As green credentials remain high on the consumer agenda, how are low/no brands embracing sustainability? Rachel Badham reports
While the cost of living crisis has meant that affordability is one of the biggest factors influencing purchasing behaviour, sustainability credentials continue to be a main priority for many consumers.
Sustainability-led purchasing is among the biggest drinks sector trends of the past few years, and as more brands implement green practices in their operations, sustainability has become a driving force for industry developments across the board.
However, sustainability is not the only trend to have swept the industry in recent years – the immense growth of the low/no category is also among the most prominent advancements, with more low/no brands and products launching weekly.
As low/no continues to grow, the interplay between sustainability and the low/no industry becomes more apparent, with many low/no brands incorporating sustainable practices into the production process.
For Rebecca Murphy, sustainability manager at North South Wines, sustainability is inseparable from the low/no category, particularly when considering the role of low/no in establishing a greater degree of social sustainability in the drinks industry. “Low/no and promoting responsible drinking feeds directly into our social sustainability strategy. We are a funder of Drinkaware and recognise the importance of addressing alcohol harm,” she says.
“We have a duty to ensure our products’ negative impacts on society are lessened, and we see our funding contributions to Drinkaware as key to this, alongside our investment and innovation in the low/no alcohol sector.”
Environmental sustainability is also important for low/no brands, particularly as the growth of the category coincides with the rise of sustainable packaging. Mandy Glew, commercial vice president for EMEA & Asia at packaging supplier Ball Corporation, says: “This year has been a continuation of the previous year, where we are seeing more eco-conscious consumers demanding sustainably packaged and sourced products, and more consumers turning to low/no beverages.”
Glew suggests “low/no brands that truly embrace circularity” through sustainable packaging are likely to see a greater influx of customers who are after a product that caters to their sustainability and mindful drinking priorities.
Combining both environmentally friendly and socially conscious practices, many drinks brands are going the extra mile to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability by seeking B Corp certification.
Laura Willoughby, founder of B Corp-certified Club Soda, has noticed that low/no brands are “leaning into B Corp certification in a big way”, noting Lucky Saint, Caleño, Freestar, Thomson & Scott and Everleaf as examples.
Explaining the benefits of having B Corp status, Willoughby says it is a surefire way to communicate sustainability credentials to consumers. “It gives consumers the knowledge that the brand has a commitment to everything from the environment to workers’ rights.” And as consumers become more attuned to both mindful drinking and sustainability-focused brands, the low/no industry is leading the way in meeting both these needs.
WORKING FOR GOOD
As well as working to implement sustainable practices within production operations, some low/no brands are going a step further by either supporting conservation initiatives or establishing their own projects.
For non-alcoholic mead producer Bemuse, which has a range of four flavours including its original Hops & Honey, supporting bee conservation is a core aspect of the brand’s sustainability-led ethos.
Bemuse UK head of sales Piedad Mejías says: “Our drinks are honey-based, and we like to think of bees as our colleagues. We therefore intend to look after pollinators in the best way we can, proportionate to the scale of our business.”
While Bemuse is a relatively new face in the low/no scene, the brand has already launched a handful of bee conservation initiatives. “We have sponsored a beehive in Wales to support pollination, and we make Bemuse-branded bee bombs and give them away to our clients. Bee bombs can be scattered in the garden to plant bee friendly wildflowers,” Mejías explains.
As it continues to develop its sustainability practices, Bemuse has now applied for B Corp certification, with future plans to support urban greening projects, according to Mejías.
Elsewhere, brands with a hybrid offering of both alcoholic and low/no drinks are incorporating sustainability projects into their operations. Thatchers Cider offers a Thatchers Zero variant, which is the UK’s fastest-growing alcohol-free apple cider in the off-trade, according to Circana data for the 52 weeks to May 20.
As part of its sustainability efforts, the brand’s 2023 Community Orchard Project has seen Thatchers work with around 100 local communities to plant apple trees for both environmental and social purposes.
Managing director Martin Thatcher says: “By donating apple trees, we can help communities in so many different ways, from helping green urban residential communities to providing an area of peace and solitude in care homes, or an educational resource for schools and colleges.”
THE RIGHT RANGE
When it comes to bridging the gap between low/no brands and environmentally-conscious consumers, drinks retailers play a key role in providing the right range for shoppers.
“The low and no-alcohol sector has become a conscious choice for more and more customers,” says Charles Cutteridge, wine sourcing manager at Morrisons, the Multiple Low/No Retailer of the Year at the Drinks Retailing Awards 2023.
Callum Ruffman, director of production at Mocktails, explains the importance of having a low/no range with strong sustainability credentials, particularly when recruiting younger drinkers.
“When looking at the demographic of consumers in the low/no category, there is a significant percentage in the 18 to 34-year-old range, which mirrors the age range of consumers who are increasingly concerned about the environment and sustainability in the food and drink industry,” Ruffman says.
“Brands and retailers who are aligning with their values are significantly more likely to form a long-term relationship which looks beyond what the product tastes like.” For retailers looking to meet consumer needs, Ruffman says they need to select low/no brands “that align their values with the consumer”.
Sustainability is undeniably a core consumer value, so now is the time for retailers to pay attention to low/no brands that are leading the way to a greener drinks industry.