The Office of National statistics last year revealed a fall in global alcohol consumption for the first time this century. It has been reported by the NHS that the proportion of young people choosing to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes is the lowest on record.
Meanwhile, the preoccupation with personal image continues to rise at an alarming rate. Our fixation with our appearance and our health is forcing retailers and alcohol brands to stand up and take notice. It is a shift in attitude that is fast reshaping the food and drinks brand landscape, and with it comes new challenges and opportunities that will disrupt business as usual for traditional players. In recent days we have seen Tesco roll out the largest NOLO (No and Low) alcohol section in its history – a decision that will accelerate growth and bring more visibility to the category as a whole.
The question remains how far and how fast the NOLO category will grow; will it accelerate fast enough to encroach on the territory of traditional alcoholic drinks? While one in five young adults in the UK have turned away from alcohol altogether, four in five have not. The increased preoccupation with health has not as yet created a nation of teetotalers so much as a nation of people that agree with (and actually abide by) the notion of ‘less is more’.
Across no, low and traditional alcohol brands, we see resources pouring into new product development. Many are reassessing how they frame their ranges and concentrating funds and efforts on evolving the consumer experience on and off-trade. The challenge for drinks brands looking to have a portion of the fast-growing ‘free-from’ (or ‘less-is-more’) pie will be to design products and experiences that don’t just ride the wave, but actually influence a shift in mindset and a resulting change in behaviour.
Missouri have focused on three behavioural pillars that are having the most notable impact and are boosting growth in the category, both for NOLO brands and for the alcohol brands that are succeeding at reinventing their offer. ‘Wellness’, ‘Brand Me’, and ‘The New Counterculture’, highlight how brands are adapting and, in turn, influencing new behaviours through design, from product and experience to purchase.
A study conducted by Nielsen shows that 75% of consumers agree with the statement ‘I am what I eat’, with nearly 80% of interviewees claiming to be actively using foods and drinks to prevent health issues. However, while one in five young adults are turning away from alcohol, four in five are not.
Drinks brands looking to capitalise on the growing wellness trend must also ensure they don’t alienate the conflicted consumers that make up a large portion of their audience – those that might choose to abstain from alcohol on certain occasions but are not refusing to drink altogether.
- The proportion of people in the UK who drink every week has dropped from 64% to 58% in 2005 (ONS)
- 31% of Brits have now tried alcohol free beer and18% of Londoners now drink alcohol free beer whenever they go out (ABInbev)
- 75% of Millennials limit the amount of alcohol they consume on the majority of nights out (Heineken)
A direct consequence of the time spent interacting with friends online rather than in person is that young people increasingly shape their personal identity around the feedback and the popularity of the content they share on their social media channels.
Young users of social media are extremely image aware, carefully curating content and sharing purchases that in some way enhance their personal brands on their channels.
Yet, curation is not just a matter of personal taste. A study by recruiting software company Jobvite found that 61% of recruiters are likely to reconsider a hiring decision based on the candidate’s social media profile. Building your online brand is therefore all encompassing – it is as much about building your personal profile as it is professional and the two are no longer distinct.
For alcohol brands, this will of course have repercussions. Your choice of drink, how you drink it, and where is a personal and professional decision.
Statistics (Pew Research)
- 59% of young adults admit to having deleted or edited something that they have posted in the past
- 53% of them have deleted comments from others on their profiles or account
- 45% removed their name from photos that have been tagged to identify them
The new counterculture
According to Psychologist Judith Rich Harris, important changes that occur to us during adolescence involve the development of the self-concept; where young children are most strongly attached to their parents, the important attachment of adolescents shifts from parents to peers.
In a similar way, each generation finds their voice and defines their identity by negating what preceded them. So in the same way Baby Boomers broke away from the conservatism that came before by adopting a liberal stance towards drugs, millennials are on course to break away from the recklessness of previous generations by adopting a more disciplined attitude towards health and wellbeing. They are on set to be the healthiest generation yet – ‘zero sugar’, ‘gluten-free’ and ‘low in calories’ are some of today’s most popular ‘drugs’.
