Non-alcoholic alternatives to alcohol have been around for quite some time. But recently, the sector is booming.
For a long time, “you had ‘almost beer,’ which was kind of a joke,” said Beverage Digest editor Duane Stanford. “People would be discreet about their consumption. And now that has completely changed.
The booze-free trend began to pick up again a year or two before the pandemic, with booze-free bars catering to the so-called “sober curious” popping up in some cities, and continued to grow at a rapid pace.
In recent years, major alcohol companies, including Heineken, AB InBev and Molson Coors, have begun to offer more non-alcoholic options. Smaller brands, such as Athletic Brewing, which makes non-alcoholic craft beer, and Seedlip, which makes alcohol-free alcohol alternatives, have also arrived on the scene.
Seedlip “started gaining momentum a few years ago and continues to do so today,” said Lizzy Freier, director of menu research and insights at restaurant consulting firm Technomic.
Mentions of Seedlip on beverage menus have increased 100% year over year, Freier said, adding that “we are now starting to see new non-alcoholic spirits appearing on the market, especially in restaurants. independent”.
Non-alcoholic alcohol alternatives are still a small market compared to regular alcoholic beverages. But as alcohol sales plummet, sales of their non-alcoholic counterparts soar.
In the year ending May 14, U.S. retail sales of non-alcoholic spirits rose 116% to $4.5 million, according to NielsenIQ. Sales of spirits fell about 1% to just under $21 billion.
Over the same period, non-alcoholic beer jumped 21% to $316 million and non-alcoholic wine jumped 20% to $50 million. Traditional beer sales fell 4% to around $46 billion, and alcoholic wine sales fell 6% to nearly $20 billion.
Stanford sees it this way: As interest in alcohol-free alternatives grows, it’s increasingly imperative for brands to deliver better products as more and more of them launch.
“There is now a real market force to create these solutions and really work on them,” he said. “There is money to be made. So people are figuring it out.
But, Stanford added, “I wonder what the natural ceiling is for these products, because you don’t have the functionality of alcohol.” In other words, how many people really want to drink alcohol without creating a buzz?
Demand for non-alcoholic alternatives has been driven largely by younger consumers who want to drink less but don’t want to abstain completely, Stanford said.
“They are not necessarily sober. In fact, most of them aren’t,” he said. “They drink alcohol, but they just try to moderate themselves.”
A beer or mocktail might appeal to consumers who, for example, observe Dry January. Or maybe they want to go out late with friends, but keep drinking to a minimum. Maybe they have to drive home or are trying to avoid a hangover. Either they are aware of the harmful effects of alcohol on health and generally wish to consume less.
Those drinkers could always have a seltzer or a soda, of course. But soft drink makers are positioning their products as more sophisticated and flavorful. And, with colorful cans and festive wrappers, they’re designed to help non-drinkers fit in.
“The biggest market game we’re seeing is this emphasized idea that customers can still congregate, celebrate, and enjoy a good drink while abstaining from alcohol, whether it’s for style choices lifestyle or personal reasons,” Freier said.
Erin Flavin found herself drinking more than she wanted to during the pandemic. So in October 2020, she decided to quit drinking. Sick with seltzer, she explored other options.
“I started with teas,” she said. She discovered Rishi Tea & Botanicals, which makes a line of “plant-based fizzy” drinks. They come in flavors like grapefruit quince, dandelion ginger, and elderberry maqui, made with red wine grape skins.
“I drank that a lot, from a nice glass, and always had my little ritual at the end of the night,” she said. “That really helped.”
Last year, she started selling soft drinks at her Minneapolis hair salon, Honeycomb Salon. She plans to open a non-alcoholic liquor store soon.
While some, like Flavin, were taking stock of their drinking habits during the pandemic, others had been considering alternatives to alcohol for years.
For Ben Jordan, it was hard to find something tasty but non-alcoholic to drink when he went to meetings while in college about a decade ago.
“I wanted to drink beer at parties and in social settings, but I didn’t want the effects of ethanol,” he told CNN Business. At the time, non-alcoholic beer options were “pretty bad”, he said.
So he set out to find a solution, eventually co-founding ABV Technology, which sells and rents machines that dealcoholize beer to craft breweries, enabling them to follow the trend. ABV Technology also offers its products to distilleries and wineries. The company was incorporated in 2017 and Jordan is the CEO.
A surprising incentive for craft brewers who decide to invest in non-alcoholic beers? The hard seltzer craze.
Once ABV Technology’s machines remove the alcohol from the beer, that alcohol can then be used for hard seltzers. For a brewer, this offers the possibility of transforming alcoholic beer into two products: a non-alcoholic beer and a trendy seltzer.
Jordan predicts that in the United States, non-alcoholic beer could end up accounting for one-fifth of the total US beer market.
“Things are looking very positive for the non-alcoholic beer industry right now,” he said.
But there are challenges ahead, especially as consumers face runaway inflation. Beer, wine and non-alcoholic spirits are not cheap.
Bottles of non-alcoholic spirits cost between $20 and $30 on Amazon. And a can of non-alcoholic beer costs about the same, if not more, than a regular beer can of the same size, Jordan said.
Some of the population might be willing to pay that amount for this alternative, Stanford said.
“Young upwardly mobile consumers who want these types of products for specific lifestyle reasons – as long as you offer them quality and something they actually want to hold onto and want to be seen with, they will pay these prices,” he said.
But getting any money-conscious skeptics on board? “The challenge is that you’re going to have to convince them that the quality is there,” Stanford said, “that they’re going to look cool drinking it and they’re going to want to be seen with it.”