Growth in non-alcoholic drinks is soaring as consumers seek alternatives that look, smell and taste like the real deal.
- The non-alcohol sector is growing rapidly, but still accounts for less than 1 per cent of the market
- Growth has been driven by health and moderation-conscious consumers
- Industry experts say the quality and flavour of non-alcoholic drinks has increased considerably
Traditionally non-alcoholic beverages are a niche product — they make up less than 1 per cent of the market.
And beverages that loved your liver often left the taste buds wanting.
But this is changing fast, according to Malcolm Eadie, the Brand Director of international drinks company Lion.
In the past 12 months, the market share of non-alcoholic beer grew by 101 per cent.
“Growth in the last couple of years has been exceptional,” he said.
“It’s about being able to give consumers products that meet their needs today and this … will continue to grow over the short, medium and long term.”
The industry is keen to jump on the bandwagon.
This year Lion imported a $6 million dollar zero-alcohol plant from Germany and in September released the James Squire ‘Zero’ beer.
Mr Eadie said initial consumer sentiment towards the new product had been positive.
“I think people are loving the fact that… the taste is there,” he said.
More than beer-able
But non-alcohol beers aren’t new, so why all the fuss?
What’s different, according to Owen Johnston, the Head of Sales and Marketing at Hop Products Australia, is quality.
“That’s one of the most important changes in the recent evolution of non-alcohol beers — they are … much closer to the understanding of what beer should be,” he said.
He says previous products were too sweet and too simple; more of a malt drink than a fair dinkum beer, partly because they often lacked hops.
“For me, they were … out of balance, they were missing some of those pillars that make beer, beer.”
With consumers voting with their feet, and their taste buds, he says you can expect to see a more diverse range of higher quality products.
“Brewers will seek to differentiate their product through unique flavours … just like in the alcohol space.”
Getting into the spirit of things
Ruby Daly runs Hellfire Bluff Distillery in southern Tasmania and has just released her first non-alcoholic offering, Inspirit.
“It’s basically a gin alternative for people who are choosing not to drink,” Ms Daly said.
“We have a lot of people come and visit our brand and for many different reasons they can’t drink, so I wanted to make sure … that they’re included in our range.”
The product hit the shelves four months ago and Ms Daly says sales are soaring, particularly in the Sydney market.
But the product is not without its challenges.
Dr Hazel MacTavish West is a food technologist who helped develop the recipe for Inspirit.
She says unlike other spirits it has a shelf life, so contains preservatives and allergens. And making the main ingredient – water – react with botanicals the same way gin does is complicated.
“It’s actually a lot more difficult than you would think,” she said.
“Alcohol extracts different things from the plant material than if you just soak them in water, so that’s the biggest challenge.”
This is grape!
Of all non-alcoholic beverages, drinks writer Max Allen believes wine is the hardest to remove alcohol from while achieving the same result.
“Wine has been the one that has been very, very difficult to achieve products that are as good as their alcoholic counterparts, but that is really beginning to happen now and you’re beginning to see growth in all categories,” Mr Allen said.
Like many people, Mr Allen was sceptical about the early non-alcoholic wines because he didn’t get the same drinking satisfaction, but the development of the category has changed his mind.
“I think people are taking a lot more time and effort and spending more money and trying new techniques because … the market is growing at such a rate.”
Between 2015 and 2020 the global non- and low-alcohol wine category grew by 25 per cent, and the growth rate forecast for the next five years by drink market analysts IWSR was 15 per cent per year on average, compared to less than one per cent per year for total wine volume.
But non-alcohol wines still only account for less than half of one per cent of total wine consumption.
Australian company Edenvale Wine began producing non-alcohol wine in 2006 and in that time founder Michael Bright has seen the category evolve dramatically.
“I think the technology has come ahead in leaps and bounds now, in Australia we’re producing some really good quality non-alcoholic wines,” Mr Bright said.
When the company started out they were de-alcoholising the wine at temperatures up in the high 60 degrees Celsius.
“Obviously the heat has a real impact on the varietal characteristics but now we’ve got temperatures down into the low 30s and this allows us to do a much greater diversity of wines.”
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