Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Teetotal for a year: why waking up to low and no is the trade's biggest challenge

Published:  30 January, 2019

The driest month of the year is almost over. But as the trend for drinking less but better – or not at all – continues into 2019, many consumers will be planning to moderate well into February and beyond. Changing drinking habits is something we can no longer ignore, says Hugh Jones, former prestige sale manager at Mentzendorff and now head of sales at Lucky Saint, which produces a 0.5% beer. Reporting for Harpers, Jones explains why he has vowed to go teetotal for a year with the aim of exploring what trade needs to do to stay relevant – while also making the most of the opportunities in the ever-evolving drinks industry.

Every time I order tap water a little piece of me dies. I’ve given up drinking for a year and after two months of sobriety I’m fed up of wasting my money on sugary drinks I don’t want. I’d happily spend money on good alcohol free alternatives, but sadly, it’s hard to find inspired options. I’m coming around to the view that if a venue doesn’t consider this section of their drinks menu, I won’t consider spending money with them. This means condemning myself to tap water when I’m out with my friends – and water is fine for the gym, but not for a social gathering. It adds no value to the experience of being in a bar or restaurant and crucially, it means bars are missing out on sales.

I’m not the only one scouring menus for something both alcohol free and interesting – 29% of 16-24 year olds consider themselves non-drinkers and an ever-increasing number of mature drinkers are looking to moderate without compromising on flavour. The big players in the drinks industry are already preparing for the market shift: Diageo invested in Seedlip and have an entire department focusing on this category; Pernod Ricard have entered into the ‘alt gin’ market with Cedars, while AB InBev has a commitment that no or lower alcohol beer products will represent at least 20% of their global beer volumes by the end of 2025.

Growing numbers of consumers are ready and waiting; the drinks companies have products out there and are working on expanding the category significantly, so why is it so difficult to find a decent 0% or low ABV drink on a night out? There was a time when you’d go into a pub and the range of John smiths, Fosters, and Stella would be enough. These days it’s not - a range of craft beer, good wine and 15 varieties of gin can probably be found in your local boozer. But in the time it’s taken for this to change, the alcohol free options have remained more or less the same.

Alcohol consumption is falling, but people have never been more obsessed with (and willing to spend money on) flavour, discovery and experience. Progress is slow, but some operators are catching onto this. L’Enclume offer non-alcoholic pairing options with their tasting menu, Refuel at The Soho Hotel have a well thought out menu page dedicated to low/no alcohol drinks, and after the success of their Notting Hill and Shoreditch sites, Redemption are opening a third venue in Covent Garden offering only alcohol free drinks to accompany their vegan, sugar free and wheat-free menu.

In the last two months I haven’t really missed the effects of alcohol (I definitely haven’t missed the hangovers) but I have sorely missed the delicious drinks I’ve come to love. There are a growing number of quality low/no ABV options, but barely any are available when I’m out with my friends.

Seedlip are to the alt-spirits market what Sipsmith were to the gin boom, and I believe the sector can go the same way. Decision makers just need to embrace the category and modernise their menus for a new generation.