initiatives come to the fore with the world’s health in the balance
Pandemic prioritises people but the planet is certainly not forgotten
Consumers will be more concerned about sustainability post-pandemic
Corporate view on sustainability remains strong, integral to brand equity
Diageo and Unilever’s sustainability assertions
Welfare and waste: core areas of action for drinks and tobacco
People matter: purpose-led action to protect lives and livelihoods
Community giving: “Guinness Gives Back”
Purpose-led collaboration creates a new local brew: Nuestra Siembra
Protect the planet: environment ranks highest in investment plans
Sourcing, packaging and net-zero progress are all key to reducing waste
Water: sustainable supply is under pressure
Progress on efficiency and quality is critical for a water-secure future
Regenerative rise: Ocean Spray Cranberries’ sustainably certified fruit crop
Coffee players embed fair trade and sustainably sourced agriculture
Packaging: sustainability remains central to brands’ strategies
Plastic regulation to effect change: EU Single-Use Plastic (SUP) Directive
Partnerships and investment in rPET plastic for a more circular economy
Suntory’s Ribena redesign: to aid plastic recycling and reuse
Spritzer promotes plastic bottle recycling habit in craft competition
HolyGrail 2.0: digital watermarks’ sorting potential, to increase recycling
South Korea: consumer feedback shapes stronger recycling legislation
Recyclable, anti-plastic drive grows interest in paper bottles and multipacks
Sustainable return systems: solution for the price- and eco-conscious
R&D into sustainable pack alternatives will continue to feature
Maxwell House: compostable pods backed by an educational experience
Coca-Cola’s multipronged approach to sustainable packaging
Build back better: UN 1.5 ° C climate ambition sees net-zero charge accelerate
Carbon neutrality pledges rise: selection from drinks and tobacco in 2020
Volvic’s B Corp and carbon neutral status
Heineken’s Sol is brewed with solar power, in renewable energy drive
Pandemic digital acceleration presents societal opportunities
Shaped by online, supply chain and net-zero tech
Online: lifeline for drinks brands and hospitality to reach customers
Buy a virtual keg to save bars from shutdown: Carlsberg’s Adopt a Keg
Smart supply chains to bolster brand security, transparency and trust
JM Smucker joins with Farmer Connect for bean-to-cup transparency
“Waste Free World”: Unilever-Alibaba launch of AI-powered recycling
Analytics to advance circularity and climate-neutrality


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