April 15, 2024

Going easy on the booze

We investigate which drinks are trending onboard and find there’s a big take-up of low- and no-alcohol beverages… 

There is a growing move towards moderation – and even abstinence – when it comes to alcohol consumption. A study by The Portman Group found that almost one in three (32%) of UK drinkers now ‘semi-regularly’ consume low- and no-alcohol products compared to one in four (25%) in 2020. 

“It is no longer just the ‘alcohol rejectors’ buying into the low/no sector, but also those who are seeking to reduce their alcohol intake,” says Andrew Mallinson, Commercial and Marketing Director at Mavrik Drinks. 

Despite going alcohol-free, consumers still want something sophisticated. “This is why we’re seeing a trend in consumers opting for a non-alcoholic drinking experience that’s more deliberate, occasion-based, elevated or generally fulfilling some of the enjoyment that one might get from an alcohol beverage,” adds Anita Visvanath, Senior Category Manager at Retail inMotion.   

Consumer habits 

This trend is also translating into onboard drink consumption habits. Visvanath notes that: “Post COVID-19, following home cooking and home drinking trends, people have become more willing and motivated to experiment and try new drinks.” 

Although alcohol alternatives have been around for a while, the sector is going through a period of growth and innovation, says Giulia Brunasso, Brand Manager at Sei Bellissimi: “They are not just an alternative to high alcoholic beverages, but a different way to experience flavours and ingredients.” 

In particular, “mocktails, or non-alcoholic mixed drinks, have been around for a long time, but in recent years, they’ve seen a surge in popularity – mocktails are suddenly everywhere,” adds Brunasso. 

Thanks to brands such as Heineken and Peroni, alcohol-free beer is also seeing strong growth. However, alcohol-free wine has not yet seen the same uptake or enthusiasm, with the exception of sparkling wines. 

Non-alcoholic drinks – made using full-quality alcohol that’s later removed and mixed with different flavours – have given rise to more interesting teetotal beverages, explains Visvanath, while the rise of low-alcohol drinks is yet another way that moderation is manifesting. 

A trend towards health-conscious and mindful drinking has also seen “a move towards less sweet and healthier adult drinks, be they sophisticated soft drinks, kombuchas or low-calorie, low-sugar cocktail alternatives,” adds Mallinson. 

Generation game 

Key markets leading the change are concentrated in the US and Europe – specifically in France, Spain, Belgium and Germany – according to Retail inMotion. 

In terms of age, it appears that younger consumers are driving the demand for non-alcoholic beverages, being more health- and wellbeing-focused than previous generations. “Generally speaking, people in their 20s to 30s are not drinking as much as older age groups for various reasons – mainly health consciousness but also price,” explains Visvanath.  

But while evidence suggests that Gen Z and Millennials are foremost in turning their backs on alcohol, data is also indicating that moderation is sweeping across all generations under 60.  

“There is no doubt that millions of adults are now more aware of the damaging effects of alcohol and are seeking to cut down – whilst the massive and disturbing growth in the incidence of diabetes is leading hundreds of thousands of adults to cut down on their alcohol and switch to low-calorie alternatives,” Mallinson says. 

Non-alcoholic or low-alcohol options also promote inclusivity, an important consideration in capturing socially-conscious Gen Z 

consumers in particular, as well as catering to overlooked markets. 

“Whether it’s for health, religion or even previous issues with alcohol, people don’t always wish to discuss their choices,” says Brunasso. 

“By offering an alternative, we have the opportunity to make great tasting and exciting beverages for everyone.” 

Emerging appeal 

As consumers come back to pre-pandemic expectations for the inflight experience, airlines can differentiate themselves to be in tune with customer demands. That can take the form of partnering with smaller brands that pay attention to the provenance of their ingredients to offering healthy choices to increase customer satisfaction. 

Travellers in their 20s and 30s are often aspirational, meaning Instagrammable packaging can play an important role. Meanwhile, research from Global Data reveals that nearly one-third (30%) of people say they would buy a drink purely because they were curious about its flavours. 

Therefore non-alcoholic drinks need to be positioned as “more sophisticated and flavourful, with colourful cans and festive packaging designed to help non-drinkers blend in,” says Brunasso. 

Beyond beer, there are a variety of exciting non-alcoholic options emerging onto the market, says Mallinson, including “Caleno and Everleaf alcohol-free spirits, Nix and Kix, and Fever-Tree’s wonderful range of superior sparkling soft drinks”. 

Non-alcoholic gin, Aperol spritz, flavoured sparkling wines and seasonal mocktails are all options to look out for. 

Although the sector has a way to go, the trend is catching on. “Converting customers will take a bit more time on board, though most airlines seem keen to expand and explore non-alcoholic options,” says Visvanath. 

Bright future 

The future is bright for low- or no-alcohol drinks, with the latest Kantar report showing that the retail value of low/no alcohol in the UK in 2021-22 was £250 million, with expected growth to £400 million within two years – and potentially to £1 billion within six to seven years.  

“The future growth of low/no alcohol drinks is forecasted and highly likely to become very mainstream in the coming years,” says Mallinson.

“Several airlines have just taken onboard some low/no brands and Mavrik non-alcoholic cocktails are about to be launched on 90 CrossCountry trains. We can only see travel companies seeking to encourage this switch more and more.” 

Relatively few no-alcohol brands have yet established themselves, meaning opportunities exist if their flavours are right. And airlines should be willing to embrace non-alcoholic onboard. Adds Brunasso: “Airlines can lead by example and fully embrace this trend because the growth in recent years has been very positive and will always continue to grow.” 

And that’s a sentiment to which an increasing number of people are willing to raise a glass.