9 things we learned at the Club Soda event

By Claire Churchard

- Last updated on GMT

Opportunities for pubs: founder of Club Soda Laura Willoughby
Opportunities for pubs: founder of Club Soda Laura Willoughby

Related tags Alcoholic beverage

Traditionally, the pub trade has not done the best job of serving or promoting low and non-alcoholic drinks but, with a burgeoning demand for these products, pubs have an opportunity to capitalise on this market.

On-trade operators and suppliers gathered in London’s Spitalfields on Friday (24 November) to discuss how they can better serve their teetotal customers and boost profits.

The event, run by Club Soda – the mindful drinking movement – highlighted growing demand for more than “hose coke”, tap water or just one type of non-alcoholic beer when people go out to socialise.

Here are 9 things pubs need to know:


1. Low and no alcohol in growth

Younger people are drinking less, while data from CGA shows that 12% of all adults of drinking age are now teetotal. Ed Bedington, editor of The Morning Advertiser​ (MA​), says this may because of health concerns or social media because people don’t want to be seen drunkenly misbehaving on Facebook when they’re out for the night. Generation Z are forecast to be even more averse to drinking as “a recent study showed they are avoiding drink, drugs and sex”. They prefer to sit at home and use social media, so encouraging them to come to the pub to socialise is a huge challenge for our sector, Bedington said.


2. Brewers lead the charge

Smaller brewers have led the charge on producing low and no-alcohol beers, with companies like Big Drop championing flavour quality. Bedington said this shift has “partly been given momentum by the craft beer movement because we’re seeing a lot of activity there”.

Manufacturers and operators are taking more notice and big players are moving into the arena with major drinks companies such as Heineken and Budweiser launching beers for non-drinkers this year.

According to the MA​’s recent Drinks List report, data from CGA shows 9,000 more outlets are stocking low and no-alcohol than three years ago. But 52% of the market is still not stocking it, which needs to be addressed, he added.

“There’s a huge opportunity out there that the trade needs to grasp. The trend is only going to grow,” Bedington said.


3. Bar staff are on a learning curve

Laura Willoughby, founder of Club Soda, said that pubs needed to educate their staff around what the low and no-alcohol percentages actually mean.

She said: “Bar staff need to know more about the low and no-alcohol they’re selling because people will ask questions. They’ll ask about calories and ingredients, things that no one really asks about alcohol. So knowing these things is important, as is knowing what 0.5% or 2% means.

“One of the biggest hurdles for customers and venues is that no one really knows what 0.5% means. It’s as much alcohol as is in a banana. It is a trace of alcohol, so tell customers ‘it’s not going to break your dry January pledge’.”


4. Non-drinkers need to feel welcome

Willoughby said: “Bar staff need to know that it is not acceptable to take the p**s out of people that are not drinking, they need to serve those customers well.

“I believe it feels a bit like being a vegetarian in the 1980s, when all you got was a cheese salad if you went anywhere. Now people are not willing to accept that the only option is a coke or a lime soda. They don’t feel like they’re being treated as well as every other customer in a bar. We want to change this, so that everyone feels welcome in a pub.

“We need to switch the perception that pubs are somewhere people can’t go if they’re not drinking.”


5. Dietary requirements rule

Research Club Soda conducted found the reduction in drinking is cross-generational. For people over 40, the switch is partly down to health reasons so it isn’t just young people, Willoughby said. She also pointed to dietary decisions as a driver and said: “The number of people who ask us about the carbohydrate count we have in our non-alcoholic drinks listed on our website is really high. People are interested because they are on a low-sugar, low-carb diet.”


6. Drinking strategies are at play

People are looking down the pumps for the lowest ABV so they can last the evening. They want drinks that are sippable and sessionable, said Willoughby, so they don’t end up in the gutter at 2am. Customers look more closely at online drinks menus and plan where they will go.

“People don’t want to leave out friends who are not drinking as much as them, so they’ll go somewhere that has got something for them,” she explained.

This is why Club Soda has created its Mindful Drinkers​ guide. “The guide’s title is deliberately positive rather than using the negative terms like cutting down or going teetotal. The guide. launched in January, aims to nudge pubs towards thinking about what they stock.”


7. Rituals matter

Charlie McVeigh, founder of Draft House, called on the big brewers to get alcohol-free beer onto draught with a "f#*£ing cool" glass to really push the category forward.

He said that drinking on a night out is imbued with a lot of ritual. From standing at the bar, to ordering and watching your drink being poured. This is just as important for non-drinkers, so making the experience and serve just as good as for alcoholic beverages is key.

The pub remains an important part of society as people need a place where they can “decompress” and “get out of themselves”, he added, “people can’t just sit at home, they need to get out, they are social beings.”

8. Look to the Germans and Czechs for inspiration

Rob Fink, owner of Big Drop Brewery, pointed to the Germans and Czechs as the leaders in producing high-quality low and no-alcohol beer. With the rise of craft brewing, low ABV was largely ignored in Britain, he said, but this is changing.

Fink said that heating beer to remove or lower the alcohol content ruins the flavour, which is why his firm brews its beers to 0.5% from the off rather than reducing the percentage after brewing.

9. Unique selling point

Selling fantastic coffee and hot chocolate has enabled Anthony Pender, from the British Institute of Innkeeping and co-founder of Yummy Pub Co, to entice more business people into this pub for meetings. He said that employees meeting with their boss at a pub are not likely to want to drink in front of them at 10am or even lunchtime so providing good-quality hot beverages has helped him bring in trade he might not otherwise have had.

Related topics Soft & Hot Drinks

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