Jonny Forsyth
Jonny Forsyth is Associate Director, Mintel Food & Drink, monitoring and engaging with latest innovations and market developments in all alcohol and coffee categories.

In the run-up to the UEFA  Europa League final, it’s not just the football that’s getting people talking, it’s the new sponsorship deal. It was recently announced that Heineken 0.0% will be the new official beer sponsor of the League in what’s being described by UEFA as “the biggest non-alcoholic beer sponsorship of its kind.”  

Does this mark a significant change in alcohol drinking habits?

Non-alcoholic beer (NAB) has been mainstream for a while nowespecially in Germany and Spain, where significant proportions of the adult population drink this form of beer. The UK has been later to the party, with a smaller proportion of people currently drinking NAB, but this figure rises among beer drinkers aged 18 to 34. Arguably, a better indicator of NAB’s mainstream status was Heineken 0.0’s James bond collaboration in January 2020.

Meanwhile, non-alcoholic spirits and wine are much more niche, but the former is experiencing a lot of growth – albeit from a very small base, especially in the UK.

Health is a big factor driving the non-alcoholic trend

The primary trend driving the popularity of non-alcoholic beverages is health. Consumers are far more health-conscious compared to 10-20 years ago and as people strive to be fitter and healthier, drinking alcohol is increasingly hard to justify. Another important factor is the negative associations many people have with alcohol, such as binge drinking behavior or even violence.

Despite these challenges, consumers still want to drink socially – just without necessarily having to deal with a hangover the next day as a consequence. NAB’s improving quality has also massively helped to further its cause – changing its perception from a ‘sad compromise’ into an appealing alternative to the ‘real deal’. Another contributing factor globally has been tougher drink driving restrictions, which have helped to boost the NAB market in countries like Brazil and Colombia.

This is more of a societal trend than one being driven by one particular generation. This is best illustrated in Germany where all demographics have embraced NAB evenly. But there are different demographic effects in different markets. For example, Spain’s NAB market is driven by 55+ demographic, while usage in the UK and France is being driven by the younger generation of drinkers – those aged between 18 and 24.

The pandemic has had a positive impact on non-alcoholic beer

NAB sales have been very strong since the pandemic started – especially for established brands like Heineken 0.0%, with a lot of evidence of stockpiling at the beginning of the lockdown. The reason for this is because COVID-19 has made us even more health-aware, meaning in many countries alcohol consumption has declined since the start of the pandemic, as consumers prioritise their immunity (which alcohol can adversely impact) and their mental health (alcohol can exacerbate depression and anxiety). 

While COVID-19 has accelerated a trend that was already gaining momentum, we have to put this context –  because it’s still a miniscule part of overall beer/alcohol industry revenue.