Latest Portman Group survey shows UK consumers turning to low and no alcohol in droves, as drinkers seek to moderate

The low and no alcohol category has witnessed phenomenal growth over the last decade. Today the Portman Group will be co-hosting with the Department of Health and Social Care an industry roundtable to explore what potential action can be taken to further promote low and no alcohol options as a useful moderation tool for drinkers, with our latest research highlighting the extent to which these products have already been enthusiastically adopted by UK drinkers.

In its third annual survey looking at low and no alcohol alternatives, the Portman Group commissioned YouGov to gain a better understanding of how the UK public view and use these products to feed into today’s roundtable.[i]

The survey of 2,100 adults across the UK found that two-thirds (62.5%) of all UK adults had at least tried a low and no product. However, the results indicate that use is being driven by current alcohol drinkers, with over two-thirds (68%) at least trying a low an no alcohol product and a quarter (25%) are semi-regular consumers (often/sometimes) – puncturing the myth that these products are only for non-drinkers.

Low and no drinkers said that these products appeal to them because it enables them to drive home and not drink excessively at social events – reinforcing existing responsible drinking and moderation trends.

These same consumers have also expressed a desire for these products to be cheaper, to have more recognisable brand variants and greater availability in both shops and pubs, bars and restaurants.

In contrast, when asked why they have avoided trying a no and low product, non-consumers cite concerns surrounding poor taste, not wanting to drink any ‘alcohol-like’ products and thinking these products are only aimed at those who can’t drink / want to give up as barriers to them trying a low and no product.

When examining the impact of COVID-19, the survey results suggest a fifth of existing semi-regular consumers have increased their consumption of low and no alcohol. With these consumers saying they are trying to live healthier, moderate their alcohol consumption at home as well as reduce their overall alcohol consumption.

Rising sales reflect consumer enthusiasm

These results fit into a broader picture of continued growth for the category, with retail sales rising 506% between 2014 and 2020, including a 30% year-on-year increase from 2019 to 2020[ii]. Immediately prior to the first Government-imposed lockdowns in March 2020, low and no alcohol retail sales rose 32.5%, as British consumers stockpiled these products alongside other everyday essentials in anticipation of staying at home[iii].

Furthermore, whilst overall alcohol sales fell in 2020, with the widespread continued closure of UK pubs, bars and restaurants, the consumer insights firm ISWR has predicted that the low and no category will remain resilient and continue to grow a further 22% by 2024[iv].

Producers leading the way

The growth of low and no alcohol reflects the significant investment made by the industry into improving the range and quality of products on the UK market – with a broad variety of low and no options for beer, cider, wine and spirit-like products.

Recognising consumer desire to see well-known brands, alcohol producers have introduced low and no variants of Budweiser, Heineken, Peroni, Martini, Guinness, Gordon’s Gin, and Thatchers’ cider, as well as investing in new spirit-like brands such as Seedlip and Ceder’s. A healthy craft sector has also emerged, with producers entirely devoted to producing low and no alcohol products, such as Lucky Saint and Big Drop Brewing providing their beers on tap, as well as Stryyk’s ‘Not Gin’ and Hawkes 0.5% ABV ‘Designated Cider’.

Increased moderation amongst UK drinkers

The growth also reflects increasing moderation amongst drinkers. For example, average weekly alcohol unit intake in England has fallen from 13.4 units in 2011 to 12.2 units in 2019, well below the Government’s 14 unit a week guideline[v].

These moderation trends continued throughout 2020, with a Portman Group analysis of polls from March to August 2020 showing that over a quarter of UK drinkers were either actively reducing their alcohol intake or cutting it out altogether[vi]. Separate data from Kantar also highlights that the percentage of drinkers across every age group under 75 has increased from 2018.[vii]

Broader health and wellness trends look to continue well into 2021, with the latest survey from Public Health England suggesting that 8 in 10 adults have decided to modify their lifestyle in the coming year and 7 in 10 saying that they are motivated to make healthier lifestyle changes due to COVID-19[viii]. Furthermore, a record 6.5 million people are estimated to be taking part in this year’s Dry January campaign to go alcohol-free for a month, up from 3.9 million in 2020[ix].

Looking to the future

Our results suggest that the primary consumers of low and no alcohol are people who also drink alcohol. This finding is reinforced by consumer insights from Kantar which suggest that only 2.5% of low and no shoppers in the past year have not purchased alcohol, with the vast majority still also buying alcohol. Furthermore, surveys suggest that on 36% of alcohol-free beer occasions, drinkers also consume an alcoholic beverage.[x] This highlights the important role these products can play as a tool to help people moderate their consumption and drink responsibly both inside the home and out.

However, the category continues to be haunted by outdated myths concerning inferior product quality, poor taste and the misguided perception that these products are only drunk by those who cannot drink alcohol beverages and therefore not for ‘regular or average drinkers’.

Our findings also echo our previous surveys highlighting strong consumer desire for greater availability of more low and no options where-ever alcoholic beverages are sold[xi].

Greater availability, as well as greater education around the quality and benefits of the category as a whole, will help increase growth both in existing consumers and those who have yet to try and a low and no alternative. With continued consumer appetite for new products from both large and small producers, we can remain optimistic that low and no alcohol options will increasingly become part of our shopping baskets and orders in a round.

Download the research report here:

Research Report


[i] YouGov surveyed 2,100 adults from across the UK online between 14 and 15 December 2020. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.

[ii] Based on Nielsen data: Telegraph: How Britain became the world’s leading producer of low- and no-alcohol spirits, September 2020

[iii] The Grocer: Low & no alcohol booming as Brits stock up for coronavirus lockdown, April 2020

[iv] Drinks Business: Nolo drinks market to grow 34% by 2024, December 2020

[v] NHS Digital: Health Survey for England, December 2020

[vi] Portman Group: Lockdown and Beyond, Pandemic Drinking Trends, September 2020

[vii] Data kindly sourced from Kantar Alcovision (consumer) data: 12 m/e data to 30th March 2020

[viii] Public Health England: Seven in 10 adults are motivated to get healthier in 2021 due to COVID-19, January 2021

[ix] Alcohol Change UK: 6.5 million people plan to do Dry January 2021, up from 3.9 million in 2020, December 2020

[x] Kantar Purchase panel data | 52 w/e to 27th December 2020 and Kantar Alcovision data |12 m/e to 31st December 2019’

[xi] YouGov / Portman Group survey on Low Alcohol Alternatives 2020, January 2020