analysis

Alcohol-free beer no longer a pint sized issue

By Ben Winstanley

- Last updated on GMT

Alcohol-free beer no longer a pint sized issue

Related tags: Alcohol-free beer, Drinking culture, Ab inbev

Alcohol-free beer is growing in popularity in Britain, according to new research released by AB InBev UK, and the largest beer company in the world is making steps towards growing its portfolio in response.

For the on-trade, the low and alcohol-free beer category is witnessing growth of 5% with AB InBev’s Beck’s Blue the market leader, contributing to 58% of the category with a year-on-year increase of 10% in outlets. 

Anna Tolley, AB InBev UK & Ireland legal and corporate affairs director, said: “It’s great to see the growing popularity of alcohol-free beer among the UK public – especially millennials. Offering consumers choice is an important part of our commitment to responsible drinking.” 

Data 

An Opinium survey of over 2000 adults found that nearly a third of Brits (31%) have now tried alcohol-free beer with one in ten women (10%) enjoying it on a weekly basis and 18% of Londoners drinking it whenever they go out; the Capital’s drinkers being the most inclined to consume alcohol-free beer over any other UK city. 

Over a fifth of millennials (21%), those aged 18 to 34, are likely to choose alcohol-free beer in January, an increase of 10% on 2014. 

This supports a growing trend among millennials who are increasingly motivated by balanced and healthy lifestyles, with 41% of those aged 18 to 19 actively trying to moderate their drinking habits, according to statistics from Kantar Worldpanel Alcovision (March ‘15).

The daytime and weekday evenings are key occasions for alcohol-free beer consumption with the most common reason behind the choice being the designated driver (29%) or a desire to avoid a hangover the next day (20%).  

Long way to go

The research coincides with the launch of AB InBev’s new set of Global Smart Drinking goals, which aim to encourage consumers to make sensible drinking choices and reduce the use of harmful alcohol by the end of 2025. 

The company has pledged to ensure that at least 20% of its global beer volume will be alcohol-free or lower alcohol by 2020, more than double the 9% it currently represents in AB InBev’s present portfolio.

Currently controlling 21% of global beer volume, this figure will rise to around 30% if the merger with SAB Miller proves successful. A quick tap on the calculator reveals that, if the company fulfils its commitment, low and non-alcoholic beer would represent 6% of the world’s beer volume by 2020 thanks to AB InBev alone — a big statement from the world’s largest beer company. 

Whether this comes to fruition remains to be seen but there is little doubt that alcohol-free beer constitutes one of the biggest opportunities in the sector. Indeed, according to a recent Euromonitor report, non-alcoholic beer represents the fastest growing area of the beer market with a projected increase of 26% between 2013 and 2018.

However, the question of both quantity and quality are not one and the same. Booze-free beer is renowned among drinkers for its…less than beer-like qualities: hardly surprising when you consider most of our hoppy friends flavour comes from fermentation. 

According to AB InBev, almost a fifth of drinkers (19%) are unable to taste the difference between alcohol and alcohol-free beer but, regardless of the validity of this statement, that leaves more than 80% of consumers who can discern between the two. 

Will good non-alcoholic beer ever come about? Perhaps that is the question that big and small brewers alike should seek to answer now.

London-based Nirvana Beer Co is one of the first to make steps towards this, although their crowdfunding campaign for an innovative new brewery to create tasty alcohol-free beer has hardly touched the £85,000 investment needed to get the project off the ground. 

Undoubtedly their heart is in the right place but it may be a regrettable fact that the age of small batch, dare I say ‘craft’, alcohol-free beer is a pint too far.

That being said, all roads lead to a growing demand for low and non-alcoholic beer: certainly something that should be met with interest. If the largest beer company in the world is taking notice, you can only hope more brewers will follow this credible trend. 

Maybe, then, the search for a non-alcoholic beer that tastes of beer is somewhere in the not-so distant future.

Related topics: Soft & Hot Drinks

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