Imbibe live logo in white
1–2 July 2024
Olympia London

Serving alcohol-free for the first time is worth over £400m

The low and no sector is a noisy space. Full of amazing and energetic entrepreneurs, it punches well above its weight in the hospitality news. You may feel that you have read enough and we have reached saturation point. But this is a whole new category of drinks, and it is only getting started. It is a mere toddler compared with alcohol, and we still have a lot to learn about consumer appetites.

I sometimes have to remind myself that when we started Club Soda 8 years ago, there was only really one alcohol-free beer on the market, and now we could fill our Tasting Room in Covent Garden five times over. 

Consumers are thirsty for choice. So here are some fantastic facts that I use often:

  • 7 in 10 alcohol-free drinkers are doing so to reduce their alcohol consumption
  • Over a third of alcohol-free drinkers pick an alcohol-free drink because they enjoy the taste of an alcoholic drink without getting drunk.
  • Nearly 20% prefer the taste of alcohol-free drinks, and 15% choose these drinks because they avoid sugar in soft drinks.
  • And 67% of the population want to see alcohol-free drinks more widely promoted as alternatives to alcohol. (Drinks for Everyone, Club Soda)
  • 1 in 3 visits to the pub and 1 in 4 in the dining sector are alcohol-free, and restaurants lose £800m not upgrading diners from tap water to an alcohol-free drink (ht: Kam Media)
  • A better range of Low and No can drive an INCREASE in visit frequency, dwell time, incremental spending and loyalty across all customer types. (ht: Kam Media)

In short, when not drinking, consumers like and often prefer the taste of alcohol-free drinks and see them as a better alternative to a sugary soft drink, but they clearly still don't get much of a choice. They are not even offered an upgrade to free tap water.

So what do we need to do to get more choices for consumers and provide an equality of experience for everyone in our hospitality venues?

We have a 'barriers' register at Club Soda, where we identify social, industry, institutional and policy barriers to the broader adoption of alcohol-free drinks. Here are easy areas of change where the hospitality sector has the potential to help itself. 

Wholesalers are the gatekeepers of choice

We get back the same story when we discuss this problem with venues, caterers and retailers. "Our wholesaler does not stock the brands we want", "We don't know what is good", or "There is not a range available that suits us" - as a result, many venues melt into a puddle of indecision.

A great example is the supply chain that serves the food service sector. We have been working with law firms across London that have been looking to mix up their client hospitality and staff Friday drinks for the past four years. A number of levers have sparked the change, all similar reports to that from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) covered in the news a few weeks ago. They suggested that a third of managers have seen harassment or inappropriate behaviour at parties and that boozy work-funded parties needed to reign in a little. They also want to ensure that their hospitality includes everyone and has choices for pregnant staff, those on a fitness challenge, and anyone who does not drink.

There are few big wholesalers in this space, but their range and options are limited, and the catering contractors on site understandably don't want to order from another supplier. So they are stuck until companies can change their contract criteria at the next tender. We can offer them a simple additional solution through our partner Wise Bartrader, but there seems to be a stalemate.  Wholesalers need to meet the demand and provide a broader range or alcohol-free products. We can help you with educating your customers!

Reviewing outdated practices

From the three-course meal and half a bottle of wine package at hotels to a jug of warm concentrated orange juice being a standard AF served for events, the hospitality sector is littered with common practices that have not been reviewed for decades. Is it acceptable for people to hunt for their drinks whilst alcohol drinkers get silver service? Is water an alcohol-free option? Should those not drinking have to go and buy their own drink? 

A short review of your ordering forms, event catering and sale or return SKUs could generate a far better reception for your event and give confidence to your clients that you have thought about all of their guests. This is not additional spend it is part of your overall drinks budget. A good alcohol-free option will be drunk by a third of guests for most or all of the event. 

A lunchtime drinks menu?

Venues often have a different food menu for lunch or at the start of the week to encourage customers and manage staffing. So why don't we do the same for drinks?

People are less likely to drink alcohol with their weekday lunch, and the most common practice of moderators is to take Sunday - Thursday off drinking. So upping your alcohol-free menu for those occasions, offering AF meal deals and highlighting your low and no offer is one way to tempt people to sit down for a team meeting in your space. Vagabond Wines has told us that expanding its alcohol-free range has increased group bookings. 

Some of that £800m sitting in customers’ wallets from not upgrading diners from tap water to an alcohol-free drink coil be yours!

Is alcohol-free worth the effort? 

Kam Media estimate the prize of converting the current awareness of alcohol-free into a first sale is worth over £400m.

At Club Soda, we appreciate this takes work. It is a new category, still small compared to alcohol and another thing that needs doing on a long list of tasks. But this is not a fad; this focus on wellness is not going away. Picking an alcohol-free option is no longer a binary behaviour based around an invisible line between those who can and cannot drink alcohol, Instead it repsrensts a ashift toward a more flexible, moderating and open-minded approach to drinking. It follows the patterns in vegetarian and vegan dining and the explosio of dessert shops!

Getting started now could set you up nicely for the future, and if, as a result, everyone feels welcome in your venue, then that is a win for any businesses in my book. 

Club Soda is the UK's mindful drinking specialist. Experts in alcohol and behaviour change, they also run the Club Soda Tasting Room & Bar in Covent Garden. The Tasting Rooms are a space for consumers to try and buy low and no alcohol drinks and for brands to connect with consumers and the trade.

Club Soda is a social impact B Corp Business and creates change, choice and connection through research, events, drinks expertise, corporate workshops, menu conclusion and more.

You can find Club Soda at on social @joinclubsoda and at The Club Soda Tasting Rooms, 39 Drury Lane, London, WC2B 5RR

Enjoyed this article? Join Laura Willoughby at Imbibe Live 2023 for her session in The Cocktail Lounge on ‘Winning over experts and influencers with your no and low offer’

Looking for something else?