Reflections from ‘Dry July’

With July almost over, I reflect on my alcohol free month and the increasing popularity of decreasing alcohol consumption around the world.

Reflections from ‘Dry July’

Every year in Australia, the arrival of the month of July brings with it a loud declaration, from an increasing number of people around the country, to give up the booze and go dry for the month of July. Some get sponsored to do so, and raise money for various charities, others do it as a bit of a physical (and often mental) cleanse, or some do it as a way to save a few bucks.

Similar cries are heard across the world at different times of year. When I lived in the UK it was always ‘Dry January’- often used as a way to detox after a rather indulgent festive season of brandy soaked mince pies, mulled wine and bottomless tubs of Quality Street.

This year, my first in Australia, I gave ‘Dry July’ a go and I have to admit, it feels like it’s been a VERY long journey - I’m still wondering why nobody thought to mention to me that July would have a total of five weekends this year?

But the reality is that on a worldwide scale we are actually seeing a move towards lower alcohol consumption that extends beyond the month-long dedications of January, July and whenever in between. ‘No-Lo’, as some have coined it, is actually becoming a bit of a thing, as consumers move towards an ever increasing selection of low, or even no, ABV beverages - especially in the beer category.

On a world-wide scale we are actually seeing a move towards lower alcohol consumption that extends beyond the month-long dedications of January, July and whenever in between

In fact, a lot of global brands believe in an increasing desire amongst consumers for beer that will not get them drunk, and as such they’re spending a lot of time and money on developing and launching low alcohol/alcohol free beers into markets across the globe.

Alcohol free beer you say? No way?! BUT the trend is bigger than you think…

  • Non-alcoholic & low alcohol beers only account for a small proportion of the global beer market BUT these categories are showing much stronger growth than the overall market according to some recent figures from Canadean
  • According to the most recent Australian Health Survey, between 2010 and 2013 alcohol consumption in Australia dropped, with daily drinking at its lowest level since 1991
  • In Spain, zero strength beer has about a 10% market share
  • Last year in Russia (among the biggest drinkers of alcohol in the world) sales of non-alcoholic beer jumped 12%
  • Everyone’s favourite ever generation ‘The Millennials’ are said to be choosing mindfulness over drunkenness, and taking advantage of a swathe of alcohol free options around the world: read a bit more on The DrumSMH and The Guardian
  • AB InBev, which makes more than a quarter of the world's beer, is aiming to make a fifth of its beer low (3.5% ABV or less) or zero alcohol by 2025
  • Everyone is at it! Whilst not all of the big brands are available here in Australia, there’s a really wide range out there: Heineken 0.0, Asahi Dry 0, Becks Blue, Erdinger Alcohol Frei, Holsten 0 , Fosters, Cobra Zero, Fosters Radler Zero, Carlsberg 0.0%, Budweiser Prohibition Brew - and the list continues to grow…

Tapping into the health space?

There’s an incentive for brewers to get in on the low ABV action from a profit standpoint; zero alcohol beers could offer higher margins because of lower taxes and could see them muscling in on the soft drinks market with what they say is a more natural and healthier option.

Heineken 0.0, for example, has half the calories of standard Heineken or Coca-Cola, and there’s some research to suggest that some alcohol beers might be good for the immune system, and even as part of an athlete’s training programme… (but don’t take my word for it).

Reflections from ‘Dry July’

Taste innovation

Beer critics say a key reason why zero alcohol beer has failed on previous occasions is taste, and so brands have put A LOT of effort into combating this and coming up with flavours that taste as good as the real thing - or even better. The process has come a long way; Peter Nixon, Business Manager of Fine Wine at Dan Murphy’s, has said: 

"The process of how [non-alcoholic beverages] are made has also vastly improved. Previously, people tended to make wine or beer like they normally did, and then de-alcoholise it, which impacted the flavour. Now they don’t go that route. They avoid the alcohol in the first place and the result is better."

What about other alcohol?

It’s not just beer that’s getting the ‘No-lo’ treatment:

Spirits:

In January this year the world’s first alcohol (as well as sugar and calorie) free spirit was launched- Seedlip (a gin that isn’t really a gin), and after successful launches in London and the US it’s heading to Oz too. 

Wine:

There’s actually quite a few options out there, amongst some are Maggie Beer Non-Alcoholic Sparkling Chardonnay 750ml 0% ABV -a non-alcoholic wine made from the juice of Chardonnay grapes, and brands like Edenvale, Sutter Home and Ariel have vineyards that specialise in ‘de-alcoholised’ wines. 

Reflections from ‘Dry July’

So why, as researchers and strategists, should we care?

  • What does this say about society? Should we be thinking more about the changes to cultural zeitgeist that are fueling this?
  • What might this mean for soft drinks, which might have traditionally been the go-to alternative for those not boozing it up..?
  • And what about the rest of the alcohol category? If a bottle of low ABV/alcohol free beer could be fewer calories than a glass of wine or a G&T might we see some encroachment - and possibly a new breed of calorie-conscious drinkers?

Food (or perhaps it should be beverages) for thought…

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