For low-no read low-yes

11 June, 2019

John Downe MW on how the non-drinking generations are shaping a lower-alcohol industry


ADRIAN CHILES, A UK TV PERSONALITY, recently presented a programme for the BBC called Drinkers Like Me to huge acclaim. The script was born when he realised his weekly alcohol intake was far higher than the 14 ‘units’ recommended by the chief medical officer.

The programme’s success was due in no small part to viewers recognising their own drinking patterns and the associated health implications. This is the powerful hook that’s driving global sales of non and low (no-low)-alcoholic drinks.

Twenty million UK adults now choose no-low alternatives (Kantar 2018) with those drinking alcohol at the lowest level on record. As more geriatrics join the self-preservation society, one in five of all adults are now teetotal (Office for National Statistics), while those aged 16-24 are least likely to drink, with 27% teetotal, a rise from 19% a decade ago. It’s hardly surprising the UK’s Dry January 2018 attracted 4.5m participants.

Laura Willoughby, founder of Club Soda, a London-based group that encourages ‘mindful drinking’ says: “Younger millennials are looking for an experience; an interesting venue, a bit of drama and good food. They want a nice drink but it doesn’t really matter if it’s alcoholic or not.” Catering for this demand, there are now 464 no-low alcohol SKUs in the UK off-trade.

Social media also plays its part –while drunken selfies were an early feature of Facebook and Instagram, now young people do not want their drunken images online, “it’s also not a good idea in terms of future employment”, a friend whispered.

The popularity of no-low drinks has spurred the UK’s Department of Health to review the existing legislation. Bravo. The current terminology which states that alcohol-free beer must contain no more than 0.05% abv, de-alcoholised beer no more than 0.5% abv, low-alcohol beer no more than 1.20% abv, and low-alcohol wine no more than 5.5% abv is, at best, confusing. “I think we should refer to anything under 0.5% abv as ‘suitable for dry drinking’. At present, shoppers don’t understand the differences,” says Outfox Drinks founder Jessica Hook.

Hook launched her alcohol-free drinks company in 2017 and won the coveted Start-Up trophy supported by Worth Capital in 2018 to the tune of £150 000, proving that the City also has confidence in this market.

From July 2017-18, UK sales for low-alcohol beer increased by 28% with sales of £43m, a volume increase of 21%. (Nielsen). These figures look even better when viewed against a fall in ‘normal’ beer sales of 12% (Department of Health) over the same period.

The sector is moving fast. Sales of Nanny State (0.5% abv) beer boosted Brewdog’s bank balance by £2m over the year to July 2018, up from £1.3m the year before (Neilsen). Big Drop Brewing is a new craft company dedicated to making beer with an abv of less than 0.5% – its pale ale and stout are making friends. Brewer and pub giant Greene King recently launched a 0.5% abv version of its 5% abv Old Speckled Hen. “Our 0.5% delivers the flavour characteristics of the 5% bottled beer,” says managing director Matt Starbuck. “Choosing low-alcohol drinks shouldn’t mean compromise.” Not to be outgunned, Suffolk-based brewery Adnams has launched a low-alcohol version of its bestselling Ghost Ship beer at 0.5%, “with no compromise on the original taste”, says head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald.

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