By David Saer, Portman Group Policy and Communications Manager
Combining work and fun this weekend, I headed to the Club Soda Mindful Drinking Festival 2020 as I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try some of the best low and no alcohol options currently available on the market.
I was particularly impressed with the range and dynamism that comes from the entrepreneurialism of a vibrant craft sector, as well as more established brands such as Heineken and Becks. Over 60 low and no alcohol drinks exhibited at the festival covered all sections of the market, from beers and ciders to wines, spirits and lower-sugar sodas, tonics and infusions.
The quality and taste of these excellent products was exciting and the sector feels on the cusp of being a mainstream choice – something backed up by our latest survey with YouGov which showed that nearly a quarter (23%) of alcohol drinkers already had or were likely to consider switching some of their drinking to lower alcoholic options in the next six months.
Club Soda is a movement with over 50,000 members. It promotes ‘Mindful Drinking’, a deliberately broad term to encompass all those who choose to change their relationship with alcohol, whether to stop drinking altogether, or to cut down for January or longer. A key part of this is promoting the availability of low and no alcoholic alternatives. As Club Soda co-Founder Dru Jaeger put it, people who still want a drink in a pub or at home should be aware that “there is always a better option than a children’s soft drink”.
Club Soda co-founders Dru Jaeger and Laura Willoughby on stage discussing mindful drinking
Confusing terminology – descriptors
Producers told me that they had seen exponential growth in both interest and sales, with a broader range of low and no products becoming common in supermarkets, bars and pubs across the UK. However, many also voiced their concern that the market in the UK is currently being held back by widespread consumer confusion over the different use of terms such as ‘alcohol free’ between from UK producers and those imported from Europe and further afield.
Two years ago we were disappointed that the Government didn’t take the opportunity to create clarity when reviewing descriptors for low and no products. We at the Portman Group continue to press the UK Government to update the current system of product descriptors to give consumers clarity and consistency for the products they are purchasing.
This includes raising the ‘alcohol free’ threshold from 0.05% ABV to 0.5% ABV to bring the UK in line with other European countries and introducing a minimum strength of above 0.5% ABV to the category of ‘low alcohol’, to go up to and include 1.2% ABV.