So here we are. It's the start of a new year and after a month of overindulgence, Dry January has arrived. While booze-free months have not traditionally been seen as an opportunity for pubs, times are changing.

"Let's be honest, the choice when it came to the no and low alcohol category was pretty dismal up until three or four years ago," says Morgenrot sales director, Graham Archibald.

"It was almost a badge of shame buying a low/no alcohol beer. The landscape is massively different now with some incredible innovation meaning the choice in terms of quality and beer styles on offer to consumers is staggering.

"Things have improved so much in the category it isn't just teetotallers looking at what's on offer.

"We launched the Playground IPA from Dutch brewery vandeStreek earlier this year and the interest has been through the roof. This hasn't just been from abstainers but from beer aficionados appreciating it for its flavour, hop profile and quality."

drinks5

Earlier this year the company also added Germany's favourite pilsner to its portfolio. This includes its alcohol-free pils and non-alcoholic weizen, which it launched in March.

Fellow beer specialist Martyn Railton, managing director at distributor Euroboozer, agrees, and says a new generation of exciting low and no brews are appearing from all over the world. "No and low alcohol lagers and wheat beers have been the early pace-setters but I think we're seeing different beer styles now fighting back.

"I think low/no needs to be approached in the same way as full-strength beer, which means stocking just one style and dumping it at the bottom of the fridge isn't good enough any more.

"Venues need to offer a few different beer styles and, most importantly, they need to promote them, like any other drink. Staff knowledge is crucial but menus should be utilised to showcase what low/no drinks are available. Consumers who are abstaining, are vegan or who have allergies are far more likely to research venues when drinking in the on-trade, so providing information online can be a great way of driving bookings and sales."

drinks3

It's not all about beer

 

And it's not just low-alcohol beers that are exciting drinkers and non-drinking drinkers. Other categories have also improved their low and no offers, including cider.

Recent entrants include Kopparberg, which has made all of its bestselling flavours available in non-alcoholic versions. Sheppy's, meanwhile, landed its alcohol-free cider back in 2018.

"It's becoming clear pub-goers now expect a wide variety of choice when it comes to low and no beverages and are savvy to the fact they no longer need to settle for sub-standard drinks," explains the company's David Sheppy.

"They're looking for the same level of excitement and flavour experiences from non-alcoholic drinks as they do with alcoholic ones, and pubs need to adapt to the ever-increasing demand for alternatives."

Heineken too has moved into the low and no cider category, launching a no-alcohol version of its Old Mout brand last year.

The company's category and trade marketing director, Jerry Shedden, says: "The low and no category's rapid growth shows no signs of slowing, with 20 per cent of GB consumers having tried a low and no beer, wine or spirit in the past six months."

Heineken has invested heavily in the category in recent times. As well as developing and launching Old Mout Alcohol Free in cider, it has added £6.4m to the low and no alcohol category through its Heineken 0.0 beer and has launched the beer on Blade, its beer dispenser system, which allows non-drinkers to enjoy a pint in a pub as easily as their imbibing mates.

 

Spiritual awakening

 

Don't forget about the spirit options. Sophie Partridge is head of on-trade category development at Diageo GB. She says: "Poor breadth of choice is the main barrier to entry but innovation is fast addressing this.

"We have seen a raft of new products launch to cater for this, from the award-winning Gordon's Ultra Low Alcohol G&T flavoured RTDs, to Seedlip — the world's first non-alcoholic distilled spirit.

"These products recognise the need to offer consumers a selection to choose from which doesn't compromise on flavour
or makes a night out less of an occasion."

drinks1

Don't forget the soft drinks

 

With all the innovation happening in alcohol alternatives it would be easy to neglect traditional soft drinks — but that would be a mistake.

"Premium soft drinks have a key role to play here as customers won't want to necessarily spend money on the products they enjoy regularly at home," says Adam Russell, director of Foodservice and Licensed at Britvic.

"When out and about, customers want to feel as though they are being offered something that is just as sophisticated as an alcoholic beverage. Mocktails are another great way of driving sales — use garnishes, ice and glassware to enhance the appeal of the drink, premiumise the serve and command higher price points."

drinks4

Amy Burgess, senior trade communications manager at Coca Cola European Partners (CCEP) says: "It is important for venues to stock a wide range of soft drinks to match different tastes and occasions during January.

"In particular, venues should consider stocking a selection of adult soft drinks and premium mixers. Adult soft drinks are likely to grow in popularity as consumers look for a more sophisticated soft drinks option, such as Appletiser, that they can enjoy during Dry January while others may be drinking wine, beer or cocktails."