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No and Low Alcohol for Dry January and Beyond

January 30, 2024

The History of Dry January and Where we are Today:
Like many of us after the holiday season, consumers are looking to get healthier. This often includes, exercising, eating right and of course, cutting out or cutting down on alcohol consumption – especially in the month of January. The “Dry January” Trend started in 2013 in Europe with an estimated 4,000 people participating. By 2018, that figure had grown to 40,000, and continued to rise to 130,000 people in 2021. And through the years, Dry January has expanded well beyond UK borders. About 35% of legal aged adults in the U.S. participated in Dry January in 2022, a substantial uptick from the 21% in 2019. Younger generations tend to challenge their alcohol consumption levels more eagerly and are more open to more mindful drinking. In 2022, US retail sales of non-alcoholic spirits grew 116% to $4.5 million and Alcoholic spirit sales slipped about 1% to just under $21 billion.*

The no and low (referred to as NOLO) alcohol trend has developed so much in the last decade and as IFF’s Category Marketing Lead for Beverages in Europe, Jackie Sidhu, notes, “It may be the catalyst but by no means is NOLO just restricted to January”. But truly understanding WHY consumers reach for NOLO products is key. Then we can work to meet their needs either mimicking alcoholic drinks or using new and exciting flavors and textures to create the moods and experiences they crave. Let’s dive into the motivation and the reason why consumers are looking to no and low alcohol alternatives.

The 5 pillars of Motivation for No and Low Alcohol:
When the phrase, “I am not drinking” comes to mind, we usually equate that with health and safety. IFF’s Product Experience Team Leader for Beverage in Europe, Guillaume Esch, explains in detail, “the entry point for the category is focused around health and safety. This includes driving home safely from a night out or improving your health – long term or short term, meaning no hangover. But once they choose NOLO, there is so much more – like the dimensions of enjoyment and relaxation”. 

This brings us to the five pillars of core consumer motivation which include:
 – Enjoyment
 – Recognition
 – Restraint
 – Belonging
 – Relaxation

Let’s take a deeper dive into enjoyment and recognition motivations.

Enjoyment – This motivational segment is focused on sensorial and visual enjoyment. Here, consumers are looking to discover new tastes and sensations and to challenge their tastebuds. It can be about a full sensory experience, with smell and visual effects being just as important as taste. Some are keen to see what the evolving no-alcohol market is offering while some are experimenting themselves, making their own drinks. 

Recognition – Here, the main motivation is looking for a drink which helps you to be unique, special, stand out from the crowd and be ahead of the trends. The emerging status of alcohol-free drinks as forward-thinking, experimental and often at a premium price can convey this status. These consumers are more knowledgeable, detail oriented, interested in new types of ingredients and like to experiment. The quality of drink is important for this segment. It includes the drink itself, but also the packaging and the visual aesthetic of the drink.

Want to learn more about all 5 motivations? Reach out to your account manager to learn more.

Mimicking the Classics:
So how do we create alcohol-free spirits based on what consumers are really looking for? Our technical team uses two approaches: adding back flavor volatiles and mouthfeel lost during the dealcoholization process  (for beers and wines), or using IFF PRODUCT DESIGN™ approach to formulate from scratch, building up complex, signature flavor profiles as well as using  the full range of modulation technologies to optimize basic taste and mouthfeel together with sensorial experiences to add back the missing ‘kick’ from high alcohol equivalents. “This gives people a choice, a sophisticated alternative when you don’t want to drink” notes Jackie. As we discussed, people are looking for different drinks for different experiences and our NOLO formulations need to reflect that. Let’s use rum as an example. Guillaume Esch explains, “Let’s take the example of a NOLO rum – it can be consumed neat by someone who wants to relax, while someone who wants to mix rum with cola and ice may be looking for a different experience and may be motivated by belonging. 1 product, 2 experiences. That’s why, at IFF, we reached out to consumers to uncover their expectations and are using these insights in product (experience) design”. Some of the perceived negative attributes like the burning sensation of a spirit we can exclude but ensure we keep the positive attributes you get from sipping a whiskey. This creates a win-win situation – great cocktail to enjoy without the negative effects. But creating a great alcohol-free rum or spirit in general comes with its’ set of challenges from complex flavor requirements to stability and solvent considerations. Partner with us we have the expertise to navigate these hurdles and create a perfect alcohol-free spirit.

Mixing Up New Favorites:
Mixology is exciting as there are cutting edge innovations featuring trends with functional ingredients, the move to more mocktails, globally inspired flavors, the use of textures and various processes. Bayyana Davis, IFF’s Category Market Lead for Beverages in North America explains, “Consumers are paying attention to provenance and the origin of ingredients as the awareness of functional benefits in botanicals, spices, and herbs continues to grow. We are also seeing more nostalgic and indulgent flavors coming to market each season as consumers are looking for new ways to connect and reminisce on care-free moments of their lives, look for new ways to indulge and be reminded of core memories”. In the past few years we have seen more fun and creative cocktails at bars creating a memorable customer experience. In these examples we see beverages with pop culture references along with interesting vessels to serve cocktails and shooters. In the future, we see opportunities lie in functional and nutritional benefits, and it will be critical to be transparent about these ingredients and their benefits which goes back to the health and enjoyment motivations.

IFF – Your Partner In NOLO: With IFF as your partner, we are here to provide support and help you make the best choices no matter your customers wants and needs. Contact your account manager or reach out to us here to explore the growing world of no and low alcohol, together. 

*Source: https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2022/06/05/business/non-alcoholic-trend/index.html