Liquid Thinking

Dryish January: Why the next trend in low-no is... compromise

Are halfway products set to dominate?

12th January 2022

As if January wasn't depressing enough, some crazy people regularly choose the toughest month of the year to temporarily give-up booze. But as the low and no market grows, it’s becoming clear that most consumers are looking to moderate, not abstain, leading to a curious new sub-category based on compromise.

Low-no spirits have flourished exponentially since Seedlip launched just five or so years ago, with more and more products coming to market. Yet the fledgling category still has a battle on its hands. Though mindfulness is hip, wellness is essential, and dairy and gluten remain the devil’s work, the low-no drinks category still hasn’t fully caught up with the wellness whims of the masses.

Undeniably, the better-for-you market – already in motion, but spurred on by the health concerns and shifting lifestyles thrust upon us by the pandemic – has become mainstream. Low and no spirits? Still, not so much. Various data abounds, but the real measure of their reach can be seen in their availability. Though widely available online, it remains hard to reliably find them in the on and off-trade.

Why hasn’t the low-no category caught up?

So, if the desire and the market is there, why hasn’t the low-no category been able to tap into it just yet? Problem number one is that drinks makers still haven’t been able to convince people on taste. Products that claim to be a gin or a whisky substitute don’t – can’t – taste like imbibers expect them to. Nor, often, can they be consumed like them. Take a shot or sip a neat non-alc whisky or rum, if you dare.

And the growing number of products that are treading their own path, offering a new liquid not based on the taste profiles of anything even relatively familiar, can be confusing. Taking a punt on something with no idea of what it tastes like for often north of £25, is a big ask.

The second issue comes with the role these drinks play in a consumer’s repertoire. Are they for non-drinkers, people who have or are trying to quit alcohol entirely? Or are they for those who simply want to moderate? Who is drinking them, and why, is essential to unlocking their potential.

Where do they fit in?

According to new research from alcohol industry regular, the Portman Group, a third of UK drinkers now choose low or no alcohol drinks on a semi regular basis. Despite Covid-19 restrictions, the most popular reason for consumers to have tried low-no products is to be ‘able to drive home from social events’, at 33% of respondents, 20% want to socialise without drinking excessively, and 2% said they alternate between full-strength and low-no products to moderate their overall consumption, though the research suggests this figure could be higher.

In fact, the Portman Group’s main conclusion is that alcohol drinkers are the main buyers of non-alcoholic products, using them as alternatives to alcohol. It found that 58% of non-drinkers have never even tried a low/no product, while just 14% are semi-regular consumers.

Compromise isn’t a dirty word

Taste then, is king. So what’s the solution? The emerging answer looks to be diluted strength products. While some are super strength in the bottle, and require a much smaller amount to be mixed, others are offered at mid-way ABV, served in the same ratio as a full-strength product would be. However, all claim to offer the same thing; the authentic taste of the ‘real thing’, but with just a fraction of the alcohol and calories.

So far this trend is dominated by gins, and gin-a-likes, perhaps due to the enduring appeal of gin, or perhaps because technically, enhancing the taste of the liquid so it can be served in smaller measures seems straightforward; load-up the botanicals. There are two emerging product types.

The first is the concentrate, offered at a higher ABV than its equivalent spirit, but with a more intense flavour. It is designed for use in typically 5ml per serves, instead of the standard 25ml. Examples include Hayman’s Small Gin (43%), which launched in 2019, and can claim to be among the first of this new wave. Peter Rose Gin Concentrate clocks in at 50.3% ABV, but again with dialled-up botanicals, is designed for 5ml serves. There’s Cotswolds Dry Gin Essence, bottled at 46% ABV. And just in time for this dry January is a new launch from Adnams. Smigdin is offered at 50% ABV, but is designed to be used in even smaller 2.5ml measures, for a serve that clocks in at 0.6% ABV when mixed with 200ml tonic.

Next is the mid-strength. Quarter G/N is just 12% ABV, but is intended to be used in the same quantities as a full-strength gin. Portobello Road Distillery’s Temperance is bottled at a much lower 4.2% ABV or 0.4% ABV when mixed. Expect more of these mid-tier products to emerge.

Growing appeal

An additional string to the bow of the emerging concentrate sector are their eco claims. Adnams for example claims that each of its 200ml bottles offers 80 servings, as opposed to 28 in a standard 700ml bottle, reducing the eco-impact of its packaging and production. Expect more messaging and marketing to focus on this added benefit.

Can the trend move beyond gins? Should it? Again, only if drinks makers can produce something that can live-up to expectations. Very few consumers drink gin neat, meaning these reduced strength products can be used in the same way – typically in a G&T – as a full-strength gin. Producing a dark spirit equivalent flexible enough to be mixed and sipped neat, is a much harder ask.

However, these compromise mid-low strength products seem to offer a solution, more closely meeting the taste – and experience – needs of a low-no market predominantly made up of alcohol drinkers. For drinks makers, appealing to moderators rather than abstainers, offers a much bigger prize.

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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