What does Dry January look like during a pandemic?

With more consumers remaining at home this Dry January, there is an opportunity for the no- and low-alcohol category to further cement its position in drinking repertoires, IWSR insight shows


Since its inception, the no/low-alcohol category, with its intrinsic link to the health and wellness movement, has benefitted from Dry January, a public health campaign that is most widely promoted in markets such as the UK.

“With the dramatic changes imposed on consumption occasions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, at-home consumption has increased sharply to the benefit of low- and no-alcohol beverages,” says Sophia Shaw-Brown, senior insights manager at IWSR. In the 10 focus countries included in IWSR’s 2021 Global No- and Low-Alcohol Strategic Study (Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Spain, UK and the US), consumption volumes of total beverage alcohol decreased by approximately -5% between 2019 and 2020, while growth in the low/no category remained positive, albeit muted, at +1%.

“Before the pandemic, no/low offerings, especially no- and low-spirits, resonated particularly well with the on-premise occasion. However, new IWSR research shows that across key low- and no-alcohol markets, relaxing at home represents the category’s key drinking occasion, with consumers searching for sophisticated alternatives to traditional non-alcoholic options such as soft drinks,” remarks Shaw-Brown.

As consumers face further weeks and months of low-key consumption occasions – particularly in the UK, where a new national lockdown was ordered at the start of 2021 – more will be willing to explore the no/low category further. Dry January in particular will prove to be a catalyst for low/no exploration in the UK, where the desire to reduce alcohol intake remains the driving force behind the low/no trend.

However, attitudes associated with Dry January – namely, a focus on health and wellness – are increasingly held by consumers all year round. As moderation becomes a more widely adopted and accepted behaviour, no/low beverages have gradually become normalised beverage choices, and have continued to perform well during the pandemic.

While media initially suggested that moderation had been abandoned by consumers during early lockdowns in 2020, IWSR’s research shows that the pandemic has actually increased awareness around health and wellbeing. New IWSR consumer research shows that 37% of under-40s LDA consumers across key no/low markets reported directly increasing their no/low alcohol intake as a result of changes in lifestyle due to Covid-19.

IWSR research further shows that the habits and trends around no/low built up throughout 2020 are set to continue into 2021 and beyond. Across key no/low markets, almost two thirds of no/low alcohol consumers intend to drink no/low beverages just as often or more often than they do now. Meanwhile, 73% of respondents said they would continue to monitor their alcohol intake when drinking into 2021, while 64% of consumers reported their intention to continue to discover new no/low alcohol brands.

It’s clear that across key markets, low/no has managed to shake off its stigma and become an aspirational category, with consumers willing to pay a premium. In particular, successful brands have aligned with wellness lifestyles and touted functional attributes, such as low calorie and low sugar.

Despite the closure of the on-trade – which has presented a challenge particularly for no/low spirits, where the education and advocacy of bartenders is critical to building consumer awareness – a number of new brands have launched over the past year, presenting more opportunities for consumers to explore that category.

Much innovation has stemmed from the no-alcohol spirits space, and a number of high-profile launches took place last year – among them, Gordon’s 0.0% and Warner’s Juniper Double Dry and Pink Berry expressions.

Beer remains the largest player in the category by far, with no/low beer accounting for 80% of the total no/low beverage market. Across the globe, no-alcohol categories are outperforming low-alcohol categories, particularly in beer and wine.

“With many consumers still at an early stage in their participation within the category there is significant room for experimentation with new products and brands. Dry January will only push at-home no/low-alcohol exploration further,” says Shaw-Brown.

The findings in this article are explored in greater detail in IWSR’s 2021 Global Low- and No- Alcohol Strategic Study. Click here to learn more.


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