- Sales of gluten-free products in the UK reached £184m in 2015, up 15% from 2013 (The Guardian)
- More than half of households choose gluten free because they believe it is part of a healthy diet (Mintel)
- In just nine months Coca Cola Zero Sugar has grown significanty and has become the fastest growing cola in UK grocery. As a result, more than 50% of Coca Cola sales in UK grocery are sugar-free (The Drum)
Making the most of the current market
- The brands that are seeing the fastest growth have greater ownership over the behaviours they influence and inspire. Adopting an unapologetic approach – whether as a no, low, or traditional alcohol brand – is vital. Be proud of the preceding habit, behaviour and attitude you negate.
- Many startup brands have succeeded at breaking into the market with niche, and often unexpected, differentiating offers.
- The larger players have a harder job of communicating new and authentic brand propositions as their heritage may not align with the demands of today’s audiences.
- While No and Low are fast growing categories we are still seeing strong innovation within the alcohol sector. Success in one category does not rule out success in the other.
- There is an undeniable shift away from artisanal aesthetics towards minimalist and medicinal visual design cues. Brands entering the market now must look ahead to what’s next.
You can see the full report of category winning NOLO drinks, but here are a few examples of companies successfully using these techniques:
A brand of organic, hand-crafted, non-alcoholic drinks inspired by craft cocktails, launched in September 2016 by a team of NYC bartenders, herbalists and food scientists. Like its competitors, its products are organic, fair-trade with no added sugar, gluten or dairy. Their smart partnership with Uber Eats in the US enabled customers to succeed in their attempts at Dry January by delivering their non-alcoholic drinks straight to their door.
The UK’s first alcohol-free craft ale launched in 2016, St Peter’s Without is one of the key brands to have secured a deal with Tesco for their new NoLo section in store. The backing of the UK’s largest supermarket is likely to propel the brand into a strong position among a mainstream audience. St Peters predicts that alcohol-free sales will rise from 1% to 10% within a decade.
Normandy-based cider producer has launched its collection of French ‘cidres’ in the UK. Sassy boasts features such as 'gluten free', '100% natural' and 'lower in calories'. There are also options with lover ABV. Sassy is out to modernise a ‘copycat’ category to target younger drinkers while tapping into the growing premiumisation of the apple cider sector. It reaches the UK market at the time when audiences are looking for an authentic, readily accessible, low sugar, upmarket alternative to the repeated brand reinventions we’ve seen from the big players.
Carlsberg’s organic, gluten-free and vegan craft beer from the Czech Republic was introduced to the UK market in 2016. Brand manager Becky Sagoo says consumers are recognising that they need to be careful about what they eat and drink and as a result, are making conscious decisions to take better care of themselves. Eating healthier and drinking less alcohol are two of the changes that Celia have seen over the years.
The beverage has just 136 calories and is made using locally sourced ingredients. The brand has a very passionate and engaged celiac community following which it continues to nurture but it also sees its main potential in becoming the no.1 GF beer for the growing population choosing gluten free out of choice.
A start-up craft beer created by two tennis enthusiasts from Boston that claims to be the low-calorie, high-protein, sports performance enhancing choice in the category. Mighty Squirrel has always used the nutritional benefits of its beers as a point of difference. Recently they have taken this a step further in their identity design by incorporating ‘Sport’ into its packaging to emphasise its performance enhancing properties.
It’s clearly an interesting time for this category as consumer behavior and generational attitudes start to shift. My advice to brands is keep your eyes open, your ears pricked and your taste buds tingling; influencing and leading is as much about listening as it is acting. Take nothing for granted and keep an open mind – you may be surprised that what at first appears niche can quickly become the norm.
You can get in touch with Missouri to receive the full report on adapting drinks brands.
Stuart Wood and Paul Brennan are joint partners at Missouri, a brand design agency which has worked with Jameson, Chivas Brothers, Malibu, Mumm and Havana Club.