It could be argued that the earliest known example of a non-alcoholic drink is small beer – often known as table beer – which was highly popular across Europe in medieval times. Back in those days it was safer to cultivate fermented drinks than to rely on drinking water. Another early arrival, tonic water, was originally devised in an attempt to combat malaria. It’s said that quinine powder (the malaria prophylactic) was such a strongly bitter substance that the colonial British decided to add sugar and a little soda water to create something tastier.
Over the last two years, consumer interest in non-alcoholic drinks has surged around the world. Online searches with the term ‘mocktail’ have increased by over 40%, suggesting that consumers are looking for ways to reduce their alcohol intake without sacrificing social experience. Consumers worldwide clearly specify ‘non-alcoholic’ over 80% more frequently than they did just a year ago, with over 15% of conversations around non-alcoholic drinks (including non-alcoholic beer) coming from users between 35 and 44. Media coverage has made the discussion mainstream.
In the last 18 months, international media have published in-depth pieces exploring the how, what and why of the growth of these new drinks. The trends that pointed towards the potential of the sector have all continued to develop and show no signs of slowing down. Research indicates that this expansion is taking place all around the world, in what appears to be a notable cultural shift. US growth is expected to be the most rapid and aggressive over the next 12 months, with its market for ready-to-drink low- or no-alcohol beverages set to increase by nearly 40% in 2022.
Consumer interest further afield is demonstrated by the success of Seedlip (a botanical spirit replacement) among award-winning bartenders and high-end accounts inclusive of cocktails in the most prestigious venues in Hong Kong and Australia. Incredibly, it has shifted over a million bottles in the last three years since its launch. As for the UK, over 40% of the wider London on-trade confirm that non-alcoholic spirits will play a prominent role in their overall sales mix over the next 12 months. We expect non-alcoholic beer to sell particularly well in London in future, though.
The most fashionable venues in London report markedly improved sales of non-alcoholic drinks in the last year. In the same period, over 270 premium soft drinks were launched in the UK in total. This is just as well, as over 60% of consumers say they want better choice when it comes to adult soft drinks. In April 2018, there were just four non-alcoholic spirits on the UK market; by October there were a staggering 42. There are also promising signs of further growth; 55% of venues are devoting sections of the menu to non-alcoholic beverages, or publishing a stand-alone menu.
At Vinduo, we reckon the growing desire for experiences and improved flavour choices is reminiscent of the old European coffee and aperitif culture, which was always based on local socialising. In other words, the emphasis was on connection rather than escape. More directly, non-alcoholic drinks and aperitifs overlap quite significantly in terms of flavours and palette, both touching on use of plant extracts, herbs, bitter tastes and viscosity. There remains plenty of room for innovation – 60% of the most influential bars in London are yet to stock non-alcoholic spirits.