Dry January may have come to an end but there's still plenty of reasons why pubs need to keep their no-alcohol drinks selection tempting.
"With 42 per cent of consumers believing the choice of softs when eating and drinking out is too narrow (CGA BrandTrack), there's definitely room for the pub trade to improve," says Ed Jones, senior customer marketing manager at Vimto Out of Home.
"By jumping on trends such as the one for frozen drinks, for example, pubs can jazz up their drinks offering."
"A wide-ranging, exciting drinks offer can help to promote a message of balance and that pubs are still a great place to socialise without alcohol, which is important."
Jen Draper, marketing director at Franklin & Sons, agrees: "Rather than not drinking alcohol being perceived as a negative when it comes to pubs and bars, the ideology should be flipped to portray a positive message," she argues.
Concentrating on introducing new products is one way of promoting a positive message to pub-goers, as it highlights the exciting things punters can have, rather than what they cannot.
"This time of year can be an opportunity for licensees to thrive off alcohol restrictions and push other segments of their bar that typically don't get as much attention," Jen suggests.
"This could be around premium soft drinks and food pairing for example, something we've invested heavily in around the Franklin & Sons range."
Soft drinks with style
Whatever you choose to do, certainly don't be apologetic about it, says Mark Eagle, head of soft drinks at Bottlegreen.
"Make a real thing of your low and no drinks –don't do it half-heartedly," he says. Embrace it and you'll reap the benefits."
He believes this time of year is a great time to show just how great soft drinks in pubs can be.
"Give a little flair and make the serve look special," he says. "Adding a fresh garnish is a relatively easy way to give a soft drink an eye-catching look. Along with ice, a slice of lime or orange can help transform a drink's look – making it appear something that's been prepared rather than just poured.
"If other garnishes are available, such as raspberry or rosemary, then all the better. These extra touches demonstrate that a pub really cares about its soft drinks in the best way possible and are noticed and appreciated by customers."
Licensees should also look to capitalise on trends such as craft and premium, which are driving as much interest and growth in non-alcoholic drinks as other categories, and both of these trends come to life in a mocktail range, says Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners.
"Mocktails can be just as creative as cocktails and licensees should make the most of flavours from adult soft drinks to keep their offering exciting," she says. "As nearly a third of people say they'd consider ordering a mocktail if offered (CGA Mixed Drinks Report), this is a great opportunity for licensees to maximise sales."
To help publicans interested in pushing mocktails beyond Dry January, syrup brand Monin ran a survey to help determine what it is people want from their alcohol-free concoctions.
In terms of flavours, strawberry and raspberry were the front-runners (with 41 and 38 per cent of the vote, respectively). Orange came in third, followed by more adventurous flavours such as rose, lavender, rhubarb, coffee, jasmine and cucumber, while chocolate completed the top 10.
Also targeting those looking for the taste of a mixed drink without the hangover, gin brand Gordon's has launched two ultra-low-alcohol gin & tonic flavoured sparkling variants.
With less than 0.5 per cent ABV and 68 calories per serve, Gordon's Ultra Low Alcohol G&T flavoured drinks are made with Gordon's London Dry Gin distillate blended with natural fruit extracts to produce two flavour variants: Gordon's Ultra Low Alcohol G&T with a Hint of Lime and Gordon's Ultra Low Alcohol G&T with a Hint of Grapefruit.
Booze-free beer boom
Of course, one of the boom areas this year in zero-alcohol drinks has been in the beer sector.
A recent study of 2,000 UK adults by Carlsberg UK found that 59 per cent of respondents had tried a low- or no-alcohol drink and more than half of those agreed it was more socially acceptable to do so now compared with the last year or two. Twenty-eight per cent said they would consider drinking alcohol-free beer as an alternative to alcohol and 26 per cent would consider it as an alternative to a soft drink.
"The UK has long been a nation known for its love of beer, but we've seen a step-change in people's attitudes towards moderation when it comes to drinking," says Liam Newton, the brewer's vice-president of marketing.
Heineken too has been particularly active in this area over the last 12 months or so, investing £6m in a campaign for its Heineken 0.0 brand, which it says is the biggest to date for an alcohol-free beer in the UK.
It estimates that 70,000 outlets in the UK now stock an alcohol-free lager, with 9,000 new outlets adding a bottle to their fridges this year alone – an increase of 15 per cent (CGA).
Heineken's category and trade marketing director Jerry Shedden says there are a few things to remember when ranging low and no-alcohol beer brands. "Avoid duplication – given that the rate-of-sale is smaller than alcoholic packaged brands, the choice can be limited to one or two brands," he advises.
"In the fridge, use non-prime real estate, such as the bottom shelf, as most of the time the request will come as 'what no-alcohol beer do you have?'"
"Since range is tight, ensure you choose the right-tasting brands for your customers and don't forget alcohol free cider. Similar to alcoholic drinkers, there are both beer and cider non-alcoholic drinkers, so don't miss an opportunity for sales," he adds.
Opening up occasions
"Offering a diverse selection of low and no alcohol drinks, beers and cocktails is extremely important nowadays and pubs that don't do it are at risk of losing customers and even generating bad feedback online," says Stephan Kofler, sales and marketing director at Krombacher UK, which counts both a zero per cent Pilsner and an alcohol-free wheat beer in its portfolio.
"More importantly, though, a quality low- and no- menu can be a real business driver. It can help operators in traditionally quieter periods of the day and it can help attract new customers, including the growing number of young non-alcoholic drinkers.
"With many customers researching venues before visiting, a low-alcohol option can be a key tool in attracting footfall if it's promoted effectively."