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Monitor: Consumers increasingly flirt with drinking—without the booze

As new non-alcoholic, adult beverages hit the market, New Hope research reveals that consumers increasingly describe themselves as “sober curious.” Learn more.

Douglas Brown

December 14, 2023

3 Min Read
Industry Health Monitor reports on consumer activity in the natural products space.

Just a decade ago, options for sipping adult beverages that weren’t boozy would barely fill a shelf of a hotel-room refrigerator. Most of the decent products were NA beer. Canned mocktails didn’t really exist. Wine lacking hooch existed, but it didn’t always thrill people looking for alternatives to Vouvray, Chianti Classico or Champagne.

But the NA beverage category today stands transformed. Where beer mostly aped common lagers, today the market supports flavor-rich IPAs, sours and Belgians. Sparkling options might rely on real Chardonnay grapes—just as with Champagne—that get fermented into wine and then nurtured into bottles of pleasing fizziness, minus the alcohol. And mocktails vaulted from relative non-existence—seltzer with a squirt of lime is no proper mocktail—to an effervescent category, one packed with brands that nail adult flavors without relying on the sauce.

Exhibitors at Natural Products Expo East in September showcased a healthy diversity of new products—enough to take over a long aisle at the show, with new brands lining both sides. The NA Pavilion at the show attracted big crowds, with lines to try samples of booze-less beverages. The movement now even supports its own trade association in Washington, D.C.—the Adult Non-Alcoholic Beverage Association.

 

As the NA beverage industry expands and evolves (rapidly so), consumers are responding by opening their wallets and lining their fridges with myriad NA beverages—for their own consumption, as well as for guests. More than 94% of NA consumers do drink alcohol, but they buy thrilling new brands for guests and their own experimentation, according to recent NielsenIQ research. The same report found that for the 52-week period ending on July 29, 2023, sales of NA beverages spiked 31% compared to the same period the year before. That’s serious growth.

Recent New Hope research into the consumers buying the proliferation of canned mojitos, bottled gin alternatives and the rest of the NA products reveals a striking embrace of the NA movement. The trend does not revolve around sobriety, although skipping the firewater altogether clearly is increasing. Instead, most consumers playing footsie with booze-free adult drinks are doing so to mitigate, rather than eliminate, alcohol from their lives and ensure they offer NA options to guests.

In December, 78% of respondents to a New Hope consumer survey said they drink alcohol. But 35% endorsed NA beer, wine and spirits, and 33% said they liked mocktails. In the same survey, 38% said they drank one to three alcoholic beverages a week, 35% described their consumption as one to three times a month, 13% said they rarely (every three months or so) drink alcohol, and 14% said they never drink alcohol. 

The survey, interestingly, also found that 40% of respondents said they describe themselves as “sober curious,” which was defined as people questioning their relationship to alcohol and thinking about trying sobriety, even if not ready to fully commit to a sober lifestyle.

Finally, a full 30% said they plan to participate in Dry January, meaning they will work to reject booze for the entire month. Meanwhile, another 26% had not yet decided whether to hop on the Dry January train. Together, that’s more than half either committed to or contemplating Dry January.

Non-alcoholic adult beverages still represent a small sliver of the alcoholic beverage market—just 1%, according to NielsenIQ. But that capture of market share is likely to swell in coming years, as both the NA movement and the emergence of high-quality booze alternatives continues to offer consumers and retailers fresh alternatives to the stuff of which hangovers are made.

About the Author(s)

Douglas Brown

Senior Retail Reporter, New Hope Network

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