'Sober-Curious' Consumers Are Shifting the Alcoholic Beverage Landscape

The no- and low-alcohol segment sees innovation as Americans explore the wellness benefits of moderation.
beverage consumers

CHICAGO — Consumers are re-evaluating their relationship with alcohol and revisiting how it fits in with other aspects of their lives with a moderated mindset, according to new research from NielsenIQ. The resulting habit shifts are likely to have an impact on forecasts for the alcohol category.

A January 2021 NielsenIQ omnibus survey found that 22 percent of consumers said they were cutting back on consuming alcohol and drinking less. Health and wellness, lack of opportunity and shifting interest were the core reasons noted in top consumer responses.

This indicates that the sober-curious movement goes beyond a short-term interest in the "Dry January" challenge that some use as a reset at the start of a new year. This is further supported by the fact that consumers who buy no- and low-alcohol beverages are also buying standard alcoholic beverages. A NielsenIQ survey from October 2021 found that 78 percent of non-alcoholic beer, wine or spirits buyers are still purchasing alcoholic beer, wine, or spirits. Moderation may be the key to their mindset as consumers explore elements of an alcohol-free lifestyle without committing to fully abstaining.

Long-term market movements will also be shaped by rising interest in health and wellness, which is also likely to drive continuous growth of the no- and low-alcoholic beverage sector. Dry January and the more recent Sober October offer strategic marketing opportunities, as they are prompting consumers to be more intentional and predictable about when they avoid alcohol and seek alternatives.

Additionally, operators should take note of how the landscape is being shifted by the "wellness warrior" consumers who prioritize their well-being. NielsenIQ predicts that no- and low-alcohol beverages may follow a similar trajectory to that of plant-based meat alternatives, which found success in recent years by leaning into socially native formats and boundary-pushing campaigns.

No- and low-alcohol beverages are expected to be one of the biggest trends of 2022 despite representing a small portion of overall sales. They remain a focus area for suppliers exploring ways to succeed in the space. More brands are likely to innovate to enter this niche segment, but it remains key that they deliver on taste, quality and experience to stay competitive.

NielsenIQ BASES observed 15 times the number of non-alcohol launches tested in 2021 compared to 2020. It advises companies to keep an eye on innovative moves within sparkling water, coffee, energy drinks and functional beverages, which will likely appeal to health-minded consumers looking to try something new. NielsenIQ stressed that suppliers need to act with urgency and accuracy to create products that meet the evolving needs of sober-curious consumers.