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Food trends

Majority of UK adults drink alcohol-free to substitute alcohol but soft drinks still most popular, report reveals

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
blood orange alcohol-free cocktail

Most UK adults opt for alcohol-free drinks to reduce alcohol consumption, with more than two-thirds drinking them to substitute alcohol rather than having them in addition to their existing alcohol intake, a new report shows.

The ‘Drinks for Everyone’ study, compiled by consumer behaviour researchers in collaboration with mindful drinking organisation Club Soda, analysed findings from an online survey of 2,000 UK adults compiled in February 2023.

The survey found 33% of respondents pick alcohol-free drinks to enjoy a beverage that has the same taste of alcoholic drinks without running the risk of getting drunk, while nearly a quarter choose them “to take a temporary break from drinking”.

Nearly 20% also said they chose alcohol-free drinks because they prefer the taste. In the past alcohol-free drinks have been criticised for their low quality, proving that innovation in the sector is boosting perceptions around alcohol-free drink quality and enjoyability.

While there are now over 200 companies in the UK making solely alcohol-free beverages, nearly half of respondents said they prefer to buy alcohol-free drinks from alcohol brands. This could be down to consumers being more comfortable purchasing from companies that they are already familiar with, says Club Soda.

Nearly 70% of respondents also support greater promotion of alcohol-free drinks, with women and older people the most likely to be in favour. Around 87% of respondents had a favourable view of promotion, such as Guinness and Heineken sponsoring the Six Nations rugby tournament with their alcohol-free beers.

In addition to the survey, Club Soda also ran several focus groups, through which they found some participants thought big brands sponsoring events with alcohol-free drinks could help to promote the social acceptability of not consuming alcoholic beverages.

The number of people who consume alcohol-free drinks in the UK however is still relatively low according to the survey, with almost 60% saying they never drink them.

Within this small percentage of consumers of alcohol-free drinks, it is younger adults that appear to enjoy them more than older adults – some 40% of 18-34-year-olds said they drink them at least once a week in comparison to 5% of adults aged 55 and over.

Soft drinks are still the most consumed drinks overall when analysed alongside alcoholic and alcohol-free drinks, the report shows. More than two in three people drink soft drinks at least once a week, which often have a much larger sugar content than alcohol-free alternatives. Despite some alcohol-free drinks being a healthier option, nearly half of respondents still prefer soft drinks while nearly 40% said they would rather have alcoholic drinks.

Another barrier for many UK consumers around picking alcohol-free drinks is the perception of higher prices and poor flavour. Nearly 20% said they thought alcohol-free drinks were too expensive, while one in six said they thought “they would taste worse”. Another 30% of respondents in the survey also see alcohol-free drinks as products catering for those needing to reduce their alcohol consumption, instead of as an option for all adult drinkers.

In addition to the survey, a booster poll was conducted in Scotland featuring responses from 519 individuals. The country holds greater number of weekly drinkers ­– 61% compared to 52% in the UK. Despite the high number of alcohol consumers, the country also has a greater percentage of people who are more likely to drink alcohol-free beer, wine, and spirits – with almost 30% drinking them at least weekly in comparison to 19% of adults in rest of UK.

A larger number of people in Scotland chose alcohol-free drinks due to having a lower sugar content than other alternatives such as soft drinks. Despite this, over 80% of Scots said they drank soft drinks at least once a week, which Club Soda says is likely a result of the limited availability of alcohol-free beverages.

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