What you need to know about the no/low alcohol boom

What you need to know about the no/low alcohol boom

27th January, 2020 by Alex Cook

As the month of abstinence, otherwise known as Dry January, draws to a close, many participants are eagerly awaiting a hard-earned drink. However, with a flurry of “no-lo” (no-to-low alcohol) beers and spirits hitting the shelves and increasingly inventive mocktail menus, there are signs a more permanent shift in drinking habits is underway led by health-conscious millennials.

What began as a grass-roots challenge, launched by UK charity Alcohol Change in 2012, has today evolved into a national movement with an estimated six million Brits pledging to go dry for 31 days.[1]

A movement, it seems, that is influencing our drinking tendencies long term with the World Health Organisation reporting a 5% decrease in global alcohol consumption since the turn of the century, particularly in Europe and the US, and most significantly among younger drinkers. So, as the no-lo trend shifts from the periphery to the mainstream, what can we learn from these brands from a communications perspective? 

One only has to look at the exponential rise of category pioneers Seedlip – which now has a presence in over 25 countries – to recognise what can be said for identifying a gap in the market. Founder Ben Branson launched the non-alcoholic spirit in 2015 to solve the dilemma of “what to drink when you’re not drinking”. By offering consumers a sophisticated non-alcoholic drink which fits with their lifestyle choices, Seedlip has successfully positioned itself as a quality alternative rather than an inferior substitute.

Across the no-lo sector marketers are tapping into this behavioural shift by acknowledging that socialising needn’t be synonymous with alcohol consumption, and non-drinkers still want to catch up with friends without the pressure of drinking. Scottish beer giant Brewdog brought this message to life through an experiential campaign earlier this January when it opened the world’s first alcohol free bar in central London to promote its AF (alcohol-free) offerings. Similarly, Heineken has put the full weight of its PR arsenal behind the launch of its ‘Say Yes’ campaign as it demonstrate its alcohol free range as an enabler of a positive lifestyle which  people can enjoy at mid-week drinks, lunchtime beers or Sunday evening events.

Elsewhere, low alcohol brands have been capitalising on greater freedom to make claims about the supposed health benefits of their drinks in comparison to restrictions placed upon traditional alcohol brands. This has seen a rise in ‘healthy’ alcoholic drinks that are designed to appeal to ‘generation wellness’ thanks their low calorie, carbohydrate and gluten content. Californian craft beer brand Sufferfest, which uses the tag line ‘will sweat for beer’, is doing this particularly well. It uses its low-gluten, electrolyte filled, sports performance enhancing beer as a point of difference in its communication to consumers. In doing so, the sector is changing the concept of non-drinking from one of necessity to a positive and deliberate choice.

Given the paradigm shift in people’s perceptions towards alcohol, the established brands would do well to learn from the no-lo category’s effective response to consumer demands and behavioural shifts. Ultimately, the no-lo boom has taught us that today’s consumers are making more informed decisions about their tipple and expect brands to communicate exactly where their offerings fit with modern lifestyles.

[1] Alcohol Change