The demand for alcohol-free is at an all-time high, finds Katie Jenkins, marketing director at KAM. Here, she analyses the insights company’s newly released report in collaboration with Lucky Saint, Low & No 2022: The Customer Perspective
With an ever-growing proportion of Brits wanting to moderate their alcohol consumption, research suggests the exploding low & no category is being welcomed with open arms.
While alcohol consumption has risen within the past three years, the report finds that the majority of people (58%) fell into the category of having an alcoholic drink three times a week at most, with 29% of the population currently drinking three days a week or more. And there is a growing middle ground of drinkers who are increasingly ordering soft drinks, teas and coffees, or alcohol-free drinks while they are out.
One in two Brits say they actively want to cut down their alcohol consumption in the next 12 months, with better health and saving money the largest drivers behind moderation. Respondents identified taste as being the number one reason when choosing an alcohol-free option.
Some 58% of UK drinkers consume fewer than 10 units of alcohol a week, according to our research. This is in comparison to NHS reports that 60% of adults drank up to 14 units per week in 2019.
However, this growing “moderate” group of drinkers are also the most likely to visit a pub at least once a month (78%), highlighting a major shift in consumer behaviour. Drinkers are increasingly moderating their alcohol intake but still actively taking part in traditionally alcohol-led social occasions.
Laura Willoughby, co-founder of mindful drinking movement Club Soda, talks of the importance of “social inclusion” for human beings. Alcohol is such a huge part of who we are and how we socialise in the UK – it’s how we celebrate, it’s how we relax, it’s built into the core of virtually every social occasion. If someone doesn’t want to “drink” then they’re often left sipping a luke-warm tap water or cola as an afterthought.
With the increasing proportion of people actively wanting to moderate their drinking, the growing number of decent-tasting alcohol-free alternatives means they can still enjoy these social occasions. Moreover, the research shows that the stigma of choosing alcohol-free is shrinking, especially across Generation Z.
The average UK drinker is now frequently moderating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, with nearly one in three pub visits (29%) and 37% of restaurant visits being completely alcohol-free. These occasions are most likely to be when dining with family, having lunch and at work meetings.
The report also established people’s reasons for moderating drinking. Aside from having to drive, the most popular included wanting to stay fresh for the next day (31%), if others aren’t drinking within a social group (30%), and being able to attend another activity, such as organised sports (25%), afterwards.
Supermarkets were identified as the main market for the growth of alcohol-free choices in the UK, with more than twice as many consumers saying it’s their go-to source of discovery compared to those citing pubs, bars, or restaurants.
Supermarket aisles are where consumers are learning about these brands and trialling products for the first time. The challenge for retailers will be to really understand these alcohol-free occasions and the purchasing decision hierarchy which drives them, because the research suggests they differ immensely from the alcohol shopper.
Given the continued movement towards moderation, it’s no surprise that alcohol-free continues to grow in the UK, albeit from a small base. But the UK has been slow to adopt credible low & no alternatives.
Luke Boase, founder of alcohol-free lager Lucky Saint, says: “We’re really still a laggard when it comes to catering for the increasing number of drinkers who prefer to moderate their choices. The likes of Spain, France and Germany all have at least five times the market share for low & no options compared to the UK.
“We need to rethink what we understand as a ‘non-drinker’ in the UK. Those who move fast to tap into this market will see huge rewards in the coming years.”
Some 55% of UK drinkers are looking to reduce alcohol consumption in 2022, rising as high as 65% for Gen Z. This supports separate forecasts that the UK low & no sector is expected to be worth £450 million by 2024.
Elsewhere, major global brewers point to a wider global shift towards a growing alcohol-free market. AB InBev aims to have low & no abv beverages make up a fifth of global production by 2025, while Heineken predicts 20% of total brand sales will be low & no “within a few years”.
Without a doubt, our research shows that alcohol consumption habits are shifting in the UK. Despite short-term flux during the pandemic, an overwhelming proportion of Brits intend to cut down their consumption in the next 12 months.
Consumers are looking for ways to drink less alcohol but don’t want to miss out on all the occasions when alcohol is normally present – going to the pub with friends, celebrating a birthday at home, enjoying a beer while watching sport, for example – and the increasing number of alcohol-free options available is being welcomed.
The growth in popularity of the alcohol-free category isn’t primarily driven by those who never drink alcohol, but rather the huge number of Brits who want to moderate their intake. This isn’t about a growing teetotal population but accepting that our relationship with alcohol is shifting and consumers are demanding an alternative.
We now see a modern consumer who is more aware of the risks of alcohol, where their leisure time is not so focused around drinking culture and who are in tune with their consumption, and therefore more likely to take action to ensure that they are drinking at what they consider to be responsible levels. The pandemic may have brought a temporary return to Booze Britain for some, but the growing trend of drinking in moderation will dominate.