Low and No alcohol: The Great Moderation

Have you ever been at a social occasion and, for whatever reason, not been “drinking” only to be handed a luke-warm glass of tap water, while others around you sip crisp white wine and frothy beer? With an ever growing proportion of Brits wanting to moderate their alcohol consumption, new research suggests that the exploding low and no category is being welcomed with open arms! Katie Jenkins, Marketing & Partnerships Director at KAM discusses the finding from our new report, in partnership with Lucky Saint – ‘Low & No 2022: The Customer Perspective’- which sheds light on changing drinking habits throughout the UK.

You can access the full report here.

“Whilst alcohol consumption has risen within the last three years, the report found that the majority (58 per cent) fell into the category of having an alcoholic drink at most three times a week, with 29% of the population currently drinking three days a week or more. And there is a growing ‘middle ground’ of drinker, who are increasingly ordering soft drinks, teas and coffees, or alcohol-free drinks while out.

In fact, more 1-in-2 Brits say they actively want to cut down their alcohol consumption in the next 12 months.

Better health, as well as ‘saving money’ was the largest driver behind moderation, while respondents identified taste as being the number one reason when choosing an alcohol-free option.  

Some 55% of UK drinkers consume fewer than ten units of alcohol per week, according to the new research. This is in comparison to NHS reports that 60% of adults drank up to 14 units per week in 2019. This growing ‘moderate’ group of drinkers are, however, also the most likely type of drinker to visit a pub at least once per month (78%), highlighting a major shift in consumer behaviour. Drinkers are increasingly moderating their alcohol intake but still actively taking part in traditionally alcohol-led social occasions.  

The importance of “social inclusion” 

Laura Willoughby, co-founder of mindful drinking movement Club Soda, talks of the importance of “social inclusion” for human beings. Alcohol is such a huge part of who we are and how we socialise in the UK – it’s how we celebrate, it’s how we relax, it’s built into the core of virtually every social occasion. If someone doesn’t want to “drink” then they’re often left sipping a luke-warm tap water or cola as an afterthought.

With the increasing proportion of people actively wanting to moderate their drinking, the growing number of decent-tasting alcohol alternatives mean they can still enjoy these social occasions, whether at home or in pubs and restaurants. The research shows that the stigma of choosing alcohol-free is shrinking, especially across Generation Z.

Rising alcohol-free driving occasions

The average UK drinker is now frequently moderating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, with nearly one in three pub visits (29%) and 37% of restaurant visits being completely alcohol-free. These occasions are most likely to be when dining with family, having lunch and also work meetings. The challenge for the on-trade is that 22% of these customers will default to tap water, so the growing options in quality low and no alternatives should be welcomed here with open arms. Those that don’t will miss out on vital sales and people will further shift their socialising into the home.

The report also established people’s reasons for moderating drinking. Aside from having to drive, the most popular included wanting to stay fresh for a ‘big day’ the next day (31%), if others aren’t drinking within a social group (30%) or being able to attend another activity such as organised sports (25%) afterwards.


Supermarkets are where trial and education is happening

Supermarkets were identified as the main market for the growth of alcohol-free choices from consumers in the UK, with more than twice as many consumers saying that it’s their go-to source of discovery compared to pubs, bars, or restaurants. Supermarket aisles is where consumers learn about these brands and trial products for the first time. The challenge for retailers will be to really understand these ‘alcohol-free’ occasions and the purchasing decision hierarchy which drives them, because the research suggests they differ immensely to the ‘alcohol shopper.’

Given the continued movement towards moderation, it’s no surprise that alcohol-free continues to grow in the UK, albeit from a small base. But the UK has been slow to adopt credible low and no alternatives. 

“We’re really still a laggard when it comes to catering for the increasing number of drinkers who prefer to moderate their choices. The likes of Spain, France and Germany all have at least five times the market share for low and no options compared to the UK. 

“There’s a massive opportunity to emulate the European market for Low & No. Consumers want taste and quality, but historically there’s not been a product that fits the bill.”

“In a sector that only knows people as drinkers and non-drinkers, there isn’t much understanding of how to cater to the majority of UK pub-goers currently. We need to rethink what we understand as a ‘non-drinker’ in the UK. Those who move fast to tap into this market in the UK will see huge rewards in the coming years.”

Luke Boase, founder of Lucky Saint

Alcohol consumption is definitely shifting

Some 55% of UK drinkers are looking to reduce alcohol consumption in 2022, rising as high as 65% for Gen Z. This supports separate forecasts that the UK No & Low sector is expected to be worth £450million by 2024. 

Elsewhere, major global brewers point toward a wider global shift towards a growing alcohol-free market. AB InBev aims to have no & low ABV beverages make up 1/5th of global production by 2025, while Heineken predicts 20% of total brand sales will be no & low “within a few years”. 

“The pandemic may have bought a temporary return to ‘Booze Britain’ for some but the growing trend of “Drinking in Moderation” will dominate.”

Without a doubt, our research shows that alcohol consumption habits are shifting in the UK. Despite short-term flux during the pandemic, an overwhelming proportion of Brits intend to cut down their consumption in the next 12 months. It’s no surprise then that consumer awareness of the low and no category is at an all-time high.

Consumers don’t want to miss out just because they’re not drinking alcohol

Consumers are looking for ways to drink less alcohol but don’t want to miss out on all the occasions where alcohol is normally present, going to the pub with friends, celebrating a birthday at home, enjoying a beer while watching sport, for example, and the increasing number of alcohol-free options available is being welcomed by UK drinkers. The growth in popularity of the alcohol-free category isn’t primarily driven by those who never drink alcohol, but rather the huge number of Brits who want to moderate their intake. This isn’t about a growing teetotal population but accepting that our relationship with alcohol is shifting and consumers are demanding an alternative.

We now see a modern consumer who is more aware of the risks of alcohol, where their leisure time is not so focused around drinking culture and who are in tune with their consumption, therefore more likely to take action to ensure that they are drinking at what they consider to be responsible levels. The pandemic may have bought a temporary return to ‘Booze Britain’ for some but the growing trend of “Drinking in Moderation” will dominate.”

The full report is available here for KAM “Access All Areas” members or here for everyone else.

Blake Gladman

Hi, I'm Blake, Strategy & Insight Director at KAM. I look after all our research products and manage the collection and delivery of insight throughout KAM. I love long runs and good food (the perfect life balance).