There are many reasons people abstain from alcohol—pregnancy, medication interactions, or training for a marathon. But trendy “Sober October” and “Dry January” have evolved for many to an all-the-time lifestyle, being called the “sober-curious movement,” and Gen Z. is largely leading it. We take a look at how this movement is driving the explosion of non-alcoholic beverages in dry bars, booze-free spirits, mocktails, and more.
Why Gen Z Is Choosing Not to Drink
With alcohol forming the foundation of so many social events, even work functions, it’s sometimes difficult for older generations, including some older millennials, to understand the shift. But the reasons stem from the lived experience of a generation born into war, who have already survived a great recession and a pandemic. They are, as the BBC explains, “clued in and risk-averse.” This generation is far more conscious of their health, more interested in natural and homeopathic remedies to stay healthy, and far more attuned to their mental health than previous generations. Alcohol, for many of them, simply isn’t a good fit.
While American consumption of alcohol peaked in the mid-70s with 71% of Gallup survey respondents reporting that they imbibed, the numbers are declining—to the lowest rates since the 1940s. And younger generations are driving those numbers.
A Science News study from 2020 reported that “Between 2002 and 2018, the number of adults aged 18-22 in the U.S. who abstained from alcohol increased from 20% to 28% for college students and from about 24% to 30% for people not in school, say researchers at the University of Michigan and Texas State University. And alcohol abuse among both groups decreased by roughly half.”
Europe Is Following Suit
Americans aren’t alone – Michael Segalov writes in The Guardian that between 2002 and 2019, the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds in England who reported monthly drinking fell from 67% to 41%.
European Gen Z and young millennials are also drinking less. In a YPulse survey, 30% of young Americans 21+ and 23% of young Europeans report that they never drink. These same down trends are evident across other risky behaviors, including unprotected sex, driving, and crime.
Gen Z Still Wants to Have Fun
Just because they aren’t drinking and especially not binge drinking doesn’t mean that this generation doesn’t want to have rich social experiences in which drinks play a role. They just want those drinks to be alcohol-free. And they don’t just want “virgin” versions of existing cocktails, but drinks created without reliance on alcohol as an ingredient. This has resulted in the projected growth of low- and no-alcohol beverage sales by 31 percent in 2024.
Brands Are Mixing Success
The sober-curious trend is offering brands, bars, and restaurants a huge opportunity to cater to a generation that is growing in wealth and influence. While it represents a significant shift for the bar and restaurant industry, adding unique and interesting non-alcoholic options to the menu can attract an entirely new demographic to the establishment. Here are some brands worth noting:
The founder of Seedlip, Ben Branson, was fascinated with the recipes he discovered from a 1600s physician John French, who authored the book, The Art of Distillation. In it, French described non-alcoholic remedies. Fast forward a few centuries, and the sentiment is resonating with a new generation seeking healthy options and abstaining from alcohol.
Seedlip zero-proof cocktails was born from an experience Branson had ordering a non-alcoholic cocktail from an upscale London restaurant that was “a pink, sugary drink that neither paired with the meal, nor the atmosphere.”
Little Saints founder, Megan Klein, was in the plant-based wellness space for nearly a decade. But she had an a-ha moment when she realized there was an opportunity in the vegan non-alcoholic drinks space. Her products contain smell compounds and CBD to give people an experience of relaxation and uplift.
She shares her perspective on why the sober-curious movement is picking up steam. “What’s driving it is the anxiety economy. The anxiety economy was already there, pre-pandemic. We were all using our meditation apps; we were using squeeze balls. And we were trying different ways to address our anxiety. But it wasn’t until the pandemic that our drinking habits really became clear. You know, everyone knew that they were drinking too much, but I don’t think that everyone made the connection between, ‘Oh, I am drinking too much, and that is actually causing me more anxiety.’” Read her full interview at Marketplace.
Positive Damage is a company on a mission to make the sober-curious sober with purpose. The company offers training, menu consultations, and low- and no-alcohol events. Founded by Derek Brown, Positive Damage merges “mindful drinking, wellness, and no- and low-alcohol drinks to create programs, classes, and events for companies and consumers alike.” Their mission is to create a “culture of mindful drinking and make room for everyone at the bar with delicious no- and low-alcohol drinks.”
Boisson offers non-alcoholic options with a dedicated hashtag, #sophisticatedsips. Their mission is to “bring a world of amazing nonalcoholic products to you in a welcoming judgment-free zone that sparks curiosity.” With showrooms in New York City and a recent round of funding that ensures growth, they are helping to fuel acceptance for the sober-curious.
This trend is best explained in a Washington Post article by Jason Wilson, who was speaking with Derek Brown at The Columbia Room in pursuit of a deeper understanding of the movement. Brown explained, “There’s beautiful traditional spirits throughout the world. I would be horrified if they didn’t exist anymore. Alcohol can be a cultural expression. I don’t want that to go away. I think what needs to go away is problem drinking, not drinks.”
Opportunities for Retailers
The rising trend of zero-proof cocktails presents a promising opportunity for the retail industry. With more people opting for alcohol-free beverages, retailers can cater to this growing demand by offering a diverse range of non-alcoholic drinks that are just as flavorful and exciting as their alcoholic counterparts. By stocking up on high-quality ingredients and collaborating with local mixologists to develop unique zero-proof cocktail recipes, retailers can provide a differentiated and enticing shopping experience for consumers.
With the right marketing strategy, retailers can capitalize on this trend and boost their sales while also promoting responsible drinking. As the demand for healthier and more conscious drinking options continues to grow, the future looks bright for the zero-proof cocktail market in retail.