Date posted: 20/08/2021 5 min read

The issue: Non-alcoholic drinks

Alcohol is a big part of the culture in Australia and New Zealand, but more of us are trying the non-alcoholic alternatives.

In Brief

  • Sales of no- and low-alcohol beverages are predicted to grow by 31% by 2024 in key global markets.
  • Familiar brands such as Heineken, Carlton and Asahi have released non-alcoholic products.
  • From 2016 to 2019, 500,000 Australians gave up alcohol, making a total of 1.9 million ex-drinkers.

Compiled by Amity Delaney

Alcohol is a big part of the culture in Australia and New Zealand, but a health-conscious shift has been building over the past few years and more of us are ditching the booze. To match this demand, an abundance of non-alcoholic beverages for grown-ups has come to the market. These healthier options are being sold online, in bottle shops and on supermarket shelves.

In April 2021, Brunswick Aces non-alcoholic distillery in inner-city Melbourne opened the first bar in Australia to focus on a menu of non-alcoholic drinks. The following month, online retailer Sans Drinks opened its flagship no-alcohol ‘bottle shop’ in Freshwater on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

With such a variety of hangover-free beer, bubbly and distilled spirits on offer, there’s no excuse for offering non-drinkers only soft drinks or soda water at your next corporate event.

Beer and COVID-19

When COVID-19 sent a big chunk of the world’s workers home last year, there was an increase in takeaway alcohol sales, but also a rise in the purchase of non-alcoholic drinks.

In the US, the first six months of the COVID pandemic saw off-premise alcohol sales grow by more than 20%, and sales of non-alcoholic beer increase by nearly 38%, Nielsen figures reveal.

In Japan, where Reuters reports there were constant reminders on TV to remain healthy during lockdown, Kirin Holdings saw a 10% increase in sales of its non-alcoholic beer during 2020 and was anticipating a 23% rise in 2021. Rival Asahi Group Holdings was forecasting a 20% jump for its sales in this sector.

In New Zealand, overall alcohol consumption actually decreased during the 2020 lockdown, from 8.752 litres per head in December 2019 to 8.719 litres in December 2020. And Health Promotion Agency survey data shows that during the lockdown in New Zealand last year, 36% of respondents did not drink at all and 34% were drinking less.

But the trend to less alcohol started well before COVID-19. Between October 2017 and October 2019, New Zealand saw a 169% increase in sales of non-alcoholic or low-alcohol beer (0-1.15% alcohol by volume), reports the NZ Alcohol Beverages Council.

In Australia, 20% of respondents to an ANUPoll taken in May 2020 said they drank more alcohol during COVID restrictions, but 27% said they drank less.

The issue: Non-alcoholic drinks

Who’s drinking and who isn’t

From 2016 to 2019, 500,000 Australians gave up alcohol, taking the number of ex-drinkers from 1.4 million to 1.9 million. The proportion of adults abstaining from alcohol also increased from 19.5% to 21%, reports Australia’s National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. And in a clear generational shift, the proportion of people aged in their 20s abstaining from alcohol increased from 8.9% in 2001 to 22% in 2019.

“In a clear generational shift, the proportion of people aged in their 20s abstaining from alcohol increased from 8.9% in 2001 to 22% in 2019.”

In New Zealand, one in six respondents (17%) to the Alcohol Use in New Zealand Survey 2019/20 had not consumed alcohol in the past year. However, most respondents (83%) had consumed a bevvy in the previous year, with more than half (55%) having had alcohol in the previous week.

As a comparison, in the US, 69.5% of people had drunk alcohol in the previous year and 54.9% had consumed alcohol in the previous week, states the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Big-name teetotalers

Many celebrities and business tycoons have given up the plonk or never touched it in the first place. Although political rivals, Donald Trump and current US president Joe Biden had something in common: both say they don’t touch booze due to family issues with alcoholism. Pop star Jennifer Lopez (J.Lo) ditched the drink years ago to preserve her glowing skin.

