It's no surprise that the "alcohol alternative" or "zero proof" sector is currently the most dynamic in the drinks trade: Half of people now moderate their alcohol intake; as few as one in 50 young adults describe themselves as a frequent drinker, and more than a million extra people have chosen to abstain from alcohol entirely in the last four years (all figures Ipsos).
So why isn't this reflected in the drinks offer of the average pub?
It's an important issue to address, given 15 per cent of people say they would visit pubs more often if there were better non-alcoholic drinks available (Poplus Pub Survey, March 2017).
That's not to say standard soft drinks don't play a part but they should be part of a more innovative mix these days, in among low and no alcohol beer for example, a category that is, "now worth £36m to the UK on-trade (CGA to end Jan 18)," says Jerry Shedden, category and trade marketing director at Heineken UK.
Heineken is already a player in this sector, having launched its Heineken 0.0 brand last year.
"Currently only 47 per cent of consumers are satisfied with the no and low offering in the UK (Ipsos) and are looking for global premium brands and products that taste great. There is, therefore, clear room for licensees to expand further in this market," Jerry says.
"It's important for licensees to review their range and ensure they are stocking options to suit all customers, including those looking to moderate their alcohol consumption, or abstain completely."
Heineken itself is investing heavily in the opportunity – a £6m marketing spend behind Heineken 0.0 this year, which it claims is the biggest campaign for an alcohol-free beer in the UK to date - in a bid to address the barriers to consumption, taste perceptions and social stigma.
"We have a bold ambition and a great commitment to lead the premium non-alcoholic beer segment and build positive associations around drinking choices – in other words we want to make alcohol free beer cool," said UK brand director Nic Casby at the campaign's launch.
Beer without the booze
Beer has in fact been at the forefront of the "alcohol alternative" movement for some time - as far back as the ill-fated days of Kalibur (even if that was a brand that arguably put the category back by some decades). The launch of Beck's Blue, the zero-alcohol version of AB InBev's Beck's brand some 10 years ago helped put the category back on track and the company has since followed this up with the launch of Bud Light (into the lower alcohol sector at 3.5 per cent ABV) and Budweiser Prohibition into no alcohol this year.
"It not necessarily a new consumer trend but one that we've seen pick up momentum over the past couple of months – with the low and no alcohol beer category growing 19.5 per cent in the UK over the past year (IRI)," explains the brewer's head of trade marketing, Sharon Palmer.
What's more, such drinks are bringing new drinkers into beer: "Over eight per cent of Bud Light buyers are new to beer and 10.6 per cent of them are new to lager," she says.
German brewers have been leading the way for decades and 2017 was a record-breaking year for its/one of its best selling zero alcohol brands, Krombacher Low Alcohol Pils – sales grew in excess of 40 per cent in the UK against 2016's figures, says Stefan Kofler, UK sales and marketing director for the brand.
"Low alcohol beers couldn't be spoken of without a joke in the past whereas now there are low and no beers that can not only stand alongside full strength beers but can actually outshine many. So, choose brands that don't just tick the low/no box but tick the box for flavour, mouthfeel and taste quality as well.
"Then make sure you promote. There's no point stocking a low/no range and then putting it in the bottom of the fridge. Be creative with promotion in venue and on social media," he advises.
Opportunity for cider
Of course, low and no alternatives are not confined to the beer sector alone.
Heineken moved into no alcohol cider earlier this year with Old Mout Alcohol Free Berries & Cherries, as did Sheppy's with its Low Alcohol Classic cider at 0.5 per cent ABV.
"This traditional, classic cider remains true to our cider making heritage and methods – just with a lower alcohol content to meet today's consumer lifestyle choices," says David Sheppy, master of cider.
"It has been revealed that 30 per cent of people sitting in a pub or bar are not actually drinking alcohol (ONS). Publicans should get ahead of the movement now to profit from them by marrying the two popular alcohol trends of low alcohol and craft," he adds.
Fellow cidermaker Westons is keen to exploit the opportunity too, having this year refreshed its no alcohol cider, Stowford Press Low Alcohol, with a new label.
Its recent Cider Report 2018 pointed out that: "Low and no alcohol products are rising in acceptance and are now seen by consumers as a positive discovery choice based on taste, flavour and experience rather than just having to choose something when 'you're not drinking.' The implications for the cider category are huge."
No alcohol spirits
Wine has also secured itself an invite to the sober revolution with alcohol free brands such as Eisberg as well as lower alcohol variants of brands such as Echo Falls, which launched Echo Falls Spritz back in 2009 or Blossom Hill Spritz which hit the market last year, and there's even such a thing as non-alcoholic spirits these days...
Seedlip, now part-owned by Diageo, describes itself as a "non-alcoholic distilled spirt" and is designed to go with tonic. It has been joined in the burgeoning sector by Ceder's, part of the Pernod Ricard portfolio, which is designed as an alternative to gin.
"There's non-alcoholic news in virtually every sector in this space and we absolutely applaud the increasing choice," says Ounal Bailey, co-founder of WiseHead Productions, the incubator arm of Britvic which is dedicated to bringing innovative products to this part of the market.
"At Wisehead we have innovated in familiar spaces, as well as creating some new options, for example our London Essence range, which contains distilled essences and is lower in sugar."
The operation has also launched Monte Rosso, a Campari-like aperitif alternative and T&E No 1, made with "steam distilled botanicals". And if you think such products are a bit niche and intended for the top end of the market, think again.
"We've been working with Mitchell & Butler, who are now offering T&E No1 across a number of their sites. Their leadership in this space shows how many customers are open to choosing zero proof drinks," says Ounal.
Mocktails get cool
Mocktails are a good low-cost entry point for licensees keen to set up an alcohol-free offer that is on-trend, tempting and which commands a premium - but be warned: "Opting for a lower ABV doesn't mean customers are willing to compromise on taste," says Ed Jones, senior customer marketing manager, Vimto Out of Home.
"They aren't just looking for any old drink to replace alcohol consumption. Exciting, adventurous flavours and unusual textures such as frozen are key drivers in no and low drinks."
Its slush brand Starslush offers flavours such as unicorn and blood orange, which are just the sort of drinks to add interest to a core range of popular mocktails such as the Virgin Mary and Virgin Mojito.
Whatever you choose to offer your abstaining customers, however, make sure you pay just as much attention to the presentation as you would to a full throttle beer, cider, wine or cocktail.
"The reasons why consumers choose non-alcoholic drinks in the on-trade are many and varied but the one thing that unites these customers is their desire not to be treated like second class citizens," explains Sam Mitchell, marketing director at SHS Drinks, which counts Bottlegreen pressés and cordials among its portfolio.
"Non-alcoholic drinks in pubs need to have an element of 'treat' about them – that might be in terms of flavour or packaging or serve. Pub goers not drinking alcohol want to enjoy their visit just as much as those who are – pub goers are pub goers, after all."
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