Lightweight lager? Europeans embrace the non-alcoholic beer boom

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 25th February 2015
Lightweight lager? Europeans embrace the non-alcoholic beer boom
Lightweight lager? Europeans embrace the non-alcoholic beer boom

A love of a cold pint of beer unites nationalities throughout the globe, however European consumers are gaining a thirst for the non-alcoholic (NAB) variety, according to market research organisation Mintel.

Mintel found that among six key European consumer markets, it was Spain that had the biggest thirst to quench for NAB. In 2013, three-fifths (60 per cent) of Spanish beer-buyers purchased non-alcoholic beer, rising to 69 per cent of consumers aged 45-54.

Demand strong in other parts of Europe

Non-alcoholic beer is also in demand in other European countries. Mintel found that while German consumers had forecast to purchase 5.9 billion litres of all types of beer in 2014, half (47 per cent) of consumers purchased non-alcoholic beer in 2013. Indeed, in Germany in 2013, non-alcoholic beer accounted for almost one in five (19 per cent) beer launches, comparing to only one in 10 launches (11 per cent) in 2012.

Furthermore, the demand was strong throughout Europe as one in three (29 per cent) Italian, a quarter (26 per cent) of Polish and 18 per cent of French consumers bought NAB in 2013. In addition, despite having the notorious ‘lager lout’ status, one in seven (14 per cent) British beer buyers purchased non-alcoholic beer in 2013, rising to a quarter (26 per cent) of 18-34 year-olds.

Non-alcoholic beer demand presents opportunity for brewers

However, despite the strong consumer demand for non-alcoholic beer, Mintel found that these launches accounted for just 3 per cent of all global beer launch activity in 2014, less than the 4 per cent in 2011 and significantly less than the 10 per cent in 1999. In the UK, 2014 saw only 4 per cent of new beer innovations which were non-alcoholic.

“Non alcoholic beer has huge long-term sales potential, both in Muslim-dominated regions and health-conscious but beer-loving Western markets,” said Jonny Forsyth, Global Drinks Analyst at Mintel. “This is an area of innovation which all major brewers should be focusing on – as consumers want reassurance of product quality, something trusted brands can provide,” he said.

Mr Forsyth said the greatest influence on recent NAB sales was their improved taste.

“Whilst NABs were pushed heavily in the late-1990s and early 2000s, this failed to translate into global sales because the product was widely viewed as inferior,” Mr Forsyth said. “This meant people preferred to drink a soft drink if they were not drinking alcohol, rather than a poor imitation of beer.

“Yet, the modern varieties – especially in Germany – are much closer to the taste of full alcohol beer and make an ideal adult or premium ‘soft drink’ option,” Mr Forsyth said. “This taste improvement has largely been due to the refinement of the production process,” he said.

NABs most popular among older consumers and women

Mintel’s research showed that the popularity of non-alcoholic beer is strong amongst older consumers and women.

Nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of Spanish and 50 per cent of German female beer buyers said they had bought NAB in the past six months, compared to 57 per cent and 46 per cent of male beer buyers respectively. Additionally, 62 per cent of Spanish and 49 per cent of German beer buyers aged 55+ bought a NAB in 2013, compared to 51 per cent and 42 per cent of consumers aged 18-24 respectively.

“Analysis of NAB drinkers by age in both Spain and Germany, tells a similar and positive story for brewers attempting to reverse flat sales in Western markets,” Mr Forsyth said. “Millennial beer drinkers are less likely to drink NABs – although not hugely – with purchasing peaking among the consumers aged 35 and over, presumably as consumers become more health-conscious and less resilient to the negative effects of alcohol,” he said.

Mr Forsyth said this meant that NABs would be a “key pillar” of the strategy to target ageing Western populations with very different product needs.

“Also of interest to brewers is that Spanish and German women are slightly more likely to drink NABs, meaning it is a great way of attracting more females into the category, while still appealing to men,” Mr Forsyth said.

Low-alcoholic beers also on the rise

Mintel’s research also showed the continued uptake of low-alcoholic beers, especially beer mixes/Radlers, which tend to be fruit-flavoured beers mixed with juices at an ABV (Alcohol by Volume) of around 2-3 per cent.

“Despite the latest NAB beers imitating the focus on fruit flavoured innovation, the two are completely different products,” Mr Forsyth said. “Lower ABV beers provide a more “sessionable” option for beer drinkers who want to look after their health and stay in control. Yet, non-alcoholic beer is more akin to a soft drink, and its lack of any alcohol has traditionally been the major barrier to the vast majority of beer drinkers,” he said.

Australian non-alcoholic beer opportunities

Australian Food News reported in April 2014 that research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) had found that Australians were drinking less alcohol than at any time in the previous 15 years — a decrease that was due mainly to the continued downward trend in apparent consumption of beer. This could present an opportunity for Australian brewers.

Australian brewery Coopers said in 2014 that sales of its international premium non-alcoholic beer Holsten 0.0% had surged more than 20 per cent in the previous 12 months, and looked set to grow further as the brew became more widely available through national liquor outlets.

Holsten 0.0% is brewed by international brewer Carlsberg and distributed nationally by Coopers.

Coopers’ Marketing Manager Brewing Products, Scott Harris, said Holsten 0.0% was brewed in accordance with the German Purity Law, resulting in a “full flavoured premium quality beer”.

“However, having zero alcohol means that it can be consumed in situations where people either cannot or do not wish to drink full strength beer,” Mr Harris said.

Non-alcoholic drinks from times gone by

In Australia and New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s, non-alcoholic, non-carbonated beverage brand Claytons, which was coloured and packaged to resemble bottled whisky, was the subject of a major marketing campaign promoting it as “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”. At the time, alcohol was being targeted as a major factor in the road death toll.

The product has not been advertised on television for thirty years, but it remains widely known. The name entered into Australian and New Zealand vernacular, coming to stand or a dummy thing, or something that was obviously ineffective. For example, a common-law couple might be described as a “Claytons marriage”.