From Dry January to Sober October, Non-Alcoholic Beverage Trend Extends throughout the Year

From Dry January to Sober October, sales of adult-oriented, non-alcoholic beverages are taking off throughout the year, as Gen Z consumers, older health-minded individuals and others increasingly prioritize wellness and moderation in their drinking habits.

With New Year’s resolutions in mind, sales of non-alcoholic (NA) beverages consistently surge at the beginning of the year, when many adults take a break from drinking during what has become known as “Dry January.” However, according to Nielsen IQ, non-alcoholic drinks “are now a staple during all major drinking holidays, especially the 4th of July and year-end celebrations,” Fox Business News reported in September 2023.

As more Americans embrace alcohol-free options, sales of non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits at off-premise locations such as grocery stores increased 31% to $510 million in the 12 months ended July 29th, 2023, Nielsen IQ reported. While NA beer dominates the segment with 86% of the market share, followed by NA wine at 11%, alcohol-free spirits, which comprise only 3% of the category, saw sales grow by 94% over the previous year. Non-alcoholic adult beverage sales grew by double digits in terms of dollar amount spent, and five states, including California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan and Ohio, accounted for 30% of the total amount.

Retailers, manufacturers, restaurants, bars and others are capitalizing on this trend by offering more non-alcoholic options, including “mocktails” and mixers that can be enjoyed with or without alcohol. Products are proliferating, such as booze-free beer and wine, functional beverages made with adaptogens, nootropics and other botanical and nutritional ingredients, energy drinks, and other adult-oriented drinks made to take the place of cocktails and spirits.

According to Beverage Daily, online seller Drizly reported that there were over 80% more non-alcoholic brands available on its platform in 2023 compared to the previous year. Today, consumers can opt for many innovative beverages beyond the timeworn choices of a few non-alcoholic beers, seltzer water, conventional soda or juice as the only alcohol-free options.

While still representing only 1% of the overall alcoholic beverage market, such robust growth in the popularity of NA beverages inspired the formation of a new trade association, dryly named the Adult Non-Alcoholic Beverage Association (ANBA), launched in 2021 and based in Washington, D.C. Together with New Hope Network, in September 2023, ANBA sponsored a pavilion at Natural Products Expo East devoted to brands specializing in NA adult beverages including sparkling wine, canned cocktails and IPAs.

 Gen Z Drives Reduced Alcohol Consumption
America’s younger Gen Z demographic is leading the way in reducing alcohol consumption. The share of adults aged 18 to 34 who say they drink dropped 10%, from 72% in 2001-03 to 62% in 2021-23, according to a Gallup poll published in August 2023.

“Younger adults are drinking less alcohol — and it has been moving in that direction for two decades,” said Akhil Anand, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic. There are a lot of theories as to why, including increased mental health awareness, healthier lifestyles, education and possibly increased cannabis use, though binge drinking is still a concern among younger adults, Anand noted. “When people give up drinking, even for a month, they often note that they feel better, Dr. Anand said. “That’s not by coincidence.”

Yet, the majority of people who buy non-alcoholic beverages actually do drink, Marcos Salazar, CEO of the Adult Non-Alcoholic Beverage Association, shared with New Hope Network. According to Salazar, recent data revealed that 94% of non-alcoholic beverage consumers do drink alcohol. They purchase alcohol-free products because they embrace moderation, or they appreciate the products’ flavors, or when they entertain, some guests don’t drink, or all three, he said.

For Laura Taylor, founder of Mingle Mocktails, one of the fastest growing brands in the NA sector, her challenge was how to feel included at social gatherings while choosing not to drink. Taylor quit drinking nearly 10 years ago after a battle with alcoholism, she shared with Forbes in November 2023. Experimenting with juices and mixers, Taylor in 2017 created a line of sparkling mocktails targeted toward women, available in ready-to-drink cans and bottles. “I wanted everyone to feel included and proud of their choice to give up alcohol instead of feeling like it was something to hide,” Taylor told Forbes. “Mingle Mocktails were created for anyone who chooses to give up alcohol for a night, a week or as a lifestyle choice but still wants to feel part of the party.”

“As consumers’ beverage preferences change, functional benefits and exceptional product quality are more important than ever,” said Alex French, co-founder and CEO at Bizzy Cold Brew. “At Bizzy, we’re strategically positioned to meet evolving beverage trends quickly while remaining true to our brand promise of caffeine strength.”

“We’re hearing it daily — ‘I quit drinking, and instead I reach for a Sati.’ It’s what we want to hear; we are a replacement for alcohol,” said David McLaughlin, founder of Sati Soda, maker of certified organic beverages containing functional ingredients such as ashwaganda and rhodiola, as well as a line of CBD-infused sparkling beverages. “We are seeing athletes, celebrities, musicians and other influencers opting for non-alcoholic alternatives. They’re saying, ‘I’m treating myself better and you don’t have to drink to be cool. Now I can drink something and feel good, and wake up feeling great.’ While functional beverages are still in their infancy (even though there are a lot of us in the space!), I don’t see this trend going back. Dry January is spilling into the rest of the year, is what’s happening,” McLaughlin observed.

Where to Merchandise NA Beverages?
For retailers, where to locate category-crossing NA beverages can present some challenges. Many merchandisers place NA beverages in the grocery section near sodas, waters and functional beverages, as well as in refrigerated cases, as opposed to the alcoholic beverages section, so shoppers who don’t drink alcohol will feel more comfortable. Grocers also worry that shoppers in the alcohol section might accidentally buy non-alcoholic products and be disappointed.

“There was some confusion about where we should place products in stores,” Beth Johnson told Douglas Brown at New Hope Network. Johnson is the Senior Category Manager at PCC Community Markets in Seattle. As people were emerging from the pandemic, she decided to create a separate non-alcoholic set. “It’s working for us. At first, it was just one shelf, but now it’s like three,” she added.

For food service, restaurants, bars, hotels and event producers, “the profit potential of mocktails cannot be underestimated,” according to Shivani Vora, contributor to Forbes. “While the cost of ingredients for alcoholic cocktails can be high, mocktails are typically made with less expensive components, meaning higher profit margins for every mocktail sold. Only adding to that profit potential is the fact that patrons are generally willing to pay a similar price for mocktails as they would for alcoholic cocktails, making them a lucrative addition to menus… By serving mocktails, bars and restaurants can expand their customer base and increase the likelihood of repeat business from a diverse range of patrons. This approach enhances customer loyalty and patronage among those who appreciate a venue that respects their choices,” Vora added.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing public relations, brand marketing, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic, sustainable and hemp/CBD products businesses. Compass Natural serves in PR and programming for NoCo Hemp Expo and Southern Hemp Expo, and Hoffman serves as Editor of the weekly Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, published by We are for Better Alternatives. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.