Have consumers finally had enough of the fast, crazy pace of life? Is society experiencing an overall slow down? And if so, what will this mean for the beverage business?
Case in point: I recently had to travel from New York City to Washington and decided to go by train instead of plane. And coincidentally, right before I left for my trip an article came out in i>The New York Times about how Amtrak’s Acela express train has swallowed up the business that airplane travel used to dominate in the heavily-trafficked corridor between New York and Washington. Amazingly, 75 percent of travelers between New York and Washington now take the train.
If you factor in the hassle of a cab to the airport, the security lines, checked luggage, etc. associated with plane travel today, the train has just become more appealing as an alternative. And yes, this is despite the fact that the train, even the Acela express, still will take you longer. If you factor in the entire trip of getting to the airport, maybe not a whole lot longer. But the point is consumers have made the choice of convenience, and yes, comfort and pleasure, over getting there faster.
And then there is another trend I’ve noticed here in New York. Suddenly, all around me, there seem to be stores popping up dedicated to tea. There are stores that just brew and sell tea. And there are stores dedicated to selling the various equipment and accessories to make your own tea at home. I was in one of the latter the other day and couldn’t believe the variety—and complexity—that goes along with the tea brewing experience.
The reason I bring up tea is because to me it is kind of like the antithesis of the coffee-drinking experience. Americans, especially, have used coffee to jump start their fast-paced day. And they then supplement that initial jolt with subsequent trips to the coffee pot whenever that tired feeling starts overtaking them.
So where does the sudden interest in tea fit in here? Tea is the polar opposite. It contains a lot less caffeine, so it isn’t that useful for an energy jolt. And the overall experience of drinking it just seems more relaxing. The experience of brewing the tea—when done right—can be just as enjoyable as drinking the beverage itself. Is this sudden trend of tea retailing another sign that Americans are ready to slow down just a tad?
And the slowing down trend has even reached the beer industry. You’ll find in the packaging section of this issue a profile I wrote about a new beer company, Churchkey, whose cans require an old-fashioned churchkey to open them. Forget about simply popping the tab. To drink this beer, you must undertake the ritual of making two holes in the top of the can first. The actor Adrian Grenier, who is one of Churchkey’s founders, told me it’s about “making the most of every moment” and not about “guzzling it down without regard.”
If Americans are indeed deciding to slow down just a bit, maybe it has something to do with the economic times we live in. Has the stubborn economic crisis of the past several years made all that rushing to and fro seem a little futile? Maybe.
Perhaps another relaxing trip on the Acela will allow me to ponder that question some more.