The low and no-alcohol market is now worth £50m in the UK (CGA MAT 27 January 2018). And recent ONS Statistics figures show that one in five UK adults are now teetotal.
While this trend in no and low alcohol and healthier alternatives continues, some of the pub sector has been slow to engage. Often the only alternative for the non-drinker on a night out is still that lime and soda or cola variant. And the sickly sweet mocktails that operators have offered are not delivering on flavour or the calls for healthier options.
Diageo-owned Distill Ventures, which backs companies such as Seedlip, as well as a range of alcohol brands, claims people want high-quality and sophisticated experiences and non-alcoholic is part of that.
“We believe there is still rather too much of a reliance on ‘mocktails’ and traditional soft drinks, which are not complex in flavour nor sophisticated in experience,” said co-founder Shilen Patel.
He predicts continued innovation in non-alcoholic cocktails claiming entrepreneurs have “only just scratched the surface” of what is possible in terms of producing exceptional liquids.
So it would seem there is plenty of potential in the non-alcoholic cocktail sector. While in its infancy, some operators and suppliers are already grasping the opportunity with non-alcoholic menus and products focused on non-alcoholic cocktails.
While many may have scratched their heads when non-alcoholic or “zero-proof” spirits started launching, this has been a growing sector.
Stryyk, the non-alcoholic spirits brand featuring Not Gin, Not Rum and Not Vodka, was set up by Alex Carlton, founder of Funkin Cocktails, the cocktail mixer brand.
“Non-alcoholic is the most important category for operators now,” he says.
Stryyk is designed to be used as an alternative to alcoholic spirits, meaning operators can substitute rather than create a new menu.
“If you have a standard cocktail list with 10 or 12 drinks you can swap them out, which means you don’t have to have a new menu,” he says.
Carlton adds that he and his partners in the business “worked tirelessly” to produce the zero-proof products but has already reformulated to replicate the heat and taste of spirits. For example, its Not Gin features with basil, sage coriander and spruce needle.
“Operators need to be aware of the opportunity and we are on their radar. Some are acting and some are unsure and waiting. There is also always reluctance to change,” he says.
“Some 30 years ago, you used to get a little glass with a measure of vodka and some warm lemonade. But look where we have come to with Mojitos and Cosmopolitans. Things are changing, people are changing, and times are changing.”
He predicts the terms ‘virgin cocktails’ and ‘mocktails’ will become redundant.
“In the next five years, you won’t see the word ‘mocktails’ on menus. It is just a dying word. You are going to have low-ABV, no-ABV and non-alcoholic spirits.”
He believes there will be more new entrants with non-alcoholic spirits with “different ingredients from obscure parts of the world,” set to further sophisticate the category.
Seedlip founder Ben Branson says the move towards non-alcoholic cocktails is due to a number of factors such as the fact that consumers are being healthier, are on social media, are more demanding and busy.
He argues these four are “catalysts” for the decline of both alcohol volumes and sugary soft drinks.
“People are more mindful of drinking better and a younger generation are shunning alcohol altogether,” he says.
He admits it is still “early days” in the non-alcoholic cocktail market and while there is a growing acceptance there is still a “long way” to go.
“The sector is just getting started, with consumers now actively interested and being offered more exciting options, which is extremely encouraging,” he says.
While zero-proof spirits have been at the cutting edge of innovation, soft drinks companies have also recognised the opportunity.
Britvic has revealed it is looking into both new product development and the use of current products in promoting non-alcoholic cocktails.
Florence Brain, director of channel operations for licensed and leisure, at Britvic says there has already been some growth in the non-alcoholic cocktail sector and in products and categories that feed into this area.
“It is getting much better and the trend is gaining momentum with operators starting to look at non-alcoholic options,” she says.
“There is opportunity. With people wanting to moderate their alcohol they still want to have a good time. We need to work together with operators to stop the default to the lime and soda and cola.
While consumers want experiences there is an opportunity to drive higher price points with signature drinks.”
She says the guest palate is changing with more focus on botanicals and less focus on sweet-tasting cocktails.
Its own Sensational Drinks cocktail guide has a whole section devoted to alcohol-free cocktails claiming they can be every bit as sophisticated as its alcoholic counterparts. It focuses on using some of its existing brands featuring cocktails such as Purdey’s No Sin Fizz.
“We do expect development in this area of alcohol-free and we think there will be innovation not just in terms of product but also of ingredients,” she says.
Britvic predicts ingredients and textures are going to be the future for non-alcoholic cocktails.
This can be anything from edible fragrances, evanescence such as light bubbles that change the texture of the drink and tickle the tongue as well as barista syrups.
Herbs and spices as ingredients will be used to create less sweet options, and citrus or even vinegars for balance.
This focus on ingredients is one that Frankins & Sons agrees is set to be a trend moving forward.
“They’ll derive the same satisfaction from them as they would an expertly mixed alcoholic cocktail. This is exactly what consumers want and why so many are bored by soft drink options – they’ve got no depth of flavour," says Jen Draper, marketing director at Franklin & Sons.
She predicts non-alcoholic drinks will increasingly be defined by more natural flavours and ingredients.
Pev Manners, managing director of Belvoir Fruit Farms, predicts that botanical-based drinks are set to become more popular as they often mimic an alcoholic drink.
“As long as the trend for health and reducing alcohol consumption continues, more innovation will be seen in the mocktail sector,” Manners says.
“It used to be viewed as the poor relation by mixologists and bars but now as the demand grows for interesting alcohol-free creations, more and more mixologists are turning their minds to producing them, making them more acceptable to all.”
Meanwhile, entrepreneur Peter Spanton, a former restaurateur who launched his own range of premium mixers in 2012, warns that pubs and bars that don’t meet the demand will see “customers vote with their feet”.
“The boom in cocktail sales shows how much customers love the theatre of having a great drink mixed for them by a skilled bartender, and it’s essential that customers who choose not to drink don’t feel that they’re getting second best – in fact, the paucity of choice of non-alcoholic drinks for adults is the key reason I developed our range of adult soft drinks and mixers in the first place,” he says.
While most pubs won’t be working with a mixologist there are still some easy wins for the time strapped licensee such as the use of cold brew coffees in cocktails.
Coffee roaster Paddy & Scott’s, which supplies a number of pub chains including JW Lees, is experimenting in the cocktail sector.
Martin Bailie, chief marketing officer, at Paddy & Scott’s is working with head mixologist and brand ambassador for Nitro, Dan Webb to experiment with its new Nitro Cold Brew.
“He’s creating mocktails using our Sexy Black Nitro Cold Brew, which is a 100% craft coffee that is slowly brewed for 24 hours then infused with nitrogen for a pure and silky smooth mouthfeel,” he says.
“It’s 100% natural, vegan, sugar free and zero calories and fat and it’s a fantastic coffee mixer for making perfect mocktails and experimenting with new flavours with minimum hassle.”
While the growth in non-alcoholic cocktails is in its infancy current trends in healthy eating and wellness look sure to revolutionise the category.
New ingredients and innovation, driven by the demands of consumers, look set to be major low and no-trends for the future.