Sober Cellar founder Stuart Boorman outlines the evolution of alcohol-free drinks and offers recommendations for retailers looking to boost their low/no range
Alcohol-free drinks in the UK have come a long way since their beginnings in the 1980s, when the only real choice were the dubious Barbican or Kaliber lagers.
We now have a plethora of good quality beers, wines and spirits to choose from, and some are even beating their alcoholic counterparts in international competitions. When Seedlip launched in 2015 as the first non-alcoholic spirit on the UK market, people thought it was a joke, but its success has paved the way for a wave of innovation.
We now have hundreds of alcohol-free drinks available in the UK, and we are undoubtedly the centre of the world in terms of innovation and variety in the category. However, this bewildering array makes it difficult for retailers and drinkers to navigate.
The alcohol-free market is still relatively small, standing at around 1% of the alcoholic market in value terms. However, this low base looks likely to increase as alcohol moderation and abstinence events such as Alcohol Change UK’s Dry January become more and more part of the social discourse.
If you look to Spain and Germany, where people consume more non-alcoholic drinks than anywhere else, you can see what the future may look like. The Spanish brewers association, Asociación de Cerveceros de España, states that non-alcoholic beers account for 13% of total beer sales.
It could be that in the UK the popularity of these drinks will continue to snowball. More 16 to 24-year-olds are not drinking alcohol as much as their parents, and this trend is set to continue. Research by University College London published in BMC Public Health found that the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds who do not drink alcohol increased from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015.
In addition, research by Club Soda found that around 50% of UK adults are looking to moderate their drinking. Alcohol-free options should therefore not be ignored by retailers.
Convenience should focus on drinks with high brand recognition, which will sell and are freely available in cash and carries, such as Guinness 0.0, Peroni 0.0%, Kopparberg Alcohol-Free and Gordon’s 0.0.
In wine, Freixenet 0.0% is a good option. Independents who wish to differentiate should choose drinks not so widely found in supermarkets and the more craft-focused brands.
Options include non-alcoholic Myth Coconut White Cane Spirit (Drink of the Year winner at the Free From Food Awards 2022), Binary Botanical 0.5 (“the wine lovers’ beer”) and New London Light’s First Light (one of the best alcohol-free gins). Oddbird, Alt and Purus are good wine picks for independents.
Tasting opportunities are the key to success with this category, as many people are only willing to pay £20-plus for a bottle of alcohol-free spirit once they have tried it. Ask for brand support via free samples and brand ambassador presence at your tasting events.
As in the on-trade, customers rely on staff recommendations – get your team to try the samples so they can become advocates for your alcohol-free range.
Regarding merchandising, you have two options: mix your alcohol-free drinks in with their alcoholic counterparts or create a separate display for your low/no drinks. If you have enough SKUs to make a standalone display, I recommend the latter option as it will draw people in and make it easier for customers to find the products.
Whatever your thoughts on the sector, alcohol-free drinks seem here to stay.