Non-alcoholic beer is growing in popularity among British drinkers as one in seven bought into the category in the past year, according to new Mintel figures.

It is most popular among 18 to 34-year-olds, where 26% of consumers bought into the category, compared to 14% overall.

Mintel called this “clearly a much more sensible generation”.

Its analyst Jonny Forsyth said: “Non alcoholic beer has huge long-term sales potential, both in Muslim-dominated regions and health-conscious but beer-loving Western markets. This is an area of innovation which all major brewers [and retailers] should be focusing on – as consumers want reassurance of product quality, something trusted brands can provide.

“The greatest influence on recent non-alcoholic beer sales is their improved taste. While they were pushed heavily in the late-1990s and early 2000s, this failed to translate into global sales because the product was widely viewed as inferior. This meant people preferred to drink a soft drink if they were not drinking alcohol, rather than a poor imitation of beer. Yet, the modern varieties are much closer to the taste of full alcohol beer and make an ideal adult or premium soft drink option. This taste improvement has largely been due to the refinement of the production process.”

However, the UK still lags behind other European countries in non-alcoholic beer acceptance. Spain leads the way, with 60% of consumers buying into the category, followed by Germany, Italy, Poland and France and then the UK.

In the UK, just 4% of new beers released were non-alcoholic in 2014, according to Mintel, which urged producers to ramp up innovations in this area.

Non-alcoholic beers typically perform well during January as many Brits attempt a sober month promoted by charities as Dry January.

New research from the University of Sussex suggests that giving up alcohol during January can lead to people drinking less long-term.

It followed up around 900 Dry January 2013 participants and found that 72% had kept

Mintel’s research also shows the continued growth of low-alcoholic beers, especially fruit flavoured beers and radlers with an abv of around 2-3%. 

“Despite the latest non-alcoholic beers imitating the focus on fruit flavoured innovation, the two are completely different products,” said Forsyth.

“Lower abv beers provide a more sessionable option for beer drinkers who want to look after their health and stay in control. Yet non-alcoholic beer is more akin to a soft drink, and its lack of any alcohol has traditionally been the major barrier to the vast majority of beer drinkers.”