Donald Trump

Joe Biden

George W. Bush (who gave up drinking on his 40th birthday)

Warren Buffett

Daniel Radcliffe

Brad Pitt

Jennifer Lopez

Kim Kardashian West

Natalie Portman

How do they remove the booze?

A beverage is classified as non-alcoholic in Australia and New Zealand if it has 0.5% alcohol by volume or less. That’s less alcohol than in some brands of orange juice. A low-alcohol drink has 1.15% alcohol by volume or less.

Non-alcoholic wine is made in a similar way to conventional wine, but is put through a process to remove the alcohol (vacuum distillation, spinning cone column filtration or reverse osmosis). Sugar may be added to replace the mouthfeel of alcohol, along with other aromatics and flavourings.

Beer can be de-alcoholised the same way, with the liquid then carbonated to get its bubbles back. But that’s not the only option; it’s also possible to brew a beer using yeast strains that create little to no alcohol.

Fast facts

Predicted increase in sales of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks by 2024 across key global markets.
Source: IWSR Drinks Market Analysis

US$22 billion by 2026
Predicted value of non-alcoholic malt beer market globally in 2026, up from US$17.5 billion in 2019.
Source: Global Market Insights

Rise in volume of sales of no-alcohol or low-alcohol spirits globally from 2019 to 2020.
Source: IWSR Drinks Market Analysis

What’s your (non-alcoholic) tipple?

The non-alcoholic drinks market has expanded rapidly in the past few years, but German beer maker Clausthaler was well ahead of the game, releasing its first alcohol-free beer in 1979. No-alcohol brews from Bitburger and Holsten are also widely drunk in Europe.

Big-name brands Heineken, Carlton, Becks and Asahi are successfully sipping the alcohol-free market, too. Asahi’s 0.5%-strength Beery uses a slower alcohol extraction method to retain the flavour of beer and is advertised as having more “umami and richness” than other beer alternatives.

For those after a more craft beer flavour, Aussie brands such as Heaps Normal and Indigenous-owned Sobah are developing a following.

In the alcohol-free wine space, a big name is Spanish winemaker Familia Torres, which started selling its de-alcoholised Natureo range in 2008. Closer to home, Australian brand Edenvale produces a range of zero-alcohol wines and sparkling, and well-known label McGuigan Wines released its McGuigan Zero alcohol-free range at the end of 2019.

Not to be outdone, clever Kiwi winemakers at Giesen perfected a zero-alcohol Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that came on the market in February 2020. The first release quickly sold out.

The sober spirits sector is also hotting up. Seedlip non-alcoholic distilled spirit was the first to grab attention back in November 2015, but now it has plenty of competitors. One of those is ALTD Spirits, distilled with Australian botanicals, which won three silver medals at the fourth London Spirits Competition in April 2021.

Traditional gin maker Gordon’s, too, has got on the non-booze bus and released Gordon’s 0.0%, a no-alcohol version of its famous juniper-led tipple.

A more recent entrant, Lyre’s Spirit Co. – whose tipples mimic the flavours of gin, whisky, rum, vermouth, amaretto, absinthe and more – has been gathering awards at a host of competitions since coming on the market in 2020. (Like ALTD Spirits, it came away from the London Spirits Competition with a brace of silver.) The company also produces a growing range of ready-to-drink bevvies in cans, including alternatives to prosecco (Lyre’s Classico), gin and tonic (Lyre’s G&T), Aperol spritz (Lyre’s Amalfi Spritz) and bourbon and cola (Lyre’s American Malt & Cola).

Even CAs are entering the non-alcoholic spirit. Canberra-based accountant Alan Tse CA co-founded his Altina Drinks business with biotechnologist (and wife) Dr Christina DeLay. Their non-alcoholic cocktails, crafted using Australian native ingredients, promise all the party fun without the hangover.

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