The non-alcoholic beverage market has made significant strides in recent years, as consumer attitudes toward drinking evolve, placing a greater emphasis on quality rather than quantity or cost. Vicky Berry, senior European business development manager at Synergy Flavours, shares further insights with us.
One of the first popularised alcohol-free cocktails in the 1930s was the ‘Shirley Temple,’ named after the iconic child star, which comprised ginger ale or lemon-lime soda with grenadine and a maraschino cherry on top. The no-alcohol cocktail market has come a long way since then and attitudes towards these beverages and how they are marketed have also shifted.
As of today, we have seen significant progression in both range offering and quality when it comes to low- and no-alcohol beverages in shops, bars and restaurants.
In 2023, the low- and no-alcohol space is evolving at a rapid pace, and products containing no alcohol are out in front. No-alcohol volumes grew by 9% in 2022 and no-alcohol products are predicted to account for over 90% of forecasted growth in the low and no-category between 2022 and 2026. So, how are consumers feeling about the flavour combinations, terminology and variety in this exciting beverage category?
While many consumers are keen to try low- and no-alcohol drinks, different generations have different opinions. Let’s look at mocktails or alcohol-free cocktails. Synergy commissioned research through a product intelligence platform, VYPR, which showed variations in how mocktails are perceived and enjoyed across generations.
Overall, the data showed ages 18-24 on average were the most enthusiastic respondents to the question: ‘Would you buy this mocktail?’. 75% of this demographic answered ‘yes’ when considering different combinations in the survey, which included alcohol-free raspberry mojito, orange spritz, margarita and strawberry daiquiri (see figure 1). Individuals over 65 were the least positive about trying no-alcohol options however they still had an average response of ‘yes’ at 47%, showing a notable appetite for these options.
Figure 1: Respondents in a VPYR survey answered the question ‘would you buy this mocktail?’ The data depicts different age groups’ preferences and openness to trying different alcohol-free cocktails.
There is also evidence that older generations, more acquainted with alcoholic beverages than Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2010), lean towards more bitter, authentic alcoholic flavours. As a whole, Gen Z has demonstrated a greater tendency to moderate alcohol intake for health and wellbeing reasons.
UK National Health Service (NHS) statistics point to more young people avoiding alcohol altogether. 2021 figures indicate that 38% of 16 to 24-year-olds in England either don’t drink or haven’t drunk alcohol in the last 12 months, a notably higher percentage when compared to other age groups.
Gen Zs are generally content with great-tasting drinks that do not necessarily closely replicate the flavours of spirits, beers and wines. In fact, the flavour of alcohol and signature bitterness can be a turn-off for this generation, which is less accustomed to these flavours.
To mock or not to mock?
Even the terminology around low- and no-drinks is cause for discussion. While many people think the term ‘mocktails’ is a fun and light-hearted descriptor, some might argue that the term devalues or ‘infantilises’ this category, reasoning that low- and no-alcohol cocktails stand alone in their own right, and the craftmanship that goes into them deserves greater appreciation. Should descriptors other than ‘mocktails’ be used, or is it simply fun wordplay?
The Mocktail Company leans into this term, using playful puns such as ‘nojito’ for its no-alcohol, mojito-inspired sparkling beverage, comprising lemon, lime and mint. Another brand embracing the term mocktail, Mockly, has a no-alcohol canned cocktail range. This range includes ‘Earl Diablo,’ a mocktail that comprises less conventional cocktail flavours of black tea, coconut water and chilli pepper to pack a punch.
In our VYPR survey, the term ‘mocktail’ came out on top (57%) for consumer preference, while ‘non-alcoholic cocktails’ was preferred by 17%, ‘virgin cocktails’ by 9%, ‘clean cocktails’ by 5% and ‘mindful drinks’ only 4% – perhaps contradicting critics of the term, which include some bar tenders, who believe there is negativity surrounding it.
Low- and no- with a twist
There is no denying that alcoholic cocktails have inspired low- and no-alcohol ones, with established brands now weighing in with their low- and no-offerings as the consumer base grows. Funkin Cocktails recently launched an alcohol-free version of its ‘Passion Fruit Martini Nitro Can’ cocktail, infused with vanilla and tropical flavours. As moderation of alcohol intake is one of the important drivers for consumers reaching for low and no-options, big brands are taking note and encouraging flexibility of choice in their ranges, which will likely influence others to follow suit.
When it comes to flavour combinations, research from VYPR shows core cocktail profiles remain the most popular in the low- and no-alcohol space. Marks and Spencer’s low-alcohol lime canned mojito stays loyal to the classic alcoholic mojito cocktail and has a familiar taste that will appeal to many. However, consumers also want to see twists on traditional favourites, as the data also revealed that the raspberry mojito proved more popular than the traditional mojito in low- and no-alcohol flavours.
What to expect next
We expect to see low-and no-alcohol varieties become increasingly available, as consumers continue to demand variety in low- and no- products, especially in RTD formats.
Supermarket giant Waitrose has already teamed up with beverage company Diageo to create a dedicated space for low- and non-alcoholic drinks in store, which will be introduced in 253 Waitrose shops across the UK. Diageo’s commissioned research also highlighted that 7 out of 10 adults in the UK want improved accessibility to low and no-alcohol options, demonstrating a desire for change.
As well as supermarkets, other spaces are also beginning to react to the demand for low- and no- options. Nirvana Brewery is the first, and only, exclusively alcohol-free brewery in the UK, designed for non-drinkers who still love craft beers. Mavrik’s alcohol-free Cuban Mojito will now be supplied on UK train network, CrossCountry, introducing a popular alcohol-free RTD alternative in a key public space.
On the flavour front, we expect to see increased use of provenance extracts like Sicilian lemon in products and manufacturers choosing depictable flavours like this on pack, showcasing a more premium positioning and natural cues.
We expect to see new flavours cropping up in the mocktail space, including coconut, cranberry, tea, rhubarb, mango, espresso and bitter orange. Watch out for combinations which combine well-established, mainstream flavours with these emergent ones. Cranberry and grapefruit could pair well, for example, mint and mango might excite palates, or perhaps pineapple with a tea-flavoured twist may prove popular.
We also expect that flavours will be used to cater to those who like the classic taste of alcoholic beverages but want to cut down their alcohol intake.
For example, the addition of alcohol-free spirit flavours, such as whiskey, gin, and rum, is one way manufacturers can help to create an authentically alcoholic flavour experience within a low- or no-alcohol drink. If Gen Z is the target demographic, using fruity, tropical, citrus, vanilla and botanical flavours for low- and no-alcohol beverages might be more popular.
The growing consumer base for low- and no-alcohol, especially alcohol-free products, is undoubtedly having an impact on the wider beverage scene. We look forward to seeing where the innovation in alcohol-free cocktails and low- and no-RTD takes the market and what flavour combinations, twists, lingo, and creative branding ideas spring up next.
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