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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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