Keeping a clear head

clear head

The market for low- and no-alcohol drinks is booming thanks to a clear-headed millennial market and a drinks industry happy to whet the whistle of the discerning soberista – Claire Lavelle reports 

There’s an irony in the fact that, just as we part company with our European neighbours, we’re finally learning to reflect their drinking habits. Indeed, where once a night out (or in, for that matter) was our cue to pour a large glass of something refreshing, it’s apparent that, nearly halfway through 2020, increasing numbers of us are turning our backs on the binge-drinking culture of yesteryear and gravitating instead towards more moderate alcohol consumption – or giving it up altogether.

It’s a trend towards abstinence that has seen alcohol consumption drop steadily over the past five years, with data from the Office of National Statistics showing that the number of adults who say they drink alcohol is at the lowest level on record (57% of us, compared with 64% in 2005), and that 20% of adults don’t drink alcohol at all. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s the under-thirties who are leading the charge, meaning that the very demographic so often lambasted for its lewd and loutish behaviour post happy hour is now teetotal. So why the change?

Club sober 
“We’re seeing a generation of ‘sober curious’ people who are embracing either an alcohol-free lifestyle or drinking much more mindfully – that is, enjoying a decent glass of wine with a meal without feeling the need to finish the bottle,” says Janey Lee Grace, founder of The Sober Club, a membership website that supports people in their alcohol-free choices (there’s also a brilliant weekly podcast of the same name). 

“We are no longer a nation defined by our love of booze. The rise of the ‘low and no’ [alcohol] market reflects this, and the industry is growing, with both established and start-up drinks companies moving into that retail space. 

“I gave up drinking alcohol two years ago in 2018, and I know from personal experience that if you’re going alcohol-free, having a tasty alternative really helps. Gone are the days where your choices are a sickly-sweet pub cola or a warm orange juice. There’s a huge number of delicious, sophisticated products on offer that look good in the bottle and even better in a glass. You can still enjoy the ritual of ‘drinking’ and sip something special, all without the spectre of a hangover the next morning.”  

“We’re seeing a generation of ‘sober curious’ people who are embracing an alcohol-free lifestyle or drinking much more mindfully”

According to Kamila Sitwell, former drinks industry analyst and founder of Kolibri Bespoke Soft Drinks, the global beverage industry is going through a seismic shift. “Health and wellness trends are accelerating,” she says. “Just as consumers have been cutting down on sugar for the past few years, they are now increasingly moderating or abstaining from alcohol altogether. Take my situation: I’m 45 years old with a young family, and I get up at 5am every day. I might fancy a large G&T in the evening, but I know the consequences will be that I can’t function the next day in the way that I need to. That’s not to say I don’t want something to help me relax and unwind in the evening, which is how I came to investigate and manufacture drinks for the CBD-infused drinks sector. 

“All CBD-extract products must have [EFSA] authorization by March 2021, which means the products are safe for use and contain authentic ingredients,” explains Sitwell. “This regulation is helping both retailers and customers overcome any anxiety they may have about this kind of product, and it’s my prediction that CBD drinks will be huge. There are myriad health benefits without any of the side-effects of alcohol, and in a world where we increasingly want personalization, the fact that we are able to control how much active ingredient we add to our drink, as with my brand, has huge appeal. There’s no one-size-fits-all CBD dose – the ‘sweet spot’ is unique for each individual. It depends on a wide range of factors such as body weight and personal biochemistry, which makes it truly bespoke.”

Human needs
‘Functional botanicals’ are another innovation in the low- and no-alcohol drinks space, with start-up brands such as Senser Spirits using carefully crafted botanicals to create drinks that ‘lift your mood without clouding your mind’, according to co-founder Vanessa Jacoby. “I gave up alcohol in 2016 because I realized it was numbing the positive energy I was feeling from my regular yoga practice,” she explains. “However, I still wanted something that could help me relax in the way a glass of red wine did. I began to experiment with herbs that are associated with moving and shifting energy – adaptogens that have the power to energize or relax, such as ginseng and ashwagandha for the former, or sage for the latter. 

“Now we produce three core products – Power, Love and Joy – which contain up to 19 plant blends each and can be served either over ice or with a mixer. A 50ml serve will give what we call a meaningful botanical dosage, although, as with alcohol, different people experience them in different ways. Power, love and joy are fundamental human needs – and three big reasons people reach for alcohol. We wanted to provide plant-based alternatives that are both healthy and sustainable.”

Figures show that sales of non-alcoholic beer, wines and spirits are at a record high in the UK, with Brits spending £57 million on low- or no-alcohol beers between April 2018 and April 2019, and £48 million on ‘nolo’ wines in the same period. Scottish beer giant BrewDog confirmed the trend by opening the first alcohol-free bar in London earlier this year. 

So, if it’s a clearer head and a healthier liver your customers are after, it could be time to sign them up – all they (and you) have to lose is the hangover.

Retailers’ observations
Ruth Noah, proprietor of Noah’s Health Food Store in Wallington, says she’s slowly but surely seeing a rise in people choosing not to drink and customers asking for alternatives to alcohol. 

