Martin Pasco
Martin Pasco is a Mintel Food & Drink Senior Global Analyst, monitoring and engaging with the latest innovations and market developments in Spirits and Wines, and some food categories.

As Dry January is upon us, we’ve explored why more of us are turning to low/no alcohol options, and what barriers drink brands face to convince the rest of us to try these alternatives.

The low/no alcohol trend is here to stay

The moderation trend was present in the UK long before COVID-19, but the spotlight on health means younger Brits continued good intentions to cut back on alcohol post-pandemic. Mintel has been tracking the moderation trend since 2016. By 2019, a third of UK adults had moderated alcohol intake in the past year, and in 2020, 18% of UK adults had resolved to continue their good intentions to cut back on alcohol.

How have people’s attitudes changed towards low/no alcohol?

Drinkers perceive that the taste of low/no alcohol has improved over time. But, the sector is still relatively new, and low and no alcohol by volume (ABV) drinks face competition from soft drinks – especially those with mood benefits. Pioneers of low/no spirits like Seedlip made herbaceous white spirits substitutes, but more recently we are seeing twin alcohol-free versions of famous gin brands such as Gordon’s 0% and Tanqueray 0% – indicating that big brands expect low/no alcohol to grow. 

Gordon’s 0.0% Alcohol Free Spirit

Source: Gordon’s

Famous beer brands have also all jumped in including most recently Guinness Stout with a 0% ABV launch. This allows consumers to make a direct comparison with the alcoholic version and sets the bar high for product delivery.

Guinness’ 0.0% Non-Alcoholic Beer

Source: Guinness

The factors and demographics driving the low/no alcohol trend

The pandemic put a spotlight on health which has meant younger Brits planning to continue good intentions to cut back as pandemic subsides. Also, the moderation trend will accelerate across markets during a time of economic uncertainty. The UK economy seems to have dodged the bullet on a deep recession, but some economic uncertainty remains. If consumer confidence weakens, the rationale for moderating will gain traction.

Younger males (aged 18-34), in particular, were the biggest no/low alcohol trialists in 2020. Many of them are from the upper socio-economic group, earning above £50K per annum – skewed to big city dwellers. Possible reasons for this skew might include the link between alcohol, calories and diminishing returns for visits to the gym. Low/no alcohol consumption decreases with age: Brits over 55 are the least engaged with low/no spirits.

Barriers for the moderation trend

Perceived taste delivery could put people off trying low/no alcohol. Nearly one in five UK drinkers who have tried low/no alcohol drinks miss the intense and complex flavours of alcohol. This means there is still a job to be done in innovating low/no alcohol with the flavour complexity which delivers the “bite”, “kick” and mouthfeel of alcohol.

Price is also a barrier. For example, 0% ABV gins retail at similar prices to their alcoholic equivalents i.e. +/- £12 vs £16 for Gordon’s Gin. Mintel data shows that most UK consumers are unconvinced they would be willing to pay the same price as for the equivalent alcoholic drink, and less than a third are willing to pay more versus soft drinks. To justify that price point, 0% ABV alcohol alternative brands need to work harder to tell a clear benefits story regarding the mood and taste benefits on offer. Lower alcohol spirits are likely to find less resistance versus 0% ABV given they have only cut half of the alcohol content.