Cheers to sobriety: a mindful approach to drinking

15.11.19

Akino Suzuki

Research Executive, London

Categories Blog

As we fly through this year, it’s hard to believe that we’re already looking at Sober October in the rear-view mirror. A month of abstinence from alcohol is an apt amount of time to reflect on the personal health benefits of cutting out that evening glass of wine (or two), while also championing a worthy cause. In the run-up to Christmas, Dry January is next in line as we rein back our boozy tendencies once the festivities are all over…

 

While the temperance movement is a dated leftover from the past, there is a handful of events such as mocktail matching, sober raves, and mindful festivals that are part of the ever-growing alcohol-free phenomena. Times are changing and thanks to wellness trends, people are becoming increasingly cognisant about their drinking habits.

The Sons of Temperance Friendly Society, founded in 1842, can be seen near our London office

Who are the culprits for such a shift in our culture then? Is it fair to point the finger at Gen Z for driving this trend or should we look to the adults who enjoy alcohol but would prefer to move away from booze in exchange for something more mature and premium?

In a sense, this trend could be likened to the flexitarian diet where we have a portion of the population who actively choose to reduce their alcohol intake, not because they’re on the path to eliminating alcohol but would rather have it as a rare treat. It’s here that you’ll find a receptive audience that has an appreciation and understanding of the complexity that goes into the making of a fine drink, along with a philosophy that leans into moderation.

It's all about reduction rather than elimination

Health plays a significant role in the normalisation of this shift where people are mindful about what they consume and how they consume it. It taps into the more functional needs too, e.g. being the designated driver, training for a marathon, pregnancy etc. In all circumstances, many will long for a drink experience that still allows them to feel connected and part of the crowd, offering a sense of belonging that is usually accompanied with an alcoholic beverage. As more non-ABV/low ABV options appear in bars (and a few on shelves), the appeal and potential this category shows is hard to ignore as drink occasions evolve over time. Kombucha, CBD infused seltzer, and alcohol-free aperitifs are broadening the horizons of mindful drinking.

Kombucha anyone?

But the retail reality suggests that packaging in this area is still under development where visual codes lack salience. The current forms of communicating low or no alcohol are discreet and are sometimes missed entirely at shelf where a consumer, with low awareness, may buy a bottle of beer with a blue symbol and later discover that it’s alcohol-free.

 

Brands interested in this space will be responsible for nurturing the visual language and codes that are evolving, even if they’re not entirely understood. It’s a time for disruption.

In the absence of alcohol, there’s a bigger question around taste. Alcohol-free brands sometimes fail to stir the imagination of sophisticated flavours and need to consider how it will add a sense of depth and dimension to a drink’s profile.

There is a desire for a drink that has received an equal level of treatment of a craft beer or a multi-layered cocktail, and it has to be high in quality, full-bodied and able to deliver a tasty emotional reward. Especially for those with more mature palates who can appreciate the subtle hints of juniper berries or aromatic hops that are reminiscent of a drink they once enjoyed.

Floral notes of rosemary add a refined finish, no?

So what are you actually paying for if a drink has no alcohol in it? There is the expectation that alcoholic beverages are, and should be, more expensive than their non-alcoholic counterparts especially for spirits and wines, but undermining these costs can run the risk of a non-alcoholic beverage being mistaken for another premix. A host of factors need to be considered to help determine the value of buying a non-ABV/low ABV drink so that it’s not perceived as a replacement for some carbonated cucumber-infused mixer. This can encompass any of the following:

Storage of non-alcoholic beverages; will a bottle be consumed in a day or will it keep for a long time?

What accompaniments or garnishes go with it?

Are there ingredients in there that are not found in your everyday squash but not so far removed that you cannot imagine what it will taste like?

If it’s non-alcoholic, what helps differentiate it from the rest of the drinks at shelf to make it worthwhile?

While some may choose abstinence, others would rather have free rein to cut down but not cut out. It’s a movement that will continue to grow as people make more proactive decisions to enjoy a drink that serves as a tasty reward without having to compromise on one’s health. Consumers are also becoming more aware of the adverse side effects of alcohol. It’s not just brands that will have to adapt but the spaces in which alcohol lives in; pubs and restaurants alike will have to keep up with the mindful drinking movement to cater to the next generation who prefer booze-free connections.