The booze-free boom

No- or low-alcohol beverage brands (let's call them NOLOs) seem to be launching every day. But is this just a temporary hangover from pandemic times when lots of us became more conscious around our alcohol consumption, or are they here to stay?
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Industry reports point to NOLO sales surging 31% in volume by 2024. This makes sense to anyone who's been paying attention to supermarket shelves or their Instagram feed. 

Brands like Seedlip did much to pave the way to normalize the category and make it mainstream. But recently, it's been picking up steam. Nix & Nix, a webshop that sells alcohol-free drinks, opened the Netherlands' first physical alcohol-free liquor store in Haarlem earlier this month. Major players like Guinness, Budweiser and Stella Artois are increasingly becoming available sans booze. And tons of new direct-to-consumer brands are setting up shop. So, what's going on?

All about moderation

A survey last year found that people's reasons for cutting down on drinking – particularly among younger generations – were, unsurprisingly, going out less often (43%), trying to get fit (30%) and saving money (27%), some of which will likely change in the near future as the world reopens. 

But it seems that, post-pandemic, moderation will still be a priority. Interest in Dry January doubled this year, while seven in 10 adults say they at least want to maintain healthier habits coming out of lockdown. 

The word ‘moderation’ is key. NOLO brands appear to be piggybacking not on a newly sober demographic, but on a slice of the market that's more health-conscious and individualistic and feels less pressure to follow social norms around drinking. 

In other words, it's more about people limiting their alcohol intake rather than going cold turkey altogether, says Emily Neill, COO of research and operations at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.

‘The no/low market is being driven predominantly by people moderating their drinking of regular products with no- and low-alcohol alternatives,’ Emily tells us. ‘Overall, abstinence appears to be a less important trend than moderation.’

Booze-free goes beyond the basics 

Wim Boekema, co-founder of Nix & Nix, has found his customers range from those who can't drink due to pregnancy or a medical condition to those who are ready for a change after years of drinking, with the latter particularly seeking more sophisticated NOLO options.

‘The last – and growing – group are people who have decided they want to drink less and they come here to find out that there are amazing alcohol-free sparkling wines, gin alternatives and a much wider collection of alcohol-free beers than the supermarkets have on offer,’ he said.

Beer has historically led the way in NOLO sales, but spirits and ciders have followed close behind. Next-generation vintners have been investing in research and development to improve flavor profiles that match their alcoholic counterparts. Newer brands are expanding into niches, such as Abstinence's spritz-inspired blood-orange aperitif and Gnista's floral wormwood spirit. 

The trend isn't confined to home drinking, either. Alcohol-free breweries and cocktail bars have popped up in Dublin, Austin, Brooklyn and elsewhere, while alcohol-free social communities, such as Club Soda and Listen Bar, have grown in recent years. The NOLO party, it seems, is far from over.

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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