Wellness-focused, 'sober-curious' consumers are driving interest in booze-free cocktails, a relative newcomer to the $180 billion beverage industry

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Wellness-focused, 'sober-curious' consumers are driving interest in booze-free cocktails, a relative newcomer to the $180 billion beverage industry
Ritual Zero Proof's products include alcohol-free rum, gin, whiskey, and tequila alternatives. Ritual Zero Proof
  • Non-alcoholic beverage sales increased 33% to $331 million in the last year, according to Nielsen.
  • Analysts told Insider non-alcoholic spirits will continue to grow in 2022.

The popularity of veganism across the world helped spur a bevy of fake meat companies that even carnivores can enjoy.

Now, the $178 billion dollar beverage industry is hoping to replicate the trend with alcohol-free liquor as more and more young people reassess their relationship with booze.

Two years ago, David Crooch, the CEO and co-founder of Ritual Zero Proof, launched a line of booze-free whiskey and gin, which are meant to mimic the taste of liquor. Crooch said the company wasn't meant to take a stand against alcohol and propagate sobriety - instead, Ritual intends to give customers options.

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Like how Americans can choose from a variety of "milks" to pour into their coffee, drinkers can choose to mix a non-alcoholic cocktail if they're looking to avoid the hangover and calories that come from booze.

Consumer data proves more Americans are looking for the non-alcoholic options like those Crooch is putting forward.

Non-alcoholic beverage sales increased 33% to $331 million over the last 52 weeks, according to data from Nielsen. The products have done especially well in e-commerce, as Nielsen found a 315% increase in online non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic beverage dollar sales in the same time.

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Nielsen senior vice president Kim Cox said survey data suggests most non-alcoholic beverage consumers aren't completely sober, but rather want to have a healthier lifestyle or are losing interest in alcohol.

"Consumers want to be really focused on what they're putting in their bodies," Cox said in an interview with Insider. "In general, there's been such a huge trend over the last several years towards lower sugar, lower carb, lower calorie in the beverages space."

Crooch's booze-free booze earned early success by landing a partnership with Whole Foods and minority investment from UK alcoholic drink giant Diageo.

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Spiros Malandrakis, industry manager and head of alcoholic drink research at Euromonitor International, said the rise of non-alcoholic spirits began in 2016, when the startup Seedlip began positioning alcohol-free adult beverages in a "positive light" and playing up the lack of calories. Diageo, which also owns Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Don Julio, and other popular spirits, acquired Seedlip in 2019 for an undisclosed amount.

Malandrakis credited the rise of non-alcoholic drinks to the growing popularity of the "sober-curious movement." Per Insider's Rachel Hosie, most sober-curious people still drink alcohol, but are mindful of the impact booze has on their physical and mental health.

Americans are drinking less overall than they have at most points over the last 20 years, according to a recent Gallup analysis, so it's not surprising that non-alcoholic drinks are gaining popularity. And Millennials and Zoomers - who are drinking less than Boomers and Gen X did at their age - are leading the sober-curious movement.

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Malandrakis sees the most growth coming from non-alcoholic spirits, rather than boozeless beer and wine. At Whole Foods, the company projects "buzz-less spirits" will be one of the biggest trends of 2022, largely due to innovation in the space.

Sparkling water and teas might rebrand themselves as "non-alcoholic alternatives," according to Mary Guiver, Whole Foods' global senior category merchant for beer and spirits. She said she anticipates more booze manufacturers to dabble in no- and low-alcoholic drinks. Heineken, for instance, bet big on its non-alcoholic beer and subsequently brought in $54 million in 2020 sales.

"I think this trend has staying power because we've seen both demand from the consumer and desire from brands to meet that demand by providing new, interesting buzz-less formats," Guiver said.

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Do you have thoughts on the sober-curious movement or on booze-free drinks? Email the author at aakhtar@insider.com.

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