Does it feel like you can’t turn around without seeing an ad or announcement about a new non-alcoholic beverage?
People are reassessing their relationship with alcohol, and it’s led to a massive glut in alcohol-free beers, wines, and spirits over the past few years. Alcohol consumption certainly isn’t going away, but many drinkers are choosing to imbibe a bit less often, or less heavily, than they did in the past.
Here’s what you should know about this trend, and how you can take advantage of it.
The Rise of Non-Alcoholic Drinks
An increase in non-alcoholic drinks and “functional beverages” has been on every F&B trend list for the past few years. But 2021 truly saw a category explosion, with sales jumping from $273M in 2020 to $349M in 2021.
The largest sector in the industry has long been the non-alcoholic beer and cider market, with 75% volume share. But the non-alcoholic spirits market is making headway, with 14% compound annual growth rate expected between 2021 and 2025.
Okay, so the market is growing. What does that look like in practice?
For starters, the options for the sober curious, moderate drinkers, or teetotallers are booming. Companies like Recess make fruity beverages fortified with hemp for a light, floaty feeling without the impairment. Ghia‘s herbal, bitter aperitif makes for grown up mocktails. Add some soda and it’s damn close to an Aperol Spritz. Austin-based Athletic Brewing is an entire non-alcoholic brewery, making flavorful craft beer without the booze. Seedlip and Ritual make zero-proof spirits for non-alcoholic cocktails with bite and warmth.
And where to get them? Here in Austin, Sans Bar is a completely booze-free cocktail bar where you can make connections without imbibing. And non-alcoholic bottle shops like Sipple in Houston and Boisson in NYC let you browse canned drinks, NA spirits, de-alcoholized wines, and NA beers with ease. Standard liquor stores and markets are also starting to carry these options. Shoppers can get a bottle of vodka and a bottle of NA Seedlip all in one trip.
Why the Change? Look to COVID, Generation Z, and Drinking Culture Blowback
Americans have always been boozy people. Ol’ George Washington himself got prospective voters well liquored up in a bid for election to the Virginia House of Burgesses. (It worked.)
So what accounts for this new interest in non-alcoholic drinks?
It had been coming on for years, but COVID seems to have sped things up as people put a greater premium on their health. While some found that the pandemic led to an increase in dangerous drinking habits, many others took the opportunity to cut back on their consumption, or quit altogether. To fill the space left behind by beer, wine, and cocktails, they’ve turned to alcohol-free drinks.
Another factor is the youths. As Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) reach drinking age, they’re consuming much less alcohol than the older generations. More aware of mental health than any previous generation, many of these younger adults choose to avoid anxiety-inducing alcohol, or at least prefer to drink it less often.
Anecdotally, I also have to wonder if it’s partially a reaction to the ubiquity of alcohol in the past 10-20 years. Drinking has been a major part of socializing for decades, and we expect to find alcohol at sporting events, concerts, and parties. But these days, you can find bars at the grocery store so you can sip a glass wine while you shop. You can down a beer or champagne while you get your haircut. You can drink at the movies. At the zoo. At museums. In the street. When something is everywhere…doesn’t it get a little less cool?
Approaching the Trend
As the market grows, there’s been a rapid increase in interesting non-alcoholic drink options. Consumers want mature, flavorful drinks. So if your current idea of a mocktail is a Shirley Temple, it’s time to reconsider.
You can ease into the NA market without much fuss. Find a non-alcoholic spirit that you like, and use it to retool a few of your existing cocktail recipes. Or add one or two non-alcoholic canned drinks to your offerings, like Ghia Le Spritz or Crisp & Crude.
Those who don’t drink, or are choosing not to on this occasion, may not want to draw attention to the fact by asking if you have NA options. While the stigma around not drinking is improving, it’s not entirely gone. So it’s a good idea to have your NA drinks listed somewhere. You could add an asterisk next to the cocktails that are available alcohol free, or add an NA drink section to your menu.
There is still room for profitability within the NA drink trend. In fact, these additional options could increase sales. Instead of sipping a water or $2 iced tea, non-drinkers may choose to indulge in a $9 or $10 mocktail so they can have the beverage experience without the booze. So if you’re going to do mocktails, approach them just like a cocktail—with the fancy glassware and appropriate garnishes to make the extra expense worthwhile and enjoyable.