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Alcohol-free beverages boom

Previous liquor bans have undoubtedly boosted the market.
Image: Shutterstock

Non-alcoholic beverages – including beer, wine, and gin – have grown in popularity following the three Covid-19 booze bans over the past year.

South Africans were hesitant to switch out alcoholic beverages for non-alcoholic beverages prior to the bans – but this is now changing.

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The shift can be seen in a report from alcohol beverage data and analysis company IWSR, which found that South Africa is expected to see a double-digit rise in no/low alcohol beverages over the next few years.

Growing taste

“South Africa is expected to experience the highest compound annual growth rate (CAGR) volume rate (2020 to 2024), at approximately +16%, albeit from a low base,” according to the IWSR No- and Low-Alcohol Strategic Study 2021.

This rise is a turnaround from what was once a prevailing negative attitude to no/low alcohol beverages, especially regarding wine. The VinIntell November 2018 issue, for instance, noted that there were quality issues around non-alcohol wines, which consumers were not prepared to shrug off. “Consumers are saying had they wanted a low- or no-alcohol wine they would have bought fruit juice,” it noted.

Global shift

SA is not the only country moving to no/low alcohol beverages. The report found that this part of the global market is expected to rise by over 31% by 2024.

This trend is a sharp turnaround from flat performance for the 2019-2020 period, which only saw a 0.5% rise in the category.

Though the booze ban played a role in people moving to no/low alcohol beverages in SA, IWSR notes that ‘avoiding the effects of drinking alcohol’ was the main reason people were doing it around the world.

This move to ‘moderation’ has seen “58% of consumers shift to drinking no/low and full-strength alcohol on same occasion”.

“What we’re seeing is a moderation trend that’s sweeping across key global markets, and that’s bringing
with it increased demand for reduced alcohol, or alcohol-free drinks,” says Mark Meek, CEO of London-based IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.

Boost for local producers 

Locally, these types of beverages are finding a market. Shoprite says the sale of alcohol-free beer and other beverages increased over prohibition periods, with the market seeing a 150% increase in demand during the initial ban last year.

Flare Beverages MD Sean McIntyre says sales of its alcohol-free drinks “increased between 20% to 30%, which is substantial” for a liquor retailer that imports its beer. He says the high demand was certainly exacerbated by the bans.

Non-alcoholic drinks are not new. But sales spiked when consumers found themselves in pursuit of substitutes for their depleted alcohol supplies.

The same but not

Khuleko Siwele, a 23-year-old non-alcoholic beverage consumer, says she first opted for a Heineken 0% instead of a soft drink or juice simply because she was curious. “They actually taste very similar. I don’t want to say the ‘same’ but it’s hard to tell you are not drinking alcohol”.

Siwele says that on days when she is too late to buy alcohol with a percentage, she would go for the alcohol-free beverage as she can still have a booze taste.

While consumers can still enjoy the taste of an alcoholic beverage, what is different is that a state of sobriety is maintained – which may or may not be preferred.

A product is classified as alcohol-free when it contains less than 0.5% alcohol, according to the Liquor Products Act.

Listen: Natasha Maharaj of Distell on the expected exponential rise in global demand for no/low alcohol drinks

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The hardcore drinkers that roll their cars Friday and Saturday nights don’t drink non alcohol liquor. Pity. Neither do the papsak brigade. These drinkers are the problem.

My sister’s teenager prides himself as a consumer of these alcohol-free beers. His mother’s accompanying wide grin supports him. Any bets regarding the making of a future alcoholic here?

One’s gain is another’s loss. In this instance it is the government’s loss because taxes are much less on alcohol free products.

End of comments.

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