People may be less likely to take part in Dry January this year but low and no is in rude health, writes Charlie Martin.
Dry January is upon us but as the UK has entered its third lockdown during this pandemic appetite to cut down on our alcohol intake seems to have been stifled. James Watt of Brewdog has noted that their alcohol-free range isn’t flying off the shelves at the same rate as this time last year and Twitter was awash with users declaring their Dry January was over as of 8:01pm on January 4th, following the PM’s announcement. But, many would agree, that this is more of a momentary blip than a significant long-term shift in attitudes away from moderation. Whilst it appears there will not be nearly as many as the 4 million who signed up for Dry January last year, the current health of the low and no category means those that are taking part this month will never have had it better.
In 2020 there’s been an almost constant stream of new products including spirits, beer and cider (many that we’ve been very privileged to support here at FSC) as well as the move into draught in some venues in the on-trade. There’s also, over the course of this year, been the opportunity for consumers to re-evaluate and reassess their health and wellness during the course of lockdown one, two and three, which will undoubtedly further boost category growth in the long term. Latest figures from KAM Media highlight the awareness of low and no variants has surged over the last year. Previously only two in three consumers had heard of non-alcoholic beer, now that figure is three-in-four.
But as the notion and of alcohol consumption and the drinking experience out of home is expanding, simultaneously a rather more old fashioned and puritanical view of alcohol and the on-trade has also reared its head.
Hospitality has consistently taken the brunt of restrictions for other sectors in the economy to remain open in attempts to get control of the spread of coronavirus. For many of these sector specific restrictions, the reasoning from both Government and the wider scientific community has essentially been that people get drunk at the pub and are therefore less likely to adhere to social distancing and follow other measures that help to stop the spread of the virus.
Clearly we can’t reasonably claim that people don’t get drunk at the pub but the notion that this is what the majority of people do when they visit a licensed premises (or is even its primary function) for someone who’s worked in the sector and for a significant amount of time in pubs is simply wrong. In fact, recent research from KAM Media shows that one in four visits to the pub don’t involve alcohol.
Even without the low and no boom, such measures would still have indicated a clear lack of understanding of why many people consume alcohol and why they visit pubs, along with the impact it would have. As highlighted by Will Beckett in this fantastic thread, recent restrictions against the on-trade have been reminiscent of prohibition America and similarly they have a far a greater effect on working class communities.
All across the country there are fantastic community wet led pubs that have been devastated by the restrictions under the presumption that they are places that people just get drunk in. In fact, they are venues where locals go for quiet pint to read the paper, catch up with old friends; to take part in the weekly quiz; real hubs of communities. For many it is the one place where they have social interaction and it is tragic that in a year where so many have struggled with loneliness and isolation this has been taken away from them.
This is something that government and the scientific community have seemingly failed to understand: that both the pub, as along with the drinking occasion, is far more about the social bonds they create than the after effects.
The opportunity for low and no alcohol to expand the sector’s customer base and highlight this misapprehension of those in power should be grasped with both hands. If properly embraced, it will create a wider and more diverse customer base that will not only strengthen the social currency of both venues and brands, but put the industry in good stead for future generations that are increasingly health conscious and are eager for more and more options when going out. Over the past year there’s been constant talk over whether we should embrace the ‘new normal’ or push for pre-Covid normality, but the rise of low and no alcohol is a change we should all embrace and endeavour to understand the long term effects it will have across the drinks trade.
Fleet Street Communications is a sponsor of KAM Media’s Low & No Online Event and Consumer Report Low & No 2021: The Customer Perspective. Sign up to join the webinar on 19th January here.