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December 21st, 2012 at 6:00 am

Andrew F. Smith on the Future of Drinking in America

Andrew Smith, Drinking History

In the epilogue to Drinking History: Fifteen Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages, Andrew Smith points to some of the more recent trends in American’s consumption of beverages namely, the popularity of bottled water and coffee.

Looking back at the history as well as pointing to recent trends, Smith also speculates on what the future might look like:

* Lacking a dominant beverage tradition, Americans have developed a taste for diversity and experimentation.

* Experimentation has led to a large number of small beverage producers, but the past century has seen consolidation of some industries, such as soft drinks, brewing, coffee roasting, water bottling, winemaking, and distilling. In each of these fields, just a few corporations now control most of the market.

* At the opposite end of the spectrum, a backlash against food industry giants has spawned a large number of smaller, often artisanal, competitors. Microbreweries, local wineries, and small coffee roasters, for instance, offer a wide variety of alternatives.

* The American beverage titans, including the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Starbucks, have gone global; simultaneously, foreign firms have acquired large segments of some traditional American industries, such as beer. Even some “all-American” beverages, such as orange juice, now originate in other countries (in the case of orange juice, in Brazil). Other beverages, such as sake from Japan and wine from Australia, are now available in the United States, and the availability of beverages from other countries will continue to proliferate.

* For the past decade, per-capita soda consumption has been decreasing as other beverages have emerged. With health authorities campaigning against sugar-sweetened sodas as a major factor in America’s obesity epidemic, it is likely that soda consumption will continue to decrease.

* It is unlikely that Prohibition will ever return; nevertheless, Americans have cut down on alcohol consumption during the past three decades, largely due to stricter enforcement of drunk-driving laws. Alcohol consumption may not drop further, but neither is it likely to rise.

* And what of the long-term future for American beverages? With our well-known national thirst for the new and the novel, it is likely that the future will be as full of surprises as the past.

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