Trend watch: the rise of low-alcohol and no-alcohol drinking

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

12 October 2017

One of the hot topics that arose time and again at this year’s Global Drinks Forum in Berlin was the rise of low-alcohol and no-alcohol drinking.

In a presentation on the future of drinking, Zoe Lazarus, global future and culture planning director at Diageo, pointed to the fact that for most consumers ‘it’s all about holistic wellbeing and leading a balanced lifestyle’.

Dandelyan's The Bradsell
Dandelyan's The Bradsell

She declared that ‘as an industry we need to embrace the fact that people won’t be using alcohol as a main driver for socialising’, pointing out that more than 50% of smartphone users had a health-related app on their phone in 2016.

As Jacob Briars, Bacardi’s global advocacy director, declared in his presentation on the state of the drinks industry, ‘This is concerning for many of us – our business models are that alcoholic beverages are the engine rooms of our business. People are actively choosing to cut down their drinking or changing the occasions in which they consume alcohol.’

With this trend continuing to gain traction – especially with the rise of Generation Z (16-25 year-olds), a group who are more concerned about their personal and career advancement than with socialising and going to parties – what does this mean for the on-trade?

Some of the speakers were optimistic.

‘The biggest opportunity in the drinks industry is the emergence of the non-alcoholic category,’ declared Dan Gasper, chief operating officer at Distill Ventures.

Consequently, businesses should be spending as much time thinking about their non-alcoholic offering as they do their alcoholic one.

‘The guest who chooses not to drink at an event is often treated as a second-class citizen,’ said Gasper. ‘We go out and spend money for great experiences which we want to share, and bars haven’t really applied it to non-alcohol. As one bartender whose business has a great list said to me, “without a great non-alcoholic offering, they’ll just order water”.’

The Beaufort Bar's no-abv Shrub Smuggler
The Beaufort Bar's no-abv Shrub Smuggler

Many predicted that the emerging trend of top-quality non-alcoholic cocktails – complex in flavour and texture, and beautiful in presentation – is set to grow even more, presenting a new opportunity for bartenders to innovate.

‘The non-alcoholic cocktail boom is giving bartenders new ways to experiment with flavour,’ declared Lazarus. ‘While drinkers don’t always want to drink alcohol, they don’t want to compromise on flavour or the experience.’

‘This is the biggest opportunity in the drinks industry right now,’ thought Gasper, before sharing his tips on creating excellent virgin cocktails. ‘It’s very early days in this category, so there are no rules. But there are emerging signals.’

How to create a great non-alcoholic experience, according to Dan Gasper:

Brilliantly crafted and beautifully served
Guests should be able to see the bartender’s involvement in the creation of the drink, just like an alcoholic cocktail. The same attention to presentation that bartenders give to alcoholic cocktails should be applied, with great glassware and beautiful garnishes used. Consider the mouthfeel of the drink – ‘that wonderful, lingering, ever-changing taste you get from booze is often missing from non-alcoholic drinks. Bartenders are exploring techniques to resolve this through techniques such as carbonation and forced nitro-charging’.

Complex flavours and natural ingredients
Gasper referred to the ‘sip not gulp’ challenge – people on soft drinks often finish their drinks much more quickly than their friends who are drinking alcohol. A successful virgin cocktail should have layers of flavour that encourage the drinker to sip and contemplate, not down their drink. He also said that the drinks industry should avoid ‘Franken-drinks’ with e-numbers and chemicals to enhance flavour. ‘Let’s not make the mistakes the food industry did when it went for the “healthy” trend,’ he said.

As for the trends that appear to be emerging around non-alcoholic drinks, Gasper pointed to a few that Imbibe readers will already be familiar with – shrubs, coffee, tea, kombucha and non-alcoholic spirits like Seedlip – as well as pointing to the growth in seltzers and the rise of bitter softs, such as hopped sodas.

What is clear is that for on-trade businesses to keep up with changing consumer demands and expectations, a strong non-alcoholic offering should be made available. The industry needs to adapt in order to survive.


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