The non-alcoholic beverage industry has exploded last year as consumers spend alcohol-filled nights prioritized for their health and well-being.
While some people cut back completely, others turn to drinks that taste like their favorite drinks, but not alcoholic. Once considered a passing, if not mocking, trend, wine, beer and more recently non-alcoholic spirits are now found in bars, restaurants and grocery stores around the world.
However, most consumers of these drinks do not give up alcohol for good. Alcohol analysis company IWSR reported that 58% of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol consumers still drink in moderation.
“Through the pandemic there is even more need (…) to socialize and connect with friends and family, and drinking is (…) a central part of that,” said Jeff Menashe, founder and CEO of beverage company Demeter & Co.
The difference now is that people want to “drink healthier,” he said.
Whether it’s gin, tequila, vodka or rum, alcohol-free spirits startup CleanCo says its line of drinks tastes like the real thing.
Their prices aren’t too different either.
A 700ml bottle of Hendrick’s gin costs around $ 40, while the alcohol-free version of CleanCo sells for around $ 25.
But that doesn’t stop consumers from footing the bill. According to the data analysis firm NielsenIQ, sales of non-alcoholic beverages increased 33.2% over the past year, with total sales of $ 331 million.
Sales of non-alcoholic beer and cider increased 31.7%, but more specifically sales of non-alcoholic spirits increased 113.4% during the same period.
CleanCo Alcohol Free Spiced Rum and Apple Vodka.
Courtesy of CleanCo
The cost is justified by the time and effort required to create non-alcoholic beverages that taste, aroma, and mouth feel as traditional spirits, said Justin Hicklin, president of CleanCo.
“We use eight or nine different distillation techniques to be able to extract the flavors,” he said. “It’s an extremely complex thing to do – and quite expensive.”
Hicklin said the juniper used in the company’s alcohol-free gin comes from a single supplier in Bulgaria – the “best juniper you can buy.”
CleanCo entered the UK market in 2018 after founder Spencer Matthews saw a significant rise in the once vastly under-represented industry. The brand partnered with Demeter & Co, which introduced the company’s soft drinks to the US market in October.
Menash estimates that there are between 7-10 million potential consumers in the UK and 12-15 million in the US.
“We are focusing on these two markets for the next two years,” he said.
Bottles of non-alcoholic spirits manufactured by the lyre are even more expensive. Founded in 2019, the company finalized a £ 20million ($ 26million) funding round in November, with the company now valued at £ 270million ($ 357million).
“The products contain ingredients from 39 different countries of origin to provide the exact flavor profile,” said Mark Livings, CEO of Lyre. “Some of them are so complex that they have over 36 different flavor notes.”
Livings said the brand is in “hyper growth” mode with one bottle sold every 30 seconds.
“Prices don’t seem to be a problem for consumers at the moment,” he said.
The increase in demand for non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic beverages is also accelerating in Asia and the Middle East.
Available in 60 countries, Lyre’s three largest markets in Asia are Singapore, Hong Kong and Mainland China. The company has grown into Malaysia and eight countries in the Middle East, which have strict regulations against alcoholic beverages.
“We take a very different approach [there] to the way we take the rest of the world, “Livings said.” We do it with respect … making sure to follow all local laws and all … sensitivities. “
Lyre’s alcohol-free gin, called ‘Dry London Spirit’, is the company’s most popular product in the UK.
Courtesy of Lyre
Livings said it was an exciting time for the global spirits industry, which is expected to add “a few billion more people” to it.
“You would see the higher income people or the very wealthy prioritizing their health, but now that is starting to trickle down to all groups of consumers,” he said.
Age is another factor. Younger people, who have grown up during wellness movements touting plant-based and organic foods, drink less alcohol than previous generations, according to research published by the International Journal of Drug Policy.
However, non-alcoholic spirits are not used by everyone. Hong Kong’s Darkside, named the 49th best bar in the world in 2021, relies on ingredients like coconut water, Sichuan peppercorns and kombucha rather than alcohol substitutes.
“We work with kombucha because not only does it create the flavor, but we’ve also noticed that a big part of the reason people don’t drink alcohol during social gatherings is because they are on a cure. drug addiction, a non-alcoholic diet or are pregnant, “said Arcadius Rybak, bar manager at Rosewood Hong Kong where Darkside is located.
“These categories of guests tend to never turn down gut-friendly kombucha,” he said.
Even though soft drinks are becoming “more of a norm than an anomaly,” not everyone is keen to try them, Singaporean Eunice Tan said.
Tan said she didn’t like the taste of alcohol, so products that mimic the taste of gin or bourbon wouldn’t appeal to her.
Lyre’s alcohol-free “Spiced Cane Spirit” is one of his bestsellers.
Courtesy of Lyre
“Because I’ve never been drunk, I don’t know what the original tastes like or what buzz it gives,” she said. “So no, I wouldn’t go for a non-alcoholic alternative… unless I throw a house party and want to meet my guests.”
Some non-alcoholic drinks are also not completely alcohol-free. Soft drinks are defined as containing less than 0.5% alcohol by volume, according to the IWSR. This is one of the reasons why addiction counselors recommend that people with a history of alcohol abuse avoid these drinks, although opinions on the issue are mixed, according to the Alcoholics Resource Center, a website on drug treatment.
Until recently, abstainers could choose from non-alcoholic cocktails, soft drinks, juice or water in bars and restaurants, which for some was not enough.
“Mocktails have always been too sweet and kiddy… I could mix OJ and 7 Up myself,” Tan said. “When I dine in a restaurant or in a bar, I appreciate the creativity and thoughtfulness of the establishment to cater to the tastes of adults.”
“I can’t believe it’s not red wine!” from Cloudstreet! is composed of cherry juice, pink berries and mushroom syrup.
Courtesy of Cloudstreet
Dan Durkin, food and beverage director at American Club Singapore, said the response was positive after the social club introduced the British brand’s alcohol-free spirits. Seed.
“If you have a gin and tonic made from Seedlip gin, you’ll feel like you’re drinking the real deal,” he said.
In addition to health and religious reasons, he said people ask for these drinks because they don’t want to “appear out of place when going out with friends or colleagues.” Others want options other than “just a regular old soft drink, but something more interesting and more artisanal,” he said.
Cloudstreet’s “I Really Mead You Right Now” is made with Portuguese honey and flowers.
Courtesy of Cloudstreet
Some restaurants, like Cloudstreet in Singapore, even pair non-alcoholic drinks with food.
“We didn’t want to exclude our non-drinkers from the full experience,” said Vinodhan Veloo, beverage manager for Cloudstreet Group. “We even serve … the pairing in the same wine glasses for consistency.”
The cost? An additional $ 128 in Singaporean dollars ($ 94) per person.
Customers pay full price because the drinks contain ingredients like Portuguese honey, lapsang souchong (a type of black tea), pink peppercorns and mushroom syrup, Veloo said.
Hong Kong’s DarkSide has three non-alcoholic drinks on its menu.
Courtesy of DarkSide
According to IWSR, the trend for soft drinks shows no signs of slowing down. The beverage analytics company predicts the industry will grow 31% by 2024 as more bars and restaurants offer non-alcoholic beverages.
“I remember going to a restaurant 20 years ago that didn’t offer a vegetarian option,” CleanCo’s Hicklin said. Likewise, “today’s bars would not survive if they only grew alcoholic drinks.”
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that AlcoholicsAnonymous.com is the website for the Resource Center for Alcoholics.