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It’s fair to say that during its advent a handful of years ago, the no and low alcohol movement had its fair share of naysayers. Although it undoubtedly ticked a lot of boxes for the swelling ranks of abstainers, the pioneers of the movement were considered by some to be a flash in the pan. At this point in the proceedings, we can all agree that low/no is here to stay – and a vital stocking point for food and drink stores across the UK.
“It’s a really great story of growth, innovation and world domination,” says Laura Willoughby MBE, founder of mindful drinking movement Club Soda. “It is clear that the UK’s acceptance of alcohol-free drinks as a positive lifestyle choice is changing fast and the quality of the products in the market is a big part of the reason for cross-generational acceptance.
Club Soda, which recently hosted a pop-up alcohol-free off license, has found that the customer base for low/no products is wide. “We have seen a really diverse range of customers, from proper moderators to Muslims looking for something more sophisticated. We have over 100 brands available to sample and we are finding retailers and venues are popping in with their teams to work out what they should be stocking next.”
“In recent years, the no- and low-alcohol sector has surged in popularity, growing a colossal 506% since 2015 [Nielsen],” explains Clare Gibson, marketing director at Intercontinental Brands. “Recently, we have noticed trends towards alcohol moderation and mindful drinking have intensified following widespread health concerns in the wake of the pandemic, leading to a record high – almost half of UK adults (49%) - revealing they don’t drink any alcohol or are planning to cut down soon [Club Soda report]. This has led to the no- and low-alcohol now holding an impressive 3.5% volume share of the total alcohol industry [IWSR Drinks Market Analysis], making it an increasingly important category for retailers to pay attention to.
“Specifically, we have noticed that the rise in non-alcoholic RTD canned cocktails has been a driving force in this growth, with consumers attracted to their versatility and convenience. Citrus flavours continue to perform particularly well, with many looking to travel vicariously through international ingredients and 63% of consumers finding exotic foods and beverages around the world appealing [AustriaJuice.com].”
For Mike Buckland, marketing controller at Highland Spring Group, the continuing growth of the low/no market and the upcoming summer months make now the ideal time for retailers to consider the options available on their shelves. “Nearly one third of consumers opt for low or no alcohol drinks on a ‘semi regular’ basis1 and consumption is expected to grow 31% by 2024 as consumer mindsets shift towards healthier options,” he says.
If your customer base tends to lean conservative when it comes to trends, quality soft drinks offer a strong option. According to Mike, “Consumers are increasingly looking for soft drink brands with strong health credentials and natural ingredients that will quench their thirst and taste good. The Sparkling Water category has grown 6% in the last 12 weeks3 and as the temperature creeps up, sales are expected to grow.” Highland Spring has a few suitable options available to independent retailers, including their flavoured can range, available in a range of flavours including Blackberry, Plum & Hibiscus; Pear & Elderflower and Rhubarb & Ginger.
The adult soft drink category opens up a raft of occasions for consumers to indulge. “Sparkling water is often seen as a treat or as a product for a special occasion, however this is not the case,” says Mike. “Stockists should ensure they have sparkling water in a range of sizes all year round to cater for BBQs, gatherings or a refreshing afternoon treat – but they should also take into consideration the increase in day-to-day consumption. As people look to satisfy their thirst for fizzy drinks, healthier options have experienced a boost, and this is showing no sign of slowing.”
The kombucha effect
According to Louise Cheadle, co-founder at tea taster at teapigs, a generation of consumers looking to celebrate an occasion with something a little outside the traditionally-favoured options are behind the rise in kombucha: “it’s no surprise that the UK kombucha market grew by a third last year,” she says. “In fact, by 2025 the European kombucha market is expected to increase by a whopping 222% according to market data forecasts!
Well made, kombucha is a refreshing and complex drink which offers health benefits, making it a healthier alternative to convention soft drinks. “Over the last few years of lockdowns, lots of us consumers have been experimenting with adventurous tastes and flavours and now we’re allowed back out again that demand for interesting, premium products is stronger than ever,” says Louise. Created using fermented tea, it’s a natural progression for the quality tea brand, which now offers ‘booch’ in three flavours: Original, Ginger & Lemongrass and Peach & Mango.
Fellow kombucha-maker Liliana Jauregui, marketing manager at Good Earth, has also found the drink’s health benefits to be a strong selling point. “As the pandemic recedes, personal health and wellbeing will remain a priority alongside desire for new tastes experiences and treat for me indulgences,” she explains. “Awareness of the importance of gut health and its links to other health systems has elevated the market for Kombucha. With 19.7% CAGR predicted 2020-2027 (Grandview), it is the fastest growing sector in functional drinks and has strong appeal to customers seeking more interesting and healthier soft drinks choices, whether to enjoy on the go, or as an alternative to alcohol.”