The low and no-alcohol category is one of the fastest-growing segments in beverage alcohol. Sales for non-alc beer, wine, and spirits have more than doubled since 2018, and although it currently takes up less than 1% of the total U.S. beverage alcohol market, the category has a clear runway to capture a larger share in the coming years.
As the segment continues to build its role in the beverage alcohol landscape, we are taking a look at the current state of the category, including the trends behind the growth, how the industry at large has responded, and the consumer profiles that are most likely to purchase these products.
Health and Wellness Trends Drive Low & No Alcohol Consumption
The overarching trend facilitating the rise of the low and no category is the health and wellness movement. Across the board consumers are starting to be mindful of their drinking habits, paying attention to what goes into their products and the frequency at which they imbibe.
The low and no category entered the spotlight last year with a surge of Dry January participants in 2022, but the movement was not driven by alcohol abstainers alone. The category is being propelled by consumers who are looking to moderate their drinking habits. For many, this means supplementing the standard drinking occasions with low and no-alcohol products. In fact, 82% of non-alc buyers are also purchasing alcoholic beer, wine, and spirits products, according to reports from Nielsen IQ.
Last year, the most significant portion of low and no consumers were either millennials or “substituters,” whose full-strength drinking is tempered with low and no offerings on some occasions. In fact, a growing segment of consumers are pivoting to “Damp January” this year.
The shift is indicative of a larger cultural movement where a growing number of drinkers are using moderation to support health and wellness goals.
How The Alcohol Industry is Embracing Low & No Alcohol Category
While the category is still very small, the alcohol industry seeing an influx of new non-alc brands and products based on forecasts for the category. In the 52 weeks leading up to September 2022, there were 72 new non-alc SKU introductions, according to Nielsen IQ.
Non-alcoholic offerings beyond traditional sodas and juices are becoming a regular feature of on-premise environments, as well. Cocktail menus across the U.S. continue experimenting with non-alcoholic “mocktail” sections, and it’s not uncommon to see non-alcoholic beers, wines, and spirits on the back bar as well.
The low and no shift is also being reflected in e-commerce. E-commerce giant Drizly recently partnered with the largest non-alcoholic retailer in the U.S. market, Boisson, to sell their products on the platform.
Buyer Persona for Non-Alcoholic Drinks
While low and no producers have their sites set on mainstream adoption, certain target audiences are leading the way.
Abstainers are a primary demographic for low and no brands. Many young adults are less inclined to drink alcohol on a regular basis. Samantha Itzkovitz of Brooklyn Brewery, which recently debuted its non-alcoholic beer line, tells Bev Alc Insights “younger generations are drinking less alcohol in general. A lot of that comes from the desire to just get out there and be able to experience things without having the hindrance of alcohol or over-consumption, not to mention the even bigger macro trend of health and wellness. People are way more mindful of what they are putting in their bodies right now.
Young adults 25 and under prioritize living active lifestyles that are based on their wellness goals, but Dan Gasper, CEO and founder of The Ardent Company, explains that people in this age bracket also “want to be on trend. This is a really exciting space and these are exciting drinks.”
Millennials are the primary drivers of low and no category. While many Millennials take an active approach to their health, like tracking fitness and counting calories, they still want to imbibe alcohol on the right social occasions. Many of these consumers will practice what Nielsen calls “zebra striping,” or alternating between alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks on nights out.
While studies show that Millennials and Gen-Z are increasingly less likely to drink on weekdays, many are finding that this isn’t due to a lack of social activity, but personal choice. The proliferation of low and no-drinks are enabling these demographics to partake in usual on-premise social occasions while maintaining their healthy lifestyles.
Boomers and Gen X
This segment is increasingly choosing to step away from alcohol to focus on the health. They want to live better and have more energy as their priorities shift to maintaining their longevity. Drizly’s Bev Alc Insights found that baby boomers, who are also more likely to have more disposable income, outspend younger generations on non-alcoholic beer, wine, and spirits. Their sales share on the platform over-indexes on the entire non-alcoholic category, capturing a .25% share compared to 0.23% for younger generations.
Low & No Alcohol Trends to Watch in 2023
Mark Livings, the founder of Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Spirits, declared that in Europe the early adoption phase for low and no is over. While this space is less developed in the U.S., the groundswell of interest in the trend is concrete, and space to enter this category is available. As consumers increasingly embrace mindful drinking habits, brands will find ways to meet consumer demand by adapting, and the low and no category is a viable option. Spirits account for under 2% of the total low and no category (with beer at 85.3% and wine at 13.4% according to Nielsen IQ), opportunities for brands to gain traction in this segment look particularly promising. With consumers looking for low and no products to mimic traditional cocktail experiences, brands will look to introduce high-quality non-alc spirits to bring people closer to these occasions.