Why Bars, Restaurants and Retailers are Embracing Sustainable Alcohol

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Sustainability is no longer just an ethical consideration; it’s a strategic necessity, says Maria Pearman, principal and leader in the food and beverage practice at national advisory and accounting firm GHJ. Data show that investing in sustainability is a business-critical priority this year for many organizations, and consumers have shown a willingness to spend more money on premium sustainable goods.

“The opportunity for utilizing sustainability as a business practice comes when environmental impacts are reshaping the food industry worldwide and driving transformative changes in supply chains,” says Pearman. “Businesses that want to compete must address the shifting landscape or be left behind.”

Cruise line and hotel chains in particular tend to pay attention to their environmental impact. For instance, Norwegian Cruise Line introduced its Sail and Sustain program a few years ago. The program features zero-waste cocktails made with ingredients that would have otherwise gone to waste, such as coffee grinds, banana and orange peels.

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Its newest ship, Norwegian Prima, launched in 2022 and includes the brand’s first sustainable cocktail bar. The Metropolitan Bar offers responsibly crafted, zero-waste cocktails prepared with surplus ingredients, a fully sustainable spirits menu and biodynamic wines.

Holland America Line this past September started a global fish program that engages a network of 60 ports to source and serve 80 types of fresh fish on board in all restaurants, going from port to plate in less than 48 hours. It was the first cruise line to serve 100% fresh, certified sustainable Alaska seafood on board its ships in Alaska.

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Paring Down Packaging

Carnival Cruise Line this past August partnered with spirits brand Bacardi on a new initiative to introduce closed-loop packaging to the cruise industry. The program will determine if reusable containers — the ecoTOTE 3.0SC Cruise Edition, specifically developed by ecoSPIRITS for the maritime environment — can be used to serve Bacardi rum on Carnival ships, in turn reducing single-use packaging by 95%.

The concept is being tested on three ships operating from Miami: Carnival Celebration, Carnival Horizon and Carnival Sunrise. Each ecoTOTE, which replaces about four bottles of Bacardi Superior rum, is used, cleaned and refilled approximately 100 times, thereby creating a closed loop system.

The collaboration will also support the ecoSPIRITS Oceans Program. For each cycle of an ecoTOTE delivered as part of the pilot, a donation will fund the removal of more than 2 lbs. of single-use plastic, glass and other man-made wastes removed from endangered marine environments

“As we continue to work towards our sustainability goals, the collaborative work of our beverage team, ecoSPIRITS and Bacardi is a great example of thinking in ways that are truly out-of-the-box, or in this case – out-of-the-bottle, to develop new partnerships and practices that further our ongoing efforts,” said Zachary Sulkes, senior director of beverage operations at Carnival Cruise Line.

Bacardi also worked with YOTEL Miami on its Sustainable Sips menu, which will be a permanent fixture in their cocktail program. The menu features liquor from Bacardi’s portfolio in alignment with Bacardi’s eco-friendly initiatives — from sustainably sourced botanicals to pioneering a fully biodegradable bottle.

Given the post-Covid surge in ordering to-go, bars and restaurants might want to invest in sourcing sustainable packaging, Pearman says. “This is an easy way to incorporate sustainable practices into their business and has great visibility with consumers.”

City Winery, which offers a culinary and cultural wine experiences and live entertainment, in fall 2022 launched a reusable bottle program. Customers can take wine to go, return the bottle to be washed and sanitized, then receive a $5 credit towards the next bottle.

In addition to stainless-steel kegs and tap bars for direct sale wine to consumers by the glass, City Winery buys and plants trees to offset the only carbon emissions it creates during its annual grape delivery, among other environmental initiatives. The Re-Wine program started with City Winery’s 14th location opened in New York’s Grand Central Terminal and this past April expanded into four new locations, including NYC Pier 57, Hudson Valley, Chicago and St. Louis.

City Winery sells an average of 6,500 glasses of wine every night from its tap systems, according to founder/CEO Michael Dorf. He anticipates that growing to 15,000 glasses a night from additional locations in the next few years, and believes the growlers will be a popular take-home option.

Serving drinks on tap rather than bottles or cans is a great way to become more sustainable, Pearman says. “Many restaurants now purchase wine by the keg, an innovative solution that is also more economical.”

Pearman also recommends optimizing menus to use fewer ingredients across a wider array of products and capitalizing on food that is grown locally and in-season. “Taking the time to review and refresh your menu each season is a great practice in general, but approaching it from a sustainability angle can help to streamline your kitchen, reduce waste and reduce your carbon footprint by sourcing locally.”

Hotel Las Torres opened the first sustainable bar in Chile in 2007. Las Torres is the only hotel in Patagonia to brew its own beer — fermented in a small cabin just outside the bar and made with water from the glaciers and hops grown in the organic garden. What’s more, all organic waste from brewing the hotel beer is used to generate compost that is worked back into the garden soil.

The bar also has a hotel-made Tierra Paine Gin, which features 18 botanicals straight from the hotel garden and is created through an ancestral clay distillation process using glacial water sourced from nearby waterfalls of Mount Cerro Paine. Creative cocktails with natural ingredients plucked from the garden are served in recycled glassware with sustainable copper straws.

Natural Wine’s Time

Organic and biodynamic farming have become more important, according to sommelier and wine writer Nadine Brown. Cabernet franc from France’s Loire Valley is a frequent leader in these discussions, she says, thanks to the high amount of organic and biodynamic winemakers in the region — as well as those who have been making natural wine before the style was fashionable.

Indeed, natural wine is considered to have started in rural France back in the 1990s, says Nenad Trifunovic, the in-house wine expert at Wine&More, a retailer of Croatian and Balkan wines. But natural wine has recently gained more attention and popularity among consumers, especially with the rise of environmentalism and wellness culture, he notes.

Court Liquors in Long Branch, NJ, focuses on organic, biodynamic and natural wines, which represent about 80% of its wine selection The retailer began transitioning its wine selection around 2010 in part because it aims to work with artisanal producers, says executive vice president Nicholas Pizzonia.

Another reason: Most of the chain-type stores in the region don’t carry many independent choices. “So offering these wines is also a branding element, a way to differentiate ourselves, like, ‘If you build it, they will come’,” he says.

These natural wines also allow buyers to expand their repertoire of wines, since they are frequently produced in areas of the world not always well represented at retail, such as parts of Eastern Europe and Greece.

“We’re always growing and expanding our selection,” Pizzonia says. “We keep organic, biodynamic and natural in mind whenever we buy anything.”

The wines do require consumer education, he notes. “We put signage on all of our bottles to indicate the different disciplines,” using green for the color of the organic, biodynamic and natural wine shelf talkers.

Court Liquors also introduces people to these wines through its regular wine classes in the store, adds assistant manager Victoria Matveeva. “Tasting builds knowledge in the different styles, producers and grapes.”

Restaurants have embraced natural wines as well. Vern’s in Charleston, SC, features roughly 75 rotating wines from vineyards around the world that are committed to organic farming. Table in Asheville, NC, has a natural wine list focusing on small producers and farms making wines with native yeast and spontaneous fermentation.

“While there is still discussion about what exactly makes a wine ‘natural,’ and whether it is more of a marketing gimmick, it looks like this category will continue to draw even more attention over the next couple of years,” predicts Wine&More’s Trifunovic.

Melissa Dowling is editor of Cheers magazine, our on-premise sister publication. Contact her at mdowling@epgmediallc.com, and read her recent piece, Celebrating Female Leaders in the Beverage Alcohol Industry.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com. Read his recent piece, Consumer Demand Drives Alcohol Shipping Growth.

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