Everything in moderation.
How are the changing perceptions towards alcohol affecting the beer industry?
Alcohol has been massively under the cosh of late. First the government turned on the stuff, citing ‘there is no such thing as a safe level of drinking’ and advising that we all dramatically reduce our unit intake in its first review of guidelines since 1995. Now the industry itself is taking a long hard look at the culture surrounding consumption. This comes with the release of Heineken’s latest advertisement ‘Moderate Drinkers Wanted’: the brand has looked to women to enforce the idea of excessive drinking being unattractive, closing with a Heineken drinker refusing a second bottle at the bar, much to the admiration of the female bar staff. This is in response to Heineken’s research findings suggesting that young drinkers are now actively choosing to drink moderately.
The non-alcoholic and low alcohol beer markets are becoming increasingly popular: where in 2013, just 14% of UK beer drinkers bought alcohol free beer (Mintel), at the close of 2015, 31% of drinkers aged 18-34 said they’d prefer to have their tipple 0-0.05% ABV (AB InBev). As this statistic would suggest, it is the new age of drinkers that are driving this market, and in particular, young women. This situation becomes even more intriguing when you consider that 41% of 18-19 year olds are actively choosing to drink moderately (Kantar), suggesting that for many of the generation coming of drinking age now, alcohol has lost its allure. This stands in enormous contrast to the sense of macho bravado around alcohol consumption that this demographic is traditionally known for, a shift that has been attributed to a want for more control in an age of extreme social candidness through our connected world.
However this isn’t unchartered territory, Prohibition America of the 1920-30s saw a decline in beer consumption for very different reasons. The breweries were forced into action to avoid going under, creating Near Beers, of 0.05% ABV or below. And as is so often the case, this past trend is now en route to a renaissance: BrewDog with its 1.1% Nanny State mild, Adnams’ Sole Star pale at 2.7% and The Kernel’s 3.0% Table Beer. Often positioned as session beers, these beverages deliver the refreshment that consumers turn to this sector for without as many of the nasty side effects, satisfying the wants of this new generation of sensible drinkers.
The big question now is where the industry will go from here: is beer about to clean up its act, or will this phase of comparative abstinence pass like a teetotal January, soon to be forgotten? There’s little denying that consumers are becoming increasingly observant as to what they are putting in their bodies as the effects of such vices are ever-more publicised and analysed. Critics of the latest alcohol guidelines are arguing this is societal nagging and ‘nannying’, but it would appear this may not actually have that much of an effect on the new breed of drinkers, they’ll be driving home from the pub anyway.