Volume sales of wine at 5.5% abv and under are down 12% over the past year.

Nielsen’s off-trade sales data shows wines in this category – which enjoy a tax break from the government – also slid 7% by value (year to December 7, 2013).

It is now worth £36.9 million, down from £39.6 million the previous year, and accounts for 0.7% of the still wine market.

Julian Dyer, Australian Vintage UK general manager, believes a tax break at 10.5% abv would recruit more shoppers to the category and benefit public health, a sentiment echoed by Accolade UK general manager Paul Schaafsma.

Schaafsma said: “Low-alcohol wine products are still a small part of the market, but have provoked a lot of interest. Currently South Africa leads as an origin and Australia has a smaller share, so this is an opportunity, albeit a small one.”

James Griswood, product development manager at Tesco, said: “There is definitely a greater opportunity for lower- alcohol wines in the UK, but I do think we need to get away from talking about it as ‘lower- alcohol’. There has also been a focus on 5.5% abv and below, while ignoring the rest of the range of alcohol levels between there and ‘normal’ levels.

“We need to start thinking from a consumer’s point of view and making, packaging and marketing the wines accordingly. Are they buying these wines to reduce their weekly alcohol intake? Are they a nominated driver? Are they wanting something a little lighter for mid-week drinking? Do they want something to enjoy at lunch with food? Do they want

a refreshing wine? Are they looking to control calorie intake? All of these could potentially sit at different alcohol levels so we need to start talking about these wines in reference to their use, rather than their abv.

“Once we crack that, the market for these wines could be much bigger than it is currently.”

Fran Draper, brand manager for alcohol-free wine Eisberg, said low-alcohol wines are struggling while alcohol-free wines are thriving.

She said: “Sales have started to come down on low-alcohol wines, but sales of alcohol-free wine are up 10% year-on-year.”

Eisberg is currently teaming up with the British Liver Trust to test shoppers’ livers at Morrisons stores nationwide, and Draper said this – along with a focus on the low calories in Eisberg and strong consumer feedback – is driving the brand’s growth.

“People who don’t want to drink want to feel like they are having something a bit more special and grown up,” she said.

Meanwhile, the alcohol-free and low-alcohol lager sector is up 5% in volume and 9% in value, making it worth £21.2 million and accounting for 1% of total lager.