Will low alcohol outshine no alcohol in the wine world?

close up of red wine

Will ‘low’ outshine ‘no’ when it comes to mindful wine consumption? Lucy Britner asks the experts

There’s no denying that low and no-alcohol wine just hasn’t captured the low/no world in the same way as beer and spirits. While there’s talk of new technology to create that all-important mouthfeel, experts suggest that growth in the short term might stem from the low camp, rather than the no one.

According to the IWSR Vinexposium Report 2021, while low and no-alcohol spirits, beers and RTDs are experiencing growing momentum, there is still work to do on wine. The report finds that regular wine drinkers have expressed concern about the taste of low and no-abv wines, as well as factors such as poor availability and lack of knowledge of the wines.

“There’s a possible opportunity for no/low-alcohol sparkling wines,” the report adds.

And while the IWSR’s charts suggest that no-alcohol beer is set to grow ahead of its low-abv counterpart, the opposite is expected to be true for wine.

Citing data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, Lulie Halstead, Wine Intelligence chief executive, says that globally, low-alcohol still wine is expected to grow at a volume CAGR of approximately 15% (2021-2025) compared to 8% for no-alcohol still wine.

“Wine faces the biggest challenge among the low/no categories of meeting consumer expectations of taste and mouthfeel and offering an equivalent experience to alcoholic options,” she explains. “This is why, generally, low-alcohol wines are more popular and expected to out-perform no-alcohol, as it is more possible to get a better-tasting, quality product. Dynamics will vary slightly by market.”

Conversely, global no-alcohol beer is expected to grow at a volume CAGR of approximately 10% (2021-2025), versus low-alcohol beer at 1%, according to IWSR data.

“In contrast to no-alcohol wine, no-alcohol beer can replace a beer occasion, but can also expand into new, non-traditional occasions such as soft drinks, which is one of the reasons for its strong forecast over low-alcohol, as well as the fact these products now taste good and are perceived as more equivalent to alcohol versions,” Halstead adds.

There are some concerns, though, over consumer understanding. Gyles Walker, buyer for low/no drinks at the Co-op, says that where customers are looking for less alcohol, they tend to buy an entry-level full-strength wine and mix it with soda water or lemonade. He says there’s potential for the below 8.5% abv camp, but “through traditional product lines”. Meanwhile, he describes below 5.5% as “an area unlikely to grow as it’s a confused message for the customer – and they’re not really buying into the ‘fusion brands’”. However, he’s clear that below 0.5% abv “will grow as quality increases”.

“We need to find a [still] version that matches the flavour and mouthfeel of a full-strength wine,” he says. “Sparkling versions do overcome some of this, but as an industry we need great quality still wine versions.”

Talia Broederlow, founder of new non-alcoholic online shop Sippers, agrees that taste and mouthfeel can be a barrier for wine consumers, especially in the non-alcohol camp. “I’d love to see more of a global variety of red, white and rosé wines which taste closer to the real thing, as it’s difficult to get the full body flavours of the alcoholic versions,” she says.

Like Walker and the IWSR, Broederlow sees more opportunities for sparkling. “We’re lucky enough to have found some amazing non-alcoholic (de-alcoholised) sparkling wine.” She highlights Noughty, which she claims tastes “almost exactly the same as your alcoholic sparkling options and is very popular with our customers”.

Noughty is made by B-Corp certified Thomson & Scott. The alcohol-free sparkling wine is organic, vegan, halal and low in sugar – and it comes in a Chardonnay and a rosé.

Co-op’s Walker also highlights increased presence for sparkling wine in his stores. He says that while low/no is still a very small part of the category, he is seeing ongoing growth, which he expects to continue this year. “To meet this demand, we’ve increased the distribution of lines such as Nozeco Sparkling, so it’s in more stores, and we have brought in a non-alcoholic botanical drink,” he says.

BIGGER PICTURE

There are also broader considerations when it comes to wine, as mindful drinking organisation Club Soda’s co-founder Laura Willoughby points out.

“People’s view of alcohol-free wine depends on their proximity to alcoholic wine,” she says. “So, people who might be looking to moderate and still drink alcoholic wine will definitely feel the difference between an alcoholic wine and a dealcoholised wine. For people like me, who haven’t drunk for a long time, the newer alcohol-free wines coming out are certainly an improvement, but they are also a really good drink, in a wine style, in their own right.”

And there are other, endemic barriers afoot. Willoughby adds: “I think the problem with the wine community is that they see alcohol-free wine as a lesser version of wine rather than saying ‘here’s a drink in a wine style that is delicious in its own right and will have its own audience’. I think sometimes it’s the wine sector’s own snobbery that stops it exploring these a bit more.”

While the short-term prospects might be better for the low camp, there’s no doubt that both thirst for and innovation around no-abv wines will continue, bringing growth along for the ride. 

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