Lo and behold the new trend

06 April, 2007

The off-trade market for low and no-alcohol beers grew 23.3 per cent to £11.9 million in the year to Feb 24, according to Nielsen. And Mintel predicts it will grow 14 per cent by 2011, driven by enforcement of drink-driving laws and healthier living. The forecast is lower than the 18 per cent growth rate in 2002-6.

Specialist retailers have told OLN they are seeing a growing interest in the beers, especially high quality German lagers such as Bitburger and Löwenbräu.

"It is a growing market for me as I can get obscure, very well-made brands," said Gavin Preston, of online retailer Only Fine Beer. He added: "It will remain a very small market for the time being as Kaliber and Clausthaler ruined it for this market for many years. It will take somebody to take the style - like Audi did with Skoda - and pump a lot of money into education and image."

Preston noted that non-alcoholic German beer costs the same as 5 per cent premium lager. "It costs to remove the alcohol," he said.

Jason Clark, director of Beers of Europe, stocks some 20 different lines of no and low-alcohol beers, and says that, while virtually alcohol-free beer sales are growing, he can't sell beers at 1.5-2 per cent abv.

"The market should be growing with the drink-driving laws . It is just that it is difficult to get out to the trade because typically not that many people are drinking it. For us it tends to be people who have got medical conditions and people who are cutting back. Most of it goes out on the internet," he said.

Brewers say there is increased interest in low-alcohol beers. Alcohol-free Bavaria Malt said its sales have

soared by 455 per cent in the past year, while Clausthaler is targeting slimmers and pregnant women this year by advertising in slimming and pregnancy magazines and the WeightWatchers Shopping Guide.

Circuit breaker

Carling has invested £3 million in a TV ad campaign for its low alcohol lager, Carling C2. The commercial shows a group of robots relaxing "away from the trials and tribulations of their day-to-day data entry and manufacturing responsibilities". In this world, the circuit board is the metaphorical pint of choice. C2 circuit boards are the half-strength version. The advert finishes with the line: C2 Circuit Boards. Also Available as Lager. The campaign is being supported by a national press campaign as well as an online presence.

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Talking terroir

When Bordeaux was in fashion, it seemed almost logical that we should fetishise winemakers. Here were people responsible for brilliant acts of blending, across large estates and multiple grape varieties, including superstars such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot. These days, fashion has moved on and pinot noir is ascendant. As a result, the star of the winemaker has fallen and we find ourselves following a new star in the sky: terroir.

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