Consumer behaviour towards alcohol is changing. Younger generations have paved the way for the popularity of low-alcohol and 0% drinks, with one in three Generation Z consumers now teetotal according to KAM Media’s ‘The Low & No 2021 report’, while 21% of 18-24 year olds cut down their alcohol consumption between January and July 2021 according to a YouGov poll.

This change in behaviour is reflected in the rise in sales of low- and no-alcohol sales. According to the market research company Nielsen, sales increased by 32.5% immediately before the lockdown in March 2020, followed by a 30% increase in retail sales to £188m, demonstrating a longer-term trend that is focused on health and wellbeing and driven by young, health conscious generations.

The opportunities for no-low alcohol brands

The increasing popularity of low and no alcohol drinks is not only positive for consumer health, but it has also created opportunities for brands. Traditionally, alcohol brands have been limited by strict guidelines set by industry legislators. For example, the ASA prohibits alcohol adverts directed at people under 18 or which contain anything that is likely to appeal to them by reflecting youth culture. Additionally, any individuals that feature in alcohol ads must be 25 years of age or over and must look this age. Similarly, In America, any sponsored post promoting an alcohol brand must broadcast to an audience where roughly 72% of viewers or more are of legal drinking age.

As a result, alcohol has often been a taboo when it comes to marketing. However, the ASA guidelines allow greater freedom for UK brands to advertise no-low alcohol products. This means brands can tap into the wellness movement driven Millennials and Gen Z. In line with this, Made in Chelsea star Spencer Matthews’ launched his no or low alcohol (“nolo”) brand, CleanCo, in 2019, and received a $2m boost from a US investment fund last year. A number of other brands such as Diageo, William Grant & Sons and Martini, are also launching products to tap into the growing no-low alcohol market. 

The opportunities around promoting responsible drinking

As well as promoting no alcohol drinks, the rise in low alcohol drinks means that many brands can promote responsible drinking to younger audiences. Among the Millennial generation, 22% said they’d cut down consumption, while 20% claimed not to drink alcohol at all. This highlights the demand for both no and low alcohol drinks. But how can brands market these products successfully?

According to KAM Media’s ‘The Low & No 2021 report’, quality was the most important factor for Millennials, while price was the priority for Gen Z. These demographics may be drinking less, but when they do, the results suggest that Millennials in particular tend to splash out on high quality. As a result, for brands wanting to attract younger generations, the focus should be on balancing quality and price and this is evident within the market. Last year renowned Italian mixologist Simone Caporale, launched zeo, a non-alcoholic ‘spirit’ that mimics the flavour and texture of alcohol. The brand is aimed at ‘sober curious’ consumers seeking a high quality alternative.

Using key consumer events

Whilst brands can promote no and low alcohol products all year round, there are two particular peaks in activity: ‘Sober October’ and ‘Dry January’. Sober October is, at its heart, a fundraising initiative by MacMillan Cancer Support which challenges people to go alcohol-free for the month, and in turn raise money in the process. Although participants in Dry January can gather charity sponsorships, its popularity stems less from philanthropy and more from a willingness to take on the teetotal challenge. Whilst they have differences in origin, both can be used by brands to engage the no-low alcohol audience.

Over the last few years, many brands have done this and the trend is likely to increase in years to come. For Dry January 2021, Carlsberg continued to promote its “probably the best beer in the world” slogan , and used its partnership with the actor Mads Mikkelsen by asking consumers if the best things can be better with alcohol-free beer. In the advert, Mikkelsen showed us that some of the finer things in life are better with Carlsberg 0.0%. This was the first time that Carlsberg has produced a global ad for its alcohol-free variant.

How influencer marketing can help brands to capitalise

As their main target audience, nolo brands need to prioritise younger demographics first and foremost to successfully grow. As we know, young generations are highly engaged with influencers, with findings from our recent whitepaper ‘Influencers in the Mainstream’ strongly supporting this. Our research found that nearly a quarter of consumers in the UK (24%) and Germany (23%), and 28% of US consumers are more likely to source news updates and opinions from influencers than journalists and established news outlets. This figure rises to more than a third of 16–24-year-olds (38%), 38%, of 25–34-year-olds, and 34% of 35–44-year-olds. This makes them incredibly powerful tools to communicate brand messages and drive sales. With the nature of their profession, influencers are particularly good at tapping into cultural moments and many are already well established in health and wellbeing sectors, meaning they can reach highly targeted and niche audiences interested in this type of content.

The nolo market is huge and it’s growing. To capitalise on the potential, brands must reach younger generations as this is where engagement with nolo products is highest. Using key consumer events and influencers is a great way to do this. With Dry January looming, now is a great time to prepare activity.