Our drinking habits are changing fast and the beer industry is transforming alongside these trends. The Office for National Statistics states that one adult in five in the UK is now teetotal, and for 16-24-year-olds, it goes up to one in four. Some 4.5m people took part in Dry January last year, a number which will almost certainly grow this year.
Living a healthy lifestyle has never had as much focus – gluten free, non-dairy and veganism are becoming mainstream, gym memberships are at an all-time high and, according to a Nielson report, 20 per cent of us are actively trying to drink less alcohol.
Social habits are also changing. Earlier this month the Sunday Times reported that three coffee shops open every day in the UK, with two pubs closing. And with our lives increasingly played out across social media, being drunk is becoming less and less acceptable.
But beer is still an enormous market, with huge growth in certain areas of the category and well-documented success stories (including isobel client BrewDog). Product innovation has been at the centre of recent beer growth. Consumers want choice, flavour variety and something new to discover.
The recent rise of non- and low-alcoholic beer brings all these consumer and category trends neatly together. These beers make up a tiny percentage of the beer category, but the potential for more growth is enormous. It’s a sub-category that I believe could explode.
Like many, I love beer. A fresh pint of cask ale in the pub, a hoppy craft beer from the fridge, or trying something completely new. But like 20 per cent of UK adults, I want to drink less alcohol. However, moderating booze consumption is difficult. My social life has always been based around drinking; I love the ritual of a pre-dinner drink at home, a treat after the gym, and I just like the interest of drinking something other than water.
So the time is right for a new and exciting range of non- or low-alcoholic beers that offers interest, taste and style variety, bigger bottles and wider off- and on-trade distribution. And it’s happening.
This sub-category of beer is in its infancy, but it’s starting to get exciting.
Becks Blue has always been the non-alcoholic go-to beer, and often the only available option. But Heineken has recently launched a 0.0% abv product that’s pretty good, and Budweiser’s Prohibition Brew has arrived in UK – both will rival Becks Blue for the plain and simple lager option.
BrewDog’s 0.5% Nanny State is the leader in the low-alcohol craft category. It’s now BrewDog’s fourth biggest seller and has grown 50% YOY in 2018. Specialist low abv craft breweries like Big Drop, Nirvana and Small Beer Brew Co are also making strides forward.
And German offerings, such as Erdinger Alkoholfrei, which comes in a very satisfying 500ml format, are way ahead of us in this area are perhaps some of the best.
But despite these new products and innovations, brands don’t seem to be investing much in promoting them. The non- and low-alcoholic beer category grew 21 per cent last year and is now worth £34.7m, but it’s still a tiny piece of the overall beer trade, with very little marketing support.
I strongly believe this market is all to play for. Clearly, great tasting beer products with no or low alcohol are hard to create. I’m sure brewers all over the country are trying very hard.
Becks Blue-style lagers are perhaps more easily replicated and are refreshing enough as a simple drink. But who will be the first traditional real ale to create a decent low-abv option, full of authentic flavour? Will Nanny State own the craft sector, or will other big craft players launch their own and create hop-fuelled low abv options? And what about stout?
As well as product innovation, there’s also the marketing challenge to crack. How best to promote this new range of beers? There are different target audiences to consider – millennial non-drinkers, older consumers looking to cut down on their weekly booze intake, and perhaps even Dry January participants and pregnant women.
Brands could lead on a health message, or perhaps a better route would be to take this as a given and celebrate flavour.
There are also drinking occasions to consider. There is a major job to be done with on-trade distribution, which is way behind off-trade. Perhaps brewers need to open the eyes of the on-trade to this changing dynamic, so it’s not just Becks Blue on offer for non-abv beer fans in pubs. And connected to this, there is also a job to be done to convince drinkers that drinking non- or low-alcoholic beer when you’re out is perfectly acceptable and normal. Views are changing, but there is still a social stigma to tackle.
So will any of these brands put some serious investment behind an awareness and consideration drive? Could we see a big marketing push in 2019 within this sub-category by one of the big brewers? If done well, combined with a great product, it could seriously pay pack. 2019 could be the year non-alcoholic beers explode into the mainstream.
I think I’ve tasted pretty much every ‘no and low’ beer out there, so here’s my round up of the best:
Becks Blue, 0.0%
The go-to. A plain and simple zero alcoholic lager, with the widest distribution. It tastes better than water for a weekday evening or post-gym refreshment, and I reckon it beats Heineken’s new 0.0% beer.
Asahi Dry Zero, 0.0%
Asahi hasn’t launched this beer in UK yet, but I hope it does. I’ve only drunk it while travelling and, just like the 5% Asahi, it’s got a clean and crisp taste and offers some serious refreshment.
Erdinger Alkoholfrei, 0.5%
It’s the 500ml bottle that attracts me. In truth, the beer is a little sweet, but it’s refreshing on a hot day and it certainly looks the part. The ‘isotonic’ language on the bottle also makes you feel like you’re drinking something healthy.
BrewDog Nanny State, 0.5%
We work with BrewDog, but I haven’t let that influence this. Nanny State is the best option on the market for fans of full-flavoured hoppy craft beer. It doesn’t quite replicate the real thing – the beer isn’t as rich or complex – but it’s a great option if you’re after low abv and hoppy flavours.
Big Drop Stout, 0.5%
This is an amazing beer. For 0.5%, it’s got serious flavour – there are definitely hints of coffee and vanilla in there. It feels like a proper grown-up drink and one I could easily enjoy at home or in the pub.
Article by Jamie Williams, Managing Partner at isobel.
Jamie is Managing Partner at independent creative agency isobel. He’s also a beer fanatic. During his advertising career Jamie has worked with a range of beer brands across lager, real ale and craft, including Marston’s, Greene King, Old Speckled Hen, Carling and BrewDog.
Last year Jamie led the strategy, creative and delivery for BrewDog’s two biggest campaigns – ‘1 Million Punks’ Giveaway and ‘Rate Beer’, probably the most talked about beer campaigns of 2018. Jamie also works informally with his local brewer By the Horns, in South West London. Jamie writes regularly for trade and mainstream press about marketing, social issues, and beer.