The lively new drinking trend is alcohol without alcohol

For a long time, “you had ‘near beer’, which was kind of a joke,” said Duane Stanford, editor of Beverage Digest. “People wanted to be discreet when it came to drinking them. And now that’s completely changed.”

In recent years, large alcohol companies including Heineken, AB InBev and Molson Coors have begun to offer more non-alcoholic alternatives. Smaller brands, such as Athletic Brewing, which makes non-alcoholic craft beer, and Seedlip, which makes alcohol-free liquor alternatives, have also come on the scene.

Seedlip “started to gain momentum a few years ago and continues to this day,”[ads1]; said Lizzy Freier, director of menu research and insights at food service consulting firm Technomic.

Reviews of Seedlip on beverage menus have grown 100% from year to year, Freier said, adding that “we are now starting to see some new non-alcoholic spirits appear on the market, especially in independent restaurants.”

Non-alcoholic alcohol alternatives are still a small market compared to regular alcoholic beverages. But while alcohol sales are slipping, sales of their non-alcoholic counterparts are sky high.

In the year ending May 14, US retail sales of non-alcoholic spirits grew by 116% to $ 4.5 million, according to NielsenIQ. Sales of alcoholic beverages fell around 1% to just under $ 21 billion.

During the same period, non-alcoholic beer rose 21% to $ 316 million, and non-alcoholic wine rose 20% to $ 50 million. Sales of traditional beer fell 4% to around $ 46 billion, and sales of alcoholic wine fell 6% to almost $ 20 billion.

Stanford sees it this way: As interest in non-alcoholic alternatives increases, there is a greater need for brands to deliver better products as more of them are launched.

“There is a real market power now to go and create these solutions and really work on it,” he said. “It’s money to make. So people find out.”

But, Stanford added, “I wonder what the natural ceiling is for these products, because you do not have the functionality of alcohol.” In other words, how many people really want booze without buzz?

Goes out, but drinks less

The demand for non-alcoholic alternatives has largely been driven by younger consumers who want to drink less, but who are not interested in abstaining from alcohol altogether, Stanford said.

“They are not necessarily teetotaling. In fact, most of them are not,” he said. “They drink alcohol, but they’re just trying to moderate themselves.”

A non-alcoholic beer or cocktail can appeal to consumers who, for example, observe dry January. Or maybe they want to be out late with friends but keep drinking to a minimum. Maybe they need to drive home, or try to avoid hangovers. Or they are aware of the negative health effects of alcohol, and want to consume less in general.

Of course, drinkers can always reach for a seltzer or a soda. But manufacturers of non-alcoholic beverages position their products as more sophisticated and tasty. And with colorful boxes and festive packaging, they are designed to help non-drinkers get involved.

“The biggest market game we see is this highlighted idea that customers can still gather, celebrate and enjoy a good drink while still abstaining from alcohol, whether it’s for lifestyle choices or personal reasons,” Freier said.

Erin Flavin, sitting facing the table, began researching non-alcoholic alternatives to alcohol when she stopped drinking.

Erin Flavin found herself sucking more than she wanted during the pandemic. So in October 2020, she decided to stop drinking. She is tired of seltzer and explored other options.

“I started with tea,” she said. She discovered Rishi Tea & Botanicals, which makes a series of “sparkling botanical” drinks. They come in flavors such as grapefruit quince, dandelion ginger and elderberry maqui, made with red wine grape skins.

“I drank a lot, in a beautiful glass, and still had my little ritual at the end of the night,” she said. “It really helped.”

Last year, she began selling non-alcoholic drinks at her hair studio in Minneapolis, the Honeycomb Salon. She plans to open a non-alcoholic liquor store soon.

While some, like Flavin, took stock of their drinking habits during the pandemic, others had been thinking about alcohol alternatives for years.

Non-alcoholic beer is a good idea

For Ben Jordan, it was challenging to find something tasty but non-alcoholic to drink when he went out together while attending graduate school, about a decade ago.

“I wanted to drink beer at parties and in social settings, but did not want the effects of ethanol,” he told CNN Business. At the time, non-alcoholic beer alternatives were “pretty bad,” he said.

So he set out to find a solution, and eventually co-founded ABV Technology, which sells and rents machines that remove alcohol from beer to craft breweries so they can keep up with the trend. ABV Technology also offers its products to distilleries and wineries. The company was founded in 2017, and Jordan is the CEO.

A surprising incentive for artisan brewers who decide whether to invest in non-alcoholic beer? The hard seltzer mania.

When ABV Technology’s machines remove alcohol from beer, that spirit can be used for hard selters. For a brewer, it offers the opportunity to turn alcoholic beer into two products: non-alcoholic beer and trendy hard seltzer.

Ben Jordan, CEO of ABV Technology.

Jordan predicts that in the United States, non-alcoholic beer could end up making up one-fifth of the total U.S. 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 cope with soaring inflation. Non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits are not cheap.

Bottles of non-alcoholic liquor are priced between $ 20 and $ 30 on Amazon. And a can of non-alcoholic beer costs about the same, if not more, than a can of regular beer of the same size, Jordan said.

Part of the population may be willing to pay that amount for that option, Stanford said.

“Upwardly mobile, young consumers who want such products for specific lifestyle reasons – as long as you offer them quality and something they actually want to keep and be seen with, they will pay those prices,” he said.

But get money-conscious skeptics on board? “The challenge is that you have to convince them that the quality is there,” Stanford said, “that they’ll look cool when they drink it, and they’ll want to be seen with it.”

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