In the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” Pawnee city manager Chris Traeger (played by Rob Lowe) is optimistic, energetic and extremely health-conscious. Oftentimes, the character compares his body to a microchip and says that a grain of sand could destroy it, as he is very meticulous in his wellness habits. As a part of his healthfulness journey, Chris rarely drinks. Playing a character who is passionate about health and wellness must have come naturally to someone like Lowe, who is healthy and has been sober for more than 30 years.
Although many consumers lean toward non-alcohol or low alcohol content beverages for a variety of reasons, trends like “Dry January,” on top of the usual health-related New Year’s resolutions, often contribute to a rise in the sober-curious movement, as Caleb Bryant calls it.
Bryant, associate director of food and drink for Chicago-based Mintel, notes that consumer interest plays an important role in the low/no beverage category, whether it be for the experience or challenge of not consuming alcohol.
“Fifty-nine percent of sober curious consumers agree that no alcohol months (e.g., Dry January) are a fun challenge,” he says. “Community is also a factor in this category, as the sober curious lifestyle often provides consumers a sense of community and support. In-person groups, sober bars, online communities and apps exist that help consumers in recovery, teetotalers and the sober curious connect with and support each other.”
Cara Piotrowski, client insights consultant at Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago, reflects the sentiment that consumers’ greater interest in zero alcohol consumption months has driven the growth of low/no alcohol beverages across beer, wine and spirits.
“Greater interest in ‘Dry January’ and ‘Sober October,’ particularly post-pandemic, has likely contributed to the growth of this segment; [and] convenience of RTD low- and no-alcohol products on shelf next to full strength products; [and] the ability to enjoy products with the same flavor profile as full strength products,” Piotrowski says.
A growing market
As low and no-alcohol products gain in popularity among consumers, more brands are adjusting their product portfolios accordingly.
For instance, Martini & Rossi, a brand of Hamilton, Bermuda-based Bacardi Ltd., recently introduced two non-alcohol aperitifs: Floreale and Vibrante. The company says its master blenders crafted the beverages so consumers “can enjoy a classic Italian aperitivo hour, sans alcohol, without sacrificing the high-quality ingredients the brand is known for.” Consumers can enjoy the aperitifs alone, or mixed with soda water over ice, making it a refreshing option for those looking for non-alcohol drinks, it notes.
Mintel’s Bryant notes that alcohol alternatives represent a fast-growing category within the overall beverage industry.
“Consumers are rethinking their alcohol consumption,” he says. “While many don’t want to go completely dry, consumers are interested in taking a more mindful approach to drinking. … While trending, alcohol companies cannot just remove alcohol from their products and expect a success, rather companies must strategically develop low/no products that completely deliver on taste and align with the interests and aspirations of sober-curious consumers.”
He adds that, according to Mintel’s data, 57% of consumers agree that low and no alcohol products “should taste indistinguishable” from the real thing.
IRI’s Piotrowski notes that, as larger suppliers and brewers enter the alcohol-free market, it goes to show that the industry is listening to consumers’ needs.
“Expect to see more alcohol beverage brands expand into low and no-alcohol offerings to capture this occasion,” she says. “The trends in health and wellness have greatly impacted the industry, spurring innovation in low and no alcohol segments, including the rise of hard seltzers and RTD (ready-to-drink) cocktails.
“Non-alcoholic beer is also benefiting from these trends as consumers gravitate to zero-alcohol versions of their favorite beers,” Piotrowski continues.
Data obtained by IRI shows that the Top 5 non-alcohol beer brands are Heineken, Bud, O’Douls, Busch and Athletic, for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 30 in total U.S. multi-outlets, including convenience. Meanwhile, the overall category saw sales of $265.6 million, a 14.8% increase for the same period.
Susie Goldspink, head of no and low alcohol at London-based IWSR drinks market analysis, says that the category is “in growth mode, gaining share within the overall category.” She notes that non-alcohol beer is the largest no/low category in the United States, followed by low-alcohol wine.
“Moderating alcohol consumption and avoiding the effects of drinking alcohol are becoming increasingly important for both no and low alcohol drinkers,” Goldspink says.
Putting health first
One of the many reasons behind consumers wanting to lower their alcohol intake is health concerns.
Kaleigh Theriault, beverage/alcohol thought leadership manager at NielsenIQ, explains that non-alcohol options “contribute to responsible drinking and health and wellness” for consumers. And consumers, she says, are prioritizing health and wellness, even around major drinking holidays.
“Non-alc sales follow traditional alcohol containing sales trends, spiking around key holidays — Fourth of July and year-end — which tells us that consumers are seeking health and wellness outside of sober drinking months like ‘Dry January’ and ‘Sober October,’” Theriault says.
Mintel’s Bryant notes that interest in health and wellness is a “primary driver” of the sober curious movement, with 71% of consumers worrying about the long-term effects of alcohol consumption. According to Mintel, 30% of consumers are drinking less alcohol to reduce or manage weight, 30% are doing so for other physical health reasons, 26% are drinking less to improve or manage mental health and 11% were doing so to improve sleep.
IWSR’s Goldspink echoes a similar sentiment regarding consumer health trends, adding that the typical low and no alcohol consumer is a female millennial with a higher disposable income — a description that mostly matches that of Mintel’s Bryant.
“Health and wellness concerns are a key driver for consumers who choose to purchase no and low alcohol products,” she says. “For example, no alcohol products with the perception of being ‘better-for-you’ are innovating through the use of adaptogens, probiotics, antioxidants, nootropics and other naturally sourced ingredients.”