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Why the non-alcoholic drinks market is finally taking off

·5-min read

Participating in “Sober October” for the first time? You’re not alone.

Do a quick web search for the month-long dry challenge and you’ll get thousands of results including strategies on staying sober, non-alcoholic drink recipes, and an ever-growing selection of booze-free beers, wines, and spirits.

It’s a big change from just a few years ago and it may have something to do with the boozy burnout that came with quarantining during COVID last year and a re-evaluation of many people’s relationships to alcohol. These factors combined to create the perfect opportunity for non-alcoholic drinks to take up a larger piece of the beverage market.

According to data gathered by Tastewise (a food and beverage data analysis group) and shared with Yahoo Finance, web searches for non-alcoholic beverages are up 47% from the same period last year after hitting an all-time low in April 2020. Tastewise also reported that restaurant and bar mentions of non-alcoholic beverages are up 52% from last year.

In May, marketing research company Fior Markets estimated that the global non-alcoholic beverages market is expected to grow from $923 million in 2020 to more than $1.7 trillion by 2028, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 8.19%.

Tastewise also found that searches for non-alcoholic wines increased 333% in January 2021 compared to January 2020. In August, Fact.MR published a study that said by 2031 non-alcoholic wines could be a $4.5 billion industry globally.

There are more non-alcoholic drink beverage options than ever before, too. Besides beer and wine, consumers are buying up dry spirits, botanicals, and premixed mocktails.

A glass containing a mocktail drink next to a bottle of San Pellegrino.
Orange on Orange, a mocktail drink, in a glass on white seamless shot on June 7th, 2016 in Washington DC. (Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

This booming market is a far cry from just a few short years ago, one industry expert told Yahoo Finance. Reynald Vito Grattagliano — founder of Arkay non-alcoholic beverages, a line that includes alcohol-free vodka, gin, tequila, and bourbon, and the American Alcohol Free Spirit Association — said the booze-free industry was so small in 2016, there were very few dry options on the market.

“At the time there were only two players or competitors: Arkay, which began in 2011 founded by myself, and Seedlip in 2015, funded by Diageo, which is the owner of Johnny Walker,” Grattagliano told Yahoo Finance.

He now describes the non-alcoholic market as explosive.

'We saw an opportunity to breathe new life' into booze-free drinks

While non-alcoholic beer has been available for years, some of the industry’s biggest players are revamping their approach to the sudsy drinks.

Heineken was ahead of the curve in 2017 when it launched its non-alcoholic beer, 0.0, in Europe. The company reportedly spent 15 years developing the product. The alcohol-free beer finally made its way to the U.S. in 2019.

“While non-alcoholic beer has been on the market for decades, we saw an opportunity to breathe new life into the otherwise stagnant category,” Borja Manso Salinas, Heineken USA’s marketing vice president, told Yahoo Finance. “We put our master brewers to work at creating a truly great-tasting, alcohol-free beverage that would be welcome in the same social situations as the rest of our alcoholic portfolio.”

Their efforts paid off. Heineken’s 0.0 boozeless beer held almost 21% of the market sales for a 16-week period ending on July 31, 2021, Salinas said.

A bartender stands behind four alcohol-free bottles lined up.
The Virgin Mary bar, the first alcohol-free bar to open in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images)

'Living without alcohol' amid COVID-19

It’s not just a trend for younger generations, though. Just ask Holly Sprague and Megan Barnes Zesati. In January, the two longtime friends created Dry Together, a community specifically for midlife moms looking to get away from the drinking culture created by what Sprague calls “zoom quarantini happy hours” and being inundated with alcohol-related memes.

“We recently realized we were both living alcohol-free in our 40s and, when the ‘mommy needs wine to survive COVID’ memes proliferated, we were comforted by sharing our experiences of living without alcohol as mothers in midlife during the pandemic,” Sprague told Yahoo Finance. “The Dry Together community was born out of these conversations.”

Sprague said they figured the group would hang around for January and then dissipate as resolutions came to an end. But as the calendar changed over to February, members seemed to hang around.

“We assumed that mothers would complete the dry month challenge and then return to their lives, but we were surprised and delighted by how many mothers said they wanted to do another month at the end of January. And then another and then another,” Sprague said.

With another January right around the corner, interest continues to grow, Sprague said, and she and Zesati are continuing to change the stigma around sober lifestyles and provide support to moms around the world.

As this month’s dry challenge kicked off, Sprague said the group had about 30 paid subscription members and around 1200 Instagram followers. Dry Together not only offers Zoom meetups to talk about how to live a dry month (or life), participate in virtual book clubs and pilates classes, and chat with peers in forums.

In addition to alcohol-free spirits and wines, Sprague said Dry Together members enjoy drinks with herbal supplements like adaptogens and nootropics that aid the body in managing stress and improving cognitive function.

“Dry Together is working to slowly create a more inclusive world where it is just as normal to not drink as it is to drink,” Sprague said. “We don’t need a doctor to tell us that drinking is bad for us at this age. We need better solutions to the issues that make us want to drink and more support in our choices not to drink.”

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