No and Low: BWS producers are embracing the concept of moderation

Ben Branson, the brains behind alcohol-free spirit Seedlip, has a clear vision of where the no- alcohol market is going.

He sees further growth ahead and big opportunities in sectors such as wine and kombucha, but he stresses the need for clarity and education, alongside better merchandising and space, and he sees a need for specialised no-alcohol buyers over the next 18 months.

He says: “The next five years are going to be fascinating; I hope we will see it moving in the same way the free-from sector did: more space and better visibility that puts the customer first.”

Branson sees “big opportunities” in wine, which he says is roughly where non-alcoholic beer was five years ago. If producers can tap into kombucha before it becomes more closely aligned with beer or “healthy” soft drinks, then, Branson says, “there is something interesting in tea as an opportunity in wine”.

Seedlip, which pioneered the emerging alcohol-free spirits sector, has this month been joined by sister aperitif brand Aecorn, launched in three non-alcoholic variants made from grapes and blended with herbs, roots and bitter botanicals.

Other sectors of no-alcohol are also reporting strong growth. Heineken 0.0 has added 221,000 shoppers to the category, according to Nielsen data, and the producer’s category and shopper marketing director, Toby Lancaster, says: “Heineken 0.0 responds directly to those who wish to moderate their alcohol intake but still enjoy a great tasting beer. “

Looking ahead, Lancaster says a key focus for the company this year will be the introduction of Birra Moretti Zero, which hits shelves this month.

He also stresses the need to focus on education in this sector. He says: “Naturally the growth of the no/low category also means we need to place a greater focus on educating retailers about how they can merchandise a new or growing no/low range within their stores. Tactics such as introducing zero zones are key to meeting customer demand and growing the category as a whole. “

These zero zones should be supported with product displays that take advantage of seasonal occasions such as Christmas for designated drivers, Dry January for those drinking less and for refreshment across summer and barbecue season, he says.

“With alcohol-free options creating new drinking occasions for shoppers, such as on lunchbreaks, retailers also have the opportunity to merchandise single alcohol-free cans, such as Heineken 0.0 in lunchtime deals as alternatives to soft drinks,” he adds. In doing so retailers can unlock a new revenue stream by meeting the increased growth and demand for healthier options as well as expanding beer and cider into new occasions and making their fixtures a more exciting place to shop.”

Heineken puts no, low and gluten-free beer and cider together in one category, which it says grew 22% in the year to December 1, 2018 (Nielsen).

MARKET SEPARATION

Consumers are increasingly opting to reduce their alcohol intake, but as Seedlip’s Branson points out, this is a different choice from those opting to avoid alcohol altogether. He says: “I think we will see no and low-alcohol separate. Moderation has driven both aspects to date but I would expect there to be some segmentation given they are actually two quite different shopper missions – alcohol or no-alcohol being the primary decision, rather than no or low.”

Branson also questions what constitutes “low”. “Is vermouth low?” he asks. “Lower is one thing but it needs a point of reference. Our Nolo bar concept defines a low-alcohol cocktail as 5% but a Negroni is 24% by comparison. I think there is a lot of work required helping consumers easily understand, but it is a wide- open space.”

In beer there is still a debate surrounding the merchandising of no and low-alcohol, but on the whole producers feel lower-alcohol options sit best alongside their alcoholic counterparts.

Fergus Fitzgerald, master brewer at Adnams, says: “Ghost Ship 0.5% is our bestseller in no/low, and it was only launched last year. It is our best selling beer in our online shop. We have added extra capacity to keep up with sales.

“I think customers who want no/low- alcohol beers, wines or spirits want something equivalent to the alcoholic versions, not just in the product but also in how it is sold and marketed. So it shouldn’t be sold as a compromise purchase. As such I think the low alcohol versions should be sold next to the alcohol versions.”

For the year ahead Adnams plans to focus on securing more listings for Ghost Ship 0.5%. Fitzgerald says: “As we had reached capacity last year we had to slow down listings, but now that we have added that capacity we can push on.”

Like Heineken’s Lancaster, others recommend the use of occasion-led merchandising tactics.

Jo Taylorson, marketing controller at Kingsland Drinks, says: “I see a couple of options. Retailers could brand the no/low bay as occasion-led – ‘great mid-week drinks’, ‘healthier choices’ (a tough message in alcohol, I appreciate) etc – so it’s no longer seen as lower quality and more of a lifestyle choice. Or retailers could merchandise within the wine fixture but with strong activation and communication surrounding the abv level, including in-store testing to really get the quality message across.”

Kingsland says it is seeing “very good success” with its British wine Willow & Stone, which includes an 8.5% abv sparkler and a 10% abv still.

And Broadland Wineries reports it has recently secured listings for its Three Mills British-made range of 7.5% abv wines, which it says is now the bestselling Broadland-branded wine.

Liz Cobbold, marketing director, says: “For the year ahead we are researching and developing low and no alternatives. Broadland has created the Live Kindly Drinks Company for some of this development and more will come under the existing Broadland Wineries range as well.”

Meanwhile, the rise of no/low is also stimulating innovation in the tonics and mixers category, with producers investing in NPD to pair drinks with low-alcohol offerings.

Franklin & Sons has a new dual-flavoured tonic water range, which it says has been specifically created to mix well with a variety of lower-abv cocktails. The tonics include bold flavours such as black olive, hibiscus and rosemary to enhance lower-abv serves.

Jen Draper, marketing director at Global Brands, says: “Vermouth and tonic is a perfect example of this. Vermouth is traditionally considered moderately low-proof with an abv of 15 to 18% abv, so when mixed with tonic offers the perfect lower-alcohol drink.

“Our Rosemary & Olive Tonic Water would pair seamlessly as the bitterness of the olive beautifully balances the sweeter notes typical in vermouth.”

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