‘No and low’ no longer a niche category

The drinks section of any supermarket has undergone a major change. The increased interest in no- and low-alcohol has resulted in this genre of beverages no longer being confined to a dusty bottom shelf but now earning a dedicated ‘no/lo’ fixture within retail.

Where once no and low was merely a consideration during Dry January, in an effort to dilute the ravages associated with excessive festive drinking – or reserved for those who may need to abstain on religious grounds, be pregnant or the designated driver – today these drinks represent an informed buying choice year-round.

What have been the triggers for this sea change amongst UK consumers? Certainly, one could safely assume that the pandemic provided a lens through which the entire nation became more focused on the fragility of good health. Clearly, regular visits to the local pub or long boozy dinners with friends and family were off the agenda and we were all forced to accept a very different lifestyle and adapt our routines accordingly. Even a trip to the supermarket to purchase alcohol for in-home consumption lost its appeal as the nation struggled to find toilet paper, let alone their preferred brand of choice! The dark COVID years also resulted in a tidal wave of mental health concerns and perhaps those struggling with their mental wellbeing acknowledged that drinking alcohol would only serve to enhance, rather than dull, those problems.

But there’s more to this trend than simply the backlash of a major worldwide health scare. The younger generation categorized as Millennials and Gen Zs were beginning to question the need for a lifestyle that required (sometimes excessive) alcohol to ‘have a good time’ way before the pandemic. Millie Gooch, the 27-year-old founder of The Sober Girl Society, gave up alcohol in February 2018 when she acknowledged that ‘years of partying and hangovers had started to take a toll on her mental health’. She started The Sober Girl Society seven months later, with the sole purpose of ‘showing the world that you can still live a fun and fulfilled life without alcohol’. Today, there is a best-selling Sober Girl Society Handbook, events up and down the country – from boozeless bottomless brunches to sober sweat dance classes – as well as a virtual club which connects women across The Sober Girl Society’s 199k-strong Instagram community.

There’s more to this trend than simply the backlash of a major worldwide health scare

So, the move towards alcohol-free, or a more moderate approach to drinking, may be founded in accepting people for their ‘authentic self’. In a society that is working hard to embrace diversity, perhaps the attitude towards using alcohol as a ‘shield’ to mask the real you is losing its appeal.

Today the statistics are clearly pointing to the fact that no- and low-alcohol products are enjoying a widespread acceptance amongst UK consumers, particularly driven by young people:

  • A third of under-25s claim they never drink alcohol [UCL research]
  • Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, recently announced that for the first time, sales of no- and low-alcohol beer were 25% higher this June than in January, the traditional dry month
  • Sales of no- and low-alcohol beer in pubs are up 23% on a year ago, while normal beer sales have fallen 6% [British Beer and Pub Association]
  • Half of the UK adult population bought a no- or low-alcohol product last year [IWSR]

It would be inappropriate not to reference the role that successful NPD has had in helping to boost sales of no and low. From the early days when these products represented a taste compromise, there have been massive advances towards achieving more appetizing drinks on a level footing with the alcoholic version. The giants of the beer world such as Heineken, Budweiser and Peroni have all delivered favourable 0% alternatives, as have a plethora of spirits, wines and cocktails.

It is the Millennials and Gen Zs who will be dictating the future of this category

Given the nation’s renewed focus on health, there’s no surprise that ‘natural’ flavours, vegan, gluten-free and a low-calorie represent important buying triggers within ‘nolo’. At Mavrik, our focus on providing an appealing non-alcoholic cocktail for the ‘free spirited’ focused heavily on creating delicious pre-mixed cocktails prepared with totally natural ingredients and fresh spring water. Making sure that these indulgent drinks are far from a poor relation to their alcoholic counterparts has always been a priority and the feedback we’re receiving indicates that we’ve got this right.

We’ve been surprised at the number of younger people who are tuned into our – and other – nolo brands. It is the Millennials and Gen Zs who will be dictating the future of this category and there is no doubt that they are shaping the nation’s views on either total abstinence, or simply moderating alcoholic intake and adopting these revised drinking habits in line with the rest of the population. Whilst purchasing these drinks for in-home consumption is becoming the norm, accessing them in the mainstream on-trade is more of an issue, but there is little doubt that the powerful ‘voice of youth’ will be lobbying for change, so we predict a seismic shift in the on-trade offering in the not-too-distant future.

Gone are the days when ‘happy hour’ signalled a cost-effective route to achieving an alcohol fuelled state of carefree; today’s happy drinkers are just as likely to imbibe a virgin cocktail – and not just because they are driving.