The Portman Group’s fifth annual research report into UK public attitudes to low and no alcohol alternatives is an important point to pause and take stock of an historic increase in the sales over the category over this time. Since we started our report series the market has grown by over 130% from sales at £108 million in 2018/19 to one today worth £255 million. The market has matured and perhaps the category has now settled in the minds of consumers.
The results show how these products have become ingrained with UK alcohol drinkers and their moderation habits, but sound a note of caution after years of explosive growth, suggesting further steps may need to be taken to foster further growth.
The Portman Group once again partnered with the market research company YouGov, to commission an online poll of YouGov surveyed 2,381 adults across the UK online between 28 and 29 November 2022. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
The headline findings show:
Alcohol alternatives – responsibly promoted and a key part of consumer moderation techniques
Our research continues to tell a positive story of how low and no products have become part of UK consumer buying habits. Five years of polling have given us a substantial data set to reflect and build conclusions. It shows how these products are by and large bought by current alcohol drinkers, as a key tool for moderation and responsible drinking.
Each year of polling has shown that low and no alcohol consumers across all age groups highly value these products for enabling them to drive home safely from social events (helping to tackle the scourge of drink driving), as well as from drinking excessively (enabling consumers to moderate).
It is leading to a significant proportion of alcohol drinkers to have cut back their weekly alcohol consumption since first trying a low and no alcohol alternative.
These findings are echoed in recent research published by the independent charity Drinkaware which found that “the use of alcohol-free/low alcohol drinks as a ‘moderation technique’ (things people do to moderate their drinking) of reducing by drinkers is increasing” . It also found that “Some risky drinkers use alcohol-free/low alcohol as a tool to decrease their overall alcohol intake, particularly once they have decided that they are drinking too much alcohol.”
Whilst concerns have been raised surrounding the promotion of low and no alternatives which share branding with an alcoholic product above 1.2% ABV, our polling highlights the significant importance of these products as a key entry point to the category. Furthermore, the promotion of the products remains targeted at adult consumers, with measures also voluntarily in place across hospitality and retailers to prevent any sales to those under 18.
Low and no growth should not be taken for granted
After years of significant and rapid growth, our polling may indicate that consumer uptake of alcohol alternatives could be plateauing.
We recognise that our polling may be an outlier, as sales have been predicted to continue to boom in the UK. Consumer research agency IWSR has predicted 7% annual volume growth of low and no alcohol in the UK from 2022 to 2026. We do intend to repeat our polling later in 2023 to chart the latest development of the low and no trend.
However, our polling could suggest that neither the industry nor the Government should take continued growth for granted. We would urge greater awareness and availability of alcohol alternatives, especially in hospitality settings, would help ensure continued growth in the sector.
Another key step would be for the UK Government to launch the long-awaited consultation on low alcohol descriptors this year. The consultation would seek views on updating the terminology around the various ways in which products below 1.2%ABV are marketed – a key source of confusion for UK consumers. The consultation is also a chance for the UK to be brought in line with our Western European neighbours and deem products 0.5% ABV and below as ‘alcohol-free’. This would also be in line with the UK Licensing Act, which deems products 0.5%ABV and below to be non-alcoholic.
The Portman Group will continue to work with all of the sector – from producers, retailers, publicans and consumer groups – to help build connections and to provide consumers with greater awareness of low and no.
Finally, curious to know the profile of the typical low and no drinker?
 The Times: No alcohol? No problem, as sales boom in UK, January 2023