Cutting down and cutting out is increasingly big business in the drinks industry. Lucy Britner looks at the key stats and trends for low and no in 2023
Almost 9 million drinkers are said to be taking a month off booze this January.
According to new research by Alcohol Change UK, the charity behind Dry January, that number is around 1 million more than in January 2022. While three in 10 consumers are looking to cut down generally in 2023, Alcohol Change UK finds that one in four say they have drunk more in 2022 than 2021, while for one in six the cost of living crisis was a reason for the increase in their drinking.
However, as we face into a recession and begin to plan longer term, IWSR notes that money worries may have the opposite effect. “Previously driven mostly by health and wellness concerns, moderation in alcohol consumption is now increasingly being spurred by economic worries and a need to cut household spending,” the research organisation says as part of its global report, entitled The 8 Drivers of Change for Beverage Alcohol in 2023 and Beyond.
IWSR’s research finds that drinkers are choosing to cut down rather than down-trade in many markets, including the UK. This form of moderation is evident in two key habits: reducing the number of occasions during which alcohol is consumed – either by substituting with a non-alcoholic beverage or by skipping a drinking occasion; or by reducing the number of alcoholic drinks on a given occasion – either by drinking less or by switching some full-strength drinks for low/no options.
“About half of all adult drinkers of beverage alcohol surveyed as part of IWSR’s price sensitivity study across 17 focus markets in H2 2022 expressed interest in moderating their alcohol consumption,” the IWSR report says.
“The trend is particularly strong in European markets where economic confidence is low, such as the UK and Germany.”
Speaking to Drinks Retailing more specifically about the UK market, IWSR adds that in 2021, around 90% of low/no-alcohol volumes were consumed in the off-trade (both physical and online).
“Retailers are prioritising space on the shelf for low/no products, generating awareness and encouraging trial,” says Susie Goldspink, head of low and no-alcohol, IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.
“This, combined with the moderation trend being increasingly prominent at home and in low-key occasions, means off-trade is the prominent channel in the UK.”
MORE OCCASIONS AND MORE DRINKS
As the category grows, so does the number of spaces that low and no can inhabit.
In a survey conducted by Vypr Manchester for Smashed brand owner Drynks Unlimited, 16% of drinkers want to buy an alcohol-free beer in McDonald’s, 14% in their local coffee shop and 7% at the gym. The survey, which involved 1,500 consumers, also notes calls for more choice in bars, airports, planes and train stations.
“When Drynks asked consumers what they thought about zero alcohol drinks being available in Costa Coffee, 60 % said they would choose an alcohol-free cider or lager option over a frappé,” the report notes. Richard Clark, founder of Drynks Unlimited, says the acceptance, normalisation and increasing trend of drinking alcohol-free drinks has started to blur the boundaries of social drinking.
“We’ve now moved to an era where people are enjoying alcohol-free drinks so much that, instead of ordering a coffee or soft drink, they’d happily reach for an alcohol-free pale ale or cider if they found it on the menu,” he says.
“Without a doubt, the demand to consume alcohol-free drinks outside of a ‘normal’ drinks environment will fuel a genuine opportunity for growth in this sector across the next 12 months.”
As well as looking outside ‘normal’ occasions, consumers are looking beyond traditional categories for alcohol alternatives. The likes of sparkling tea, sophisticated CBD and kombucha are gaining traction.
“Me-too non-alcoholic categories in wine, beer and spirits can offer to fill the gap when choosing to abstain,” says Charlie Winkworth-Smith, co-founder of sparkling tea brand Saicho.
“But there is a growing foodie consumer who is on the hunt for something new and desiring something more sophisticated and unique that has its own flavour profile. Inspiration is usually drawn from experiences while on their travels.”
Winkworth-Smith goes on to say that with a category such as tea, there’s talk of variety, harvest, tannins and terroir. Familiar territory for wine drinkers, but still with its own provenance.
Many consumers will continue their adventure into low and no this year, some newcomers look set to embrace the category out of financial necessity. And that is good news for new product developers – as the saying goes: necessity is the mother of invention.