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Post COVID-19 = driest January on record? New research shows Brits embrace low and no like never before

The impact of the pandemic, lockdowns and the tier system on Brits’ drinking habits was well documented throughout 2020. Despite widespread concerns surrounding alcohol consumption, many have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to cut down on their drinking, with people of all ages turning to low and no alcohol alternatives.

The Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, commissioned YouGov to conduct its annual polling on the rising trend of low and no alcohol and why it might just be the necessary tonic to helps Brits to continue drinking  responsibly.

The research showed that almost two-thirds of UK adults (62.5%) have tried low and no products, including over two-thirds of current UK drinkers (68%). Furthermore, a quarter (25%) of UK drinkers consider themselves to be semi-regular consumers of low and no alcohol [5], with the highest consumption taking place in Scotland (27%).

Key reasons for choosing low and no alternatives include being able to drive home and not drinking excessively at social events. Additionally, among those who say they are more likely to drink low and no products since the emergence of COVID-19, almost half (43%) say they are trying to live healthier and 41% say they are trying to moderate their alcohol consumption at home. This reinforces existing responsible drinking and moderation trends.  17.5% who are already drinking low and no said they would be further encouraged to select alternatives if they were more widely available in supermarkets and hospitality venues.

Despite dramatic media headlines pointing to rising supermarket sales of alcohol during 2020, total alcohol volumes sold actually fell by more than a third during the first lockdown [6]. Conversely, low and no sales continue to soar and the sector has witnessed a phenomenal 30% year-on-year growth from 2019 to 2020 [7], highlighting changing drinking habits in the UK and the sector’s ability to respond to this.

Portman Group research in August showed that a quarter (26%) of UK drinkers had cut their alcohol consumption compared to before the first COVID-19 lockdown, whilst a further 7% had stopped drinking altogether. Some drinkers only turn to alcohol in social situations outside of the home, at a venue, surrounded by family, friends and colleagues. It makes sense that, with the imposition of lockdown restrictions, these kinds of drinkers would slow or pause their alcohol intake. It is also valid to say that these people meet the profile of consumers who have turned to low and no alcohol over recent months.

CEO of the Portman Group, John Timothy, commented:

“Lockdowns and the tier system have given Brits pause to consider their alcohol consumption, with many drinking less than ever before. Low and no alcohol alternatives offer the perfect balance of replicating the atmosphere created by alcohol without any of the associated risks.

“4 in 5 UK adults, the moderate majority, continue to drink within the CMO’s lower risk weekly guidelines. We welcome the rise of low and no alcohol that helps people to moderate their alcohol intake while still enjoying time with family and friends.

A number of Portman Group members have been quick to react to growing demand for low and no alternatives. Heineken has launched a range of zero alcohol beer; interim managing director, Simon Amor, commented:

“In recent years we have seen a steady rise in the interest surrounding low and no alcohol alternatives within beer and cider, and demand from consumers has grown considerably. As part of our approach to responsible drinking and promoting moderation, it is important for us to be able to offer people a high-quality no or low alcohol option amongst the brands they enjoy.”

Emma Heal, Managing Director at Lucky Saint, a British alcohol-free brand, said:

“We are excited to see how the step-change in product quality on offer is driving such huge interest in the low and no category, Lucky Saint has seen explosive sales growth of 300% year on year [8]. We see Dry January 2021 as a great opportunity for people to try new low and no drinks to help them moderate their drinking and start the year in a positive way.”

  1. The Portman Group was formed in 1989. It is the alcohol industry regulator and social responsibility body. It has over 130 Code signatories from producers, retailers and membership bodies.
  2. The Portman Group is funded by thirteen member companies: Asahi UK Ltd; Aston Manor Cider; Bacardi; Brown-Forman; Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I; Carlsberg UK; Campari Group; Diageo GB; Heineken UK; Mast-JäegermeisterUK; Pernod Ricard UK, SHS Drinks and Thatchers’.
  3. YouGov surveyed 2,100 UK adults on 14 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.
  4. ‘Semi-regular’ encompasses the 8% of UK drinkers who drink low and no ‘often’ and further 17% who drink low and no ‘sometimes’.
  5. Nielsen Scantrack and the CGA suggest that the total volume of alcohol sold during lockdown (the 17 weeks to 11 July 2020) fell by over a third to 1.3bn litres, compared to 2bn sold during the same period in 2019.
  6. Nielsen Scantrack data suggests that low and no alcohol sales rose by 30% year-on-year.
  7. Lucky Saint data.
  8. YouGov conducted a survey in August 2020 on behalf of the Portman Group, looking at lockdown drinking. The statistic that 7% of drinkers had stopped drinking, is from that survey.