Why Dry January is evolving and how indies can cash in

08 February 2023, 08:14 AM
  • We explore how independent retailers can adapt to the adoption of mindful drinking throughout the year
Why Dry January is evolving and how indies can cash in

Conducting a nationally representative survey of its 65,000-strong community, product intelligence platform Vypr found that less than 35% participated in a month-long abstinence this year. 

Damp vs Dry January
The low engagement might be surprising to many, as low/no is a rising trend, with companies of all sizes getting involved, from start-ups to multi-national alcohol brands like Gordon’s and Warner’s. 

However, as Dru Jaeger, co-founder of Club Soda, explained, it is part of the mindful drinking movement, where consumers are drinking less across the course of the year rather than a month-long stint of swearing off the booze.

“Through our work as Club Soda, a mindful drinking movement, we’ve seen that although Dry January remains a great opportunity for people who want to take a break from alcohol, the rise and rise of the alcohol-free industry and this January’s popular ‘damp’ drinking trend, has led to people deciding to bring greater flexibility into their drinking. 

“There will always be those looking to ease off after Christmas, and naturally, want to drink less come the new year, but with awareness of mindful drinking growing, consumers are realising more frequently that moderating their drinking doesn’t have to just be for January, but something they wish to enjoy year round. 

“Ultimately, the message to be taken from this January isn’t that less people are partaking in Dry January, but that more people are drinking less throughout the rest of the 12 months”, he told Speciality Food.

This was mirrored in Vypr’s findings, as founder Ben Davies commented, “Our data show an appetite for alcohol-free products and an increase in those stopping drinking for long periods.” 

In fact, just under 50% of consumers surveyed by Vypr said they were likely to continue not drinking after Dry January ends, with 31% saying they might, indicating that mindful drinking is more of a lifestyle change than a challenge. 

Affordable alcohol-free
One key finding from Vypr’s research was that just under a third (29%) felt alcohol-free products were expensive, and 14% said choosing alcohol-free alternatives was more expensive.

However, as Dru explained, “It’s important to remember that the cost and the value of a drink does not, and should not, come from that product’s alcohol content. After all, a drink’s value should be determined by the expertise of those making it, the quality of the ingredients and the work invested in creating it. 

“At Club Soda, we are working hard with low and no-alcohol brands to communicate this quality to consumers, but there is a definite need for education in this space.

This is where fine food and drink retailers can step in and use their unique position to communicate this to customers. 

As Dru added, “Speciality stores can play a huge part in this process, particularly by offering brand diversity and promoting smaller producers, many of whom have been squeezed out by bigger brands in the supermarkets. There’s a real opportunity for speciality and fine food stores to take a lot of ownership in this sector.

“Far from being an unaffordable market, there are so many alcohol-free and low-alcohol alternatives that people can purchase. For instance, at our new Tasting Shop & Bar, we have many products, across different categories, that start from just £2 – so there is definitely an opportunity for consumers to experiment and find out what they like. Our incredible team in-store are more than happy to help customers find products to suit their taste and budget – just like many of our speciality shop community would be.”

It is this desire for experimentation that Ben argues needs to be satisfied by speciality retailers. “With a wider range of non-alcoholic products, consumers can reduce their drinking. What is apparent is that the offering needs to be wider across hospitality. Consumers are interested in alternatives and will experiment.”

How to cash in
As independent retailers have such a unique opportunity to capitalise on the high-end alcohol-free sector, it is important that they are cashing in on it. 

Dru told Speciality Food, “We know that consumers trust specialist retailers, so be proud of curating your alcohol-free range. It will delight your customers to see your passion for the category and the drinks you stock in-store.

“We always recommend doing your own taste tests, so that no matter what item a customer asks a question about, you can genuinely advocate for that product. Knowing you personally like a product will give consumers confidence. If you think of your alcohol-free range as an extension of your alcoholic range, and go for similar provenance, quality and categories, you’ll know you have a winning range targeted to your customers. 

“It’s also a great idea to chat to the brands you love about organising stock for sampling. With curiosity around low and no growing, it’s a real opportunity for customers to be able to try for themselves and taste how fantastic these products are. 

“Our biggest tip is to make sure you offer a proper glass (not a tiny thimble sample) – use the sampling as a way to delight your customers and fill your social media. You could even host a drinks party and nibbles event in-store!”

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