As a new year begins, many of us will be embarking on Dry January in an attempt to moderate alcohol consumption and focus on health. However, pre-Christmas sales data shows that there was already rapid growth in low/no beer over the festive period.

In the four weeks to December 23 the category grew by a whopping 43% in value, adding £4.2 million in actual sales. This is compared to overall beer category growth of just 0.6%, making it clear that many people weren’t waiting until January to moderate their alcohol consumption.

Low/no beer has seen steady growth over the past five years. June 2023 brought what was then the category’s highest-ever weekly sales in the off-trade, but this was eclipsed by the week leading up to December 23, when sales soared to over £5 million, more than £1.4 million higher than any other week on record.

A recent You Gov survey for the Portman Group found that 44% of drinkers aged between 18 and 24 consider themselves either to be occasional or regular drinkers of low-alcohol or no-alcohol drinks, up from 31% in 2022.

It appears that the major grocery retailers have taken note, with the category being given more space in stores and increased promotional support. Almost half of volumes sold are on promotion, up 7% over the past year.

Increased space brings more choice, both in brands and drink types. The growth of Guinness 0.0 has brought stout to the fore and Lucky Saint saw triple-digit growth over Christmas for its alcohol-free lager, supported by the addition of a Hazy IPA variant at the start of December. 

FAITH IN FLAVOUR 

Lou Pollitt, Lucky Saint’s category & insights director, feels this year could be a tipping point for the category “We have had significant buy-in from major retailers over Christmas,” she says. “Securing secondary placings at a key time of the year highlights the faith they have in the low/no category and the results speak for themselves.

“There is still a big gap in penetration compared to the beer category as a whole, so there is plenty of room to grow. Most drinkers are moderating consumption rather than cutting out alcohol completely. We have seen success through being part of meal deals and are continually looking for new occasions to tempt consumers.”

2024 may well signal a real step change in the category. Recent alcohol duty changes mean that the “middle ground” between low/no and traditional brands is closing, and we can expect lower-alcohol products increasingly to form part of consumers’ repertoires. Here’s to a future where low/no alternatives are for life, not just for January.