Promoting moderate drinking is not at odds with business growth
People’s relationship with alcohol is changing. It used to be thought that alcohol was merely a by-product of human civilization, possibly linked to bread-making, but recent discoveries of alcohol production, dating back to the dawn of civilization, suggest otherwise. New evidence and research points to alcohol being created not just as an accidental offshoot of humanity but as a constant and positive feature in society, central to many celebrations and cultures around the world.
But while the enduring place of drinking within human history is well documented, it’s also true that across the world today, extraordinary demographic movements and cultural trends are fundamentally changing the way people drink. On the one hand, many young people in developed markets are choosing to drink less, while in other parts of the world, new communities are increasingly including alcohol as part of their celebrations as they see their disposable incomes rise.
There’s no doubt that these changes present some complex challenges for the alcohol industry. And while it may be surprising, I welcome these challenges wholeheartedly. I believe that the changes my industry is facing are precisely the things that will allow the best performing and most responsible alcohol companies to succeed.
This is particularly true when it comes to the changing drinking habits of young people. In general, young people in many countries are drinking less than their parents’ generation, and one of the most pressing questions is whether this marks the beginning of the end for the alcohol industry. For me, the answer is a resounding no. Young people are choosing a higher quality of drink, and the concept of ‘drinking better, not more’ is a trend that is gaining momentum as people pursue positive drinking experiences. This presents a real opportunity for the alcohol industry. By introducing a new generation to our quality products as they come of age, and innovating to match the tastes of today’s and tomorrow’s drinkers — we can and will flourish.
However, it’s important to remember that for the alcohol industry to grow in a responsible way, we must do more than simply encourage our consumers to trade up to a higher quality of drink. At Diageo, we recognize that harmful drinking can cause significant problems for society and has the potential to damage our reputation, and ultimately our performance. A drinks business that focuses on maximizing profit without concern for the role alcohol plays in society will soon find itself in trouble.
As a result, I believe it is crucial that we encourage consumers to have positive drinking experiences by promoting moderation and tackling misuse. It’s a responsibility that we take seriously, and we’ve recently announced ambitious new targets to do more in this space. These include educating five million more young people, parents and teachers about the dangers of underage drinking, collecting 50 million pledges to never drink and drive, and reaching over 200 million people with moderation messages through our brands.
But we cannot act alone. I recently took up the role of Chairman of the CEO group at the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking and I know my peers share my commitment to this issue. By working together, alongside governments, NGOs and consumers, we’ve already made a tangible difference. From collectively reaching nearly 11 million underage people with alcohol education programs, to running over 330 drink driving programmes in 88 countries, we’re proud of our success, and we’re clear on our commitment to do more.
Ultimately, it’s clear that the changes our industry is facing are not a threat, but an opportunity. The way people socialize and drink will continue to evolve, as it always has. For us to be truly successful, the opportunity lies not in simply seizing upon the latest drinking trends. We need to work together as an industry to promote long-term positive drinking behaviors which will foster a bright future for the industry and its consumers alike. We believe our success lies in doing all we can to ensure alcohol continues to play a positive role in society, as it has done for centuries.
Ivan Menezes is CEO of Diageo.