“We don’t stock a huge range of non-alcoholic drinks, but Gran Stead’s Ginger Wine is good seller for us, and comes in a variety of flavours – from fiery to mellow, with lemonade or fruity options for those who prefer something sweeter. We also stock Mighty Brew Kombucha. 

Customers still want their drinks to look appetizing in a glass, and come in a nice bottle, whether they’re drinking alcohol or not – they still want something that feels special. I suspect CBD-infused [drinks] will be the next big thing, but at the moment the local demand is slower than anticipated. I think the market will catch up, though, and it will be a sector to rival the botanicals.”

Nicola Newman, owner, Zeds Wholefoods, Sheffield, comments: “I’ve noticed a slight increase in people asking for low- and no-alcohol drinks, although I wouldn’t say the demand is huge. For a while we stocked a brand called Smashed, which were no-alcohol beers and ciders. They did pretty well but then the distributor changed. I stock Kopparberg alcohol-free lines but they don’t sell brilliantly – I just like to have a selection if a customer happens to ask. I don’t drink alcohol much and my go-to is elderflower cordial with sparkling water and some fresh rosemary, which is what I tell my customers if they ask about alcohol-free drink alternatives. I prefer a DIY version, personally! It’s not a huge area for us, although I understand it’s an emerging market.”

Janey Lee Grace’s alcohol-free picks
• Sea Arch non-alcoholic sugar- and calorie-free distilled spirit – made with natural botanicals such as sea kelp, samphire, cardamom and blood orange
• Thomson and Scott Noughty Alcohol-Free Organic Sparkling Wine – organic and vegan-friendly with no added sugar
• Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic Spirits’ gin, rum and whiskey alternatives with natural extracts and essences
• Nonsuch Shrubs – non-alcoholic aperitifs such as Bittersweet Apple & Cardamom, and Shrub Sodas with fruit juice, herbs, apple cyder vinegar and spring water.


AQUA Carpatica

Tel: 01895 549 041
E-mail:  [email protected]

Up your water game: AQUA Carpatica Natural Mineral Water – Sometimes reaching for a glass of water is all it takes to feel better and be healthier: introducing a perfect, all-natural hydration choice- AQUA Carpatica Natural Mineral Water, still and sparkling.  Drawn from two pristine and pure aquifers, nestled deep in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, this award-winning range is on a mission to help consumers maintain a healthy lifestyle:

• Virtually nitrate free
• Suitable for a low sodium diet
• Naturally occurring electrolytes
• Glass & BPA free 100% recyclable bottles
• Sustainably extracted
• Driven by a promise to care for and protect the natural springs and environment

Discover more: 


Big Tom Ketchup 

James White
Tel: 01473 890 111
E-mail:  [email protected]

Big Tom, the UK’s favourite Bloody Mary mix has launched its own spiced tomato Ketchup. Based on the same delicious recipe, the new Ketchup will delight existing fans whilst bringing excitement to the Ketchup market.

With a significantly lower sugar content (13.4g per 100g) than its competitors (Heinz Ketchup 22.8g, Tiptree Ketchup 31g and Stokes Chilli Ketchup 33.5g) and up to 50% fewer calories, it is showing the way forward.

Big Tom spiced tomato mix was awarded a Royal Warrant in 2002 and has since been widely available in supermarkets and pubs throughout the UK.


The Leaf Life

Bravura Foods
Tel: 0203 086 8676
E-mail:  [email protected] 

Welcome to The Leaf Life, A CBD infused lightly sparkling range of drinks. Available in slim line 250ml recyclable cans in Laidback Lemonade, Relaxing Raspberry and Mindful Mango with Passionfruit flavours. These natural drinks contain 15mg of full spectrum CBD and are free from artificial flavours, colours and refined sugars. We have sourced the most wholesome natural ingredients including the CBD to deliver a fantastic tasting lightly carbonated drink with a functional beneficial twist and all varieties are under 25 calories per can.


Inside Out

Inside Out Drinks
E-mail:  [email protected]

Inside Out is a pre-tox drink that is about to take the world by storm! A revolutionary lifestyle drink designed to protect our bodies from over indulgence it contains nutrients and antioxidants to boost your liver and wellbeing. Inside Out has been developed with as many natural ingredients as possible including; milk thistle, goji berries, cranberries and hibiscus, to look after your body on the inside so you can feel great on the outside. The natural ingredients used are packed full of powerful antioxidants that support your liver function and help you feeling great!  Created by founder Bernadette Sanders in conjunction with food scientist Shelia Kupsch, Inside Out is naturally low in calories, vegan and gluten friendly.


Award winning coconut water from TIANA®  

TIANA Fairtrade Organics
Tel: 020 8427 1695
E-mail: [email protected]

Enjoy the refreshing and delicious taste of TIANA® 100% Raw Coconut Water, the purest coconut water bottled within three hours of opening the fresh coconut. Raw, pure, unpasteurised, no added sugar and exclusively made from fresh, young green coconuts. TIANA® 100% Raw Coconut Water preserves the same delicious taste and nutrition as drinking the juice from fresh young coconuts. Renowned as ‘The King of Juice’, TIANA® 100% Raw Coconut Water is naturally isotonic, containing essential electrolytes to replenish the vital nutrients lost through vigorous exercise. Suitable for vegans and vegetarians and can be enjoyed by the whole family.