Who's drinking Low and No Alcohol and why should you care?

Who's drinking Low and No Alcohol and why should you care?

Who's drinking Low and No Alcohol and why should you care?

We’re told the Low and No alcoholic beverage scene is booming, that consumers are turning to 0% alcohol options in droves. The giants of the traditional alcohol market certainly think so, with everyone from Heineken & Guinness to Gordon’s and Tanqueray offering up no-alcohol options—not to mention the hundreds of young whippersnappers looking for a piece of the pie. But what does this tell us about the supposed move to no and low options? Are things as they first appear? Well, no, not exactly. So, what’s going on?  

Firstly, whilst there has been a substantial increase in no and low alcohol drinking over the past decade, the last few years have seen trends plateau, and even shrink, with the number of consumers drinking low and no products in the UK slipping from 32% to 29% between 2021 and 2022. It’s likely that a lot of us took a long hard look at our recycling bins during the Covid Pandemic and resolved to temper things a bit, but now the post-Covid effect appears to be wearing off.  

What are people drinking?  

It shouldn’t really be much surprise to find out that the big players in the alcohol market have the no and low sector pretty sewn up. Sure, there are some loud, proud and prominent no alcohol brands doing business on social media and direct to consumer sales—where small brands do best—but the vast majority of drinkers in the UK put their pennies into the pockets of well-established alcohol brands, with 85% percent of consumers telling YouGov in 2022 that they opted for the likes of Heineken 0.0, Budweiser Zero or the like, instead of smaller producers who are entirely independent of the alcohol industry.  

The Alcohol Industry dominates the Low and No Alcohol Market  

The trend towards consumers sticking to known brands may have something to do with their wider drinking behaviour. According to the same YouGov survey, the most typical low and no drinker is also an alcohol drinker (80% of those surveyed). In fact, the National Institute of Healthcare Research found that the most likely group to drink low and no options regularly are heavier “risky” drinkers, 25% of whom consumed no and low alcohol products regularly, compared to just 6% of non-drinkers. If you’re regularly drinking a Guinness or 5, or are a fan of a Gordon’s and Tonic, it seems you’re more likely to trust your brand of choice and go for their low or now alcohol offering. Recognised labels and prominence on the no land low alcohol shelf at the supermarket are surely playing a role.  

Why are people drinking Low and No Alcohol options?  

As Professor Nutt has told us before, the public have been wildly unaware of the health effects of alcohol consumption over the long term for years (you can learn all about what alcohol does to your brain and body here), and surprisingly, this statement seems to carry into the trends towards low and no alcohol products. The main reasons people opt for these products is not because of the perceived health effects of alcohol—only 17% of those surveyed by YouGov supplemented their alcohol intake with no and low products for short term health reasons such as hangovers, and only 15% due to concerns for longer term health problems. The majority chose to drink low and no products for prosaic reasons. The most common was needing to drive home at the end of a session (37%), with those worried about drinking too much when socialising coming in second at 20%. So for 57% of UK drinkers, alcohol free options seems to be something of a tool—if you’re the designated driver, you now have beer flavoured water instead of the regular kind. Ghee whizz!  

Peer Pressure and Pretending to Drink Alcohol  

Some suggest that going out to the pub and looking for a no alcohol option is a bit like—their words, not mine—“going to a brothel where sex is strictly forbidden on the premises.” If you follow Low and No Drinker magazine’s social media, a recent discussion emerged about peer-pressure when drinking, with no and low alcohol options at bars functioning as a bit of make-believe. You drink a recognisable no or low product—your Becks Zero, or Heineken 0.0—to fit in. But as one user suggested—pardon their French—“at some point, you have to say F-this, other people’s judgement is their issue. If you don’t, then what you’re saying is ‘I’m not comfortable being me. Which is why a lot of people drink in the first place.’” Not to get too psychological, but wanting to take the edge off, and wanting to be someone else—for whatever reason—aren’t really the same thing. There is certainly a sense, shown in past polling on drinking, that some consumers worry about being judged for not drinking, but it seems less of a concern these days. What appears to be going on is something a little different. Most consumers of No and Low alcohol products want to be consuming alcohol, they’ve just decided that they can’t in certain instances—for whatever reason, though sizeable minorities do so for their health.  

Would you rather drive a Yugo or a Mercedes?  

If a majority of people would rather just be drinking alcohol, we all know why—alcohol has an effect that we value. Drinkers want to “feel the benefit” of alcohol, just as lots of consumers in the functional food and beverage markets do. In fact, if you’re putting out nootropics, probiotics, or other such products, surveys of the market in 2021 found that products that don’t give consumers something they can really feel, drop like lead balloons. If we want people to drink less alcohol—have a look at some of the worrying social costs here—we have to give them something that’s more than just a tool. If you want to get from A to B, a Yugo will get you there, but you’d probably rather drive a Mercedes, because whilst a ‘Benz might just be a tool, it’s certainly more fun to drive.  

Functional Alcohol Alternatives: Health, Wellness, and Fun for the sake of it 

If you want to enjoy the drive and take care of society and the planet, you can opt for an environmentally friendly alternative—and you’d probably rather drive a Tesla than a van modified to take Ethanol rather than petrol. But let’s not stretch the analogy to breaking point. Wanting an experience from an alcohol alternative is about more than just the right tool for the job. Whilst you may be a minority, looking after your health, whilst enjoying yourself—for the sake of it—is surely the best of both worlds. Going for big brand low and no alcohol products simply isn’t an option if you want to actually “feel” the benefit in the immediate term—the big producers don’t seem to want to offer alternatives with feeling for whatever reason. But monolithic blocs like the alcohol industry are loathe to change track—if they can stick to slapping a label on a pale imitation of their flagship products they will. Smaller producers, Like Sentia, Three Spirits, and Impossibrew have had to step into the breach—because there are obvious gaps in the market and un-catered-to consumer demands—you might be in the minority right now, but if you get your kicks from functional alternatives, you’re a trail-blazer, and we’d love to hear from you, because without colourful folk like you, the alcohol industry will just be offering everyone various shades of grey.