Low and no alcohol hit the mainstream

“Social occasions are becoming increasingly diverse,” says Hannah Dawson, head of off -trade category development at Diageo GB. “There has never been a better time for retailers to revamp their low and no drinks offering to deliver on high quality taste and experience.”

There’s “no better time” because low and no is becoming an established and recognised part of our drinking rituals. So recognised, in fact, that insights specialist KAM Media calls 2021 the year in which low and no seemed to enter the mainstream, citing increases in advertising and editorial features across the media, as well as increased focus on improving the ranges in supermarkets and hospitality venues.

“The challenge for brands now is to convert awareness into purchases,” KAM notes as part of its 2021 Low & No report, which also features a survey of 500 nationally representative UK adults.

“We saw an increase in awareness across all low and no categories between 2020 and 2021, with wine in particular seeing the greatest rise,” the report states. “Overall, 88% of UK adults now believe you can purchase non-alcohol versions of traditionally alcoholic drinks.”

And when it comes to converting brand awareness into purchases, there are an increasing number of retailers that focus just on the world of low and no. In December, for example, mindful drinking organisation Club Soda opened an entirely alcohol-free off -licence, which will stay open until the end of January.

“Whether they are staying at home or going out, high quality alcohol-free drinks are becoming a non-negotiable part of many people’s lives,” says Club Soda founder Laura Willoughby. “Customers want to prioritise time in places they love, and the amount they spend is not determined by the drink’s strength in their glass.”

Elsewhere, Sippers, an online shop dedicated to “craft non-alcoholic drinks” has also recently opened its (virtual) doors.

“At Sippers, we are not teetotallers and we’re not preachy or particular,” says founder Talia Broederlow. “But we are genuinely passionate about the non-alcoholic world. This is a sector packed with small-batch producers (as well as some well-known big boys) and we love that it’s a heady mix of art and science. We love the creativity in everything from taste and mouthfeel to bottling and labelling.”

Of course, producers, too, are keen to point out the long-term potential for the category.

Unsurprisingly, Diageo’s Dawson champions low/no spirits – and the company’s Gordon’s and Tanqueray 0% offerings. And with good reason if we look at the latest Nielsen figures (see right). “Across the off-trade, low and no spirits are the fastest growing low and no segment,” she adds.

BIGGER THINGS TO COME

Smaller players, too, are driving the category.

“Analysts could say that growth in the alcohol-free drinks sector is revolutionary, but they would be wrong,” says Roddy Nicoll, owner of Spirits of Virtue, which makes white and dark spirits alternatives. “It’s reactionary; they just missed the signs.”

Nicoll believes the category will “rock the structure of the drinks industry” as we know it. And while there are signs that the category has become mainstream, he thinks we’re still at the start of something much bigger.

“This can only compare to the radical change to tobacco since the seventies,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll be there to see the full impact of this colossal change, but I will have played my part.

“Retailers and the hospitality industry simply must look at the stats, and realise the importance of this category, as millennials and Generation Z begin to change the drinking habits of the consumer base.”

He urges retailers to consider the younger generation, who are making the decisions.

“We already know that they drink less frequently and, increasingly, not at all. They are the future; they will become the mainstream,” he concludes.

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