Is the UK Going Alcohol-Free?
Dry January had another big year in 2019, with hundreds of thousands pledging to keep alcohol off the menu for a whole month. But for many people, Dry January is no longer the event it once was, with more and more people choosing to cut their alcohol intake for the full year, or even going teetotal. What’s changing in the UK and how are businesses responding to this?
Recent ONS reports have been particularly interesting. More than half of over 16s in this country drink regularly, with only around 1 in 5 not drinking at all, but the age group least likely to drink is, in fact, the 16-24 age group. This strongly suggests that the attraction of alcohol is lessening for younger generations, and we could within a few years begin to see regular drinking become a habit for a minority of British people. There don’t appear to be any set reasons for this, but rather a large combination of factors.
Households earning more than £40,000 a year are the ones most likely to drink, which does suggest that cost is certainly a factor. While supermarkets do offer plentiful cheap options, alcohol purchased outside the home is becoming more and more expensive.
There’s also a social aspect to this, with many commentators suggesting that among certain demographics, particularly, younger, health-conscious ones, drinking is becoming less socially acceptable. It’s certainly not on par with smoking, but it does appear that we could be moving in that direction.
One of the most interesting developments in the reduction in alcohol consumption amongst many demographics is that there’s been a rapid increase in alcohol-free options that attempt to meet changing demands. If you visited a supermarket even a couple of years ago, your alcohol-free options might be limited to one or two brands of alcohol-free beer and perhaps some low alcohol wine.
Now, however, most supermarkets and even off-licenses will have a section dedicated to alcohol-free options, and there are a lot of them. You’ll have a choice of several different beers, including craft beers, there’ll be a wine selection with various options, and one of the most interesting new products is alcohol-free gin. Strictly it isn’t gin at all; rather a concoction of herbs, spices, and other botanicals, but the idea is that it can be consumed in the same way, at the same events, and has the same premium feel.
New businesses have sprung up to offer some of these products, illustrating a potential gap in this market, but many have also come from the larger breweries, too. Established businesses should look to expand into this new and interesting area.
Smoking is now far less socially acceptable than it once was, and it’s hard to argue that much of this hasn’t come about because of the laws surrounding smoking. The question is, has authoritative action on alcohol also had an effect? The answer is that it probably has. There have been a large number of initiatives, mainly on health grounds, to try to reduce alcohol intake. When it comes to the youngest generation, there’s little question that Challenge 25 has reduced access to alcohol for underaged children, ultimately reducing their likelihood to consume alcohol as a habit. In Scotland, the minimum unit pricing is now in force, which makes very cheap alcohol almost unavailable. Time will tell how much difference these initiatives will make, but given that younger generations are increasingly alcohol-free, it may well be that in the long run, Britain will become increasingly alcohol-free.
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Endorsed by Jane Milton – Food and Drinks manufacturing expert