Club Soda co-founder Laura Willoughby has advice for smaller stores to match the supermarkets

Consumer demand for light, low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks is not going away. IWSR forecasts annual UK sales growth for alcohol-free of 10% from 2022-2026, with the market already worth an annual £255 million, according to figures from Mintel. 

This is not a story of sudden sobriety: the trend for lower-alcohol drinks of all the above types is being driven by consumers moderating their drinking. Three in four adults are doing so, according to KAM Insights. This goes hand in hand with consumers wanting to drink better when they do drink alcohol. 

Supermarkets say that shoppers who buy alcohol-free also increase the amount they spend on alcohol. In both cases, taste, quality and creating a special experience are drivers of shopping habits. There is definitely an opportunity here, but outside the larger supermarket chains, the visibility of alcohol-free on shelves is virtually non-existent. 

Beer is most likely to be stocked, but the choice tends to be a sole well-known line extension of an alcoholic drink brand, failing to represent the diverse range of products that low/no purchasers are sticking in their supermarket baskets. There are a few things smaller retailers can consider to make more of the opportunity. 

First, light, low-alcohol and alcohol-free represents an opportunity to increase overall basket spends, especially early in the week when shoppers are most likely to be swapping alcoholic drinks for something alcohol-free. Creating a small but quality range of low/no drinks and positioning it within the BWS aisle means retailers can catch shoppers’ eyes and remind them that these are adult choices: not soft drinks, but special treats for the evening, when they transition into me-time. These weekday purchases are in addition to consumers’ weekend baskets of full-strength alcohol. 

The range should include low/no still and sparkling wine, spirits and different styles of beers, plus a few lower-strength beers, wines and spirits. It should also look beyond big brand extensions. To compete with the supermarkets, having a range that speaks to the quality consumers expect from your alcohol range is key. There is something out there for every type of store, from corner shops to delis. 

One problem is that wholesalers present a significant barrier to upgrading a range, because their own listings are limited. Retailers should tell wholesalers that they want more choice and support to select a range and execute it well. Once stores have products they love on their shelves, they have something exciting to shout about on social media – brands have assets they would love to share – and can invite suppliers in to sample with customers. 

Chat to brands about the benefits to be had from doing pop-up events, running offers that are as attractive as alcoholic drinks promotions and other ways to increase basket value and improve shopper loyalty. July, December and January are great months to increase the range, but really this is an all-year-round, all-demographic shift in drinking habits. If retailers don’t know where to start we can help at Club Soda, as we are experts on the category. Our Tasting Room is designed as an educational space for the trade, and we can guide retailers around the category and help them make the right choices for their business. 

TIPS FOR SUCCESS

  • Ensure low/no options are easy to find. This is still a new category, so customers need to find it easily. Most consumers don’t think there will be many options, so it is great to exceed their expectations. 
  • When promoting an alcohol brand, run an equivalent offer on a low/no one so that there is something for every consumer. 
  • Share light, low-alcohol and alcohol-free ranges on social media, websites and Google product listings.