The world has changed.  The on-premise is mostly shut (for now), and the vast majority of consumers across the globe are following government advice to keep their distance, stay home and save lives.  Of course, in time, we all hope and expect that life will return to some semblance of normality.  But what are people going to be drinking in bars when that happens?
Prior to COVID-19, low/no ABV was certainly gaining traction in terms of consumer demand and more options being available in pubs and bars.  Whether that translated into much above 5% of total sales for most venues rather depended on clientele/bar type etc, but for the most part it seems the ‘media hype’ around the demand for less alcohol was perhaps all it was.
As we move into a new world era, where lockdown restrictions are lifted, and people are permitted to socialise (albeit with some rules), I feel that perhaps the ‘hangover’ from coronavirus, and the newly learned behaviours focusing on personal health may be here to stay.  As consumer confidence grows, and people return to the pubs, the general mood of “coronaphobia” (apparently prevalent in the UK), coupled with an already existing interest in healthier drink alternatives, may spell a sharp demand for, increase in and sales of “better for you” beverages.  With consumers on a mission to do all they can to stay healthy and not catch the virus, perhaps not only will low/no ABV alternatives likely see growth, but also the low calorie drinks (obese patients have suffered greatly with COVID-19), and those with health boosting properties will become a necessity for all bars to offer a decent range in.
Take for example Kirin iMUSE water in Japan.  Recently launched in mid-January, this non-alcoholic drink with immunity-boosting lactic bacteria reached its three-month sales target within a week of release – its health boosting properties immediately appealed to the COVID-19 conscious consumer, with brand sales hitting a record high in March.
I believe we’ll see many more of the drinks companies focus their mergers and acquisitions strategies on drinks that comfort consumers.  Yes, people will still want to go out to bars and meet friends (at a safe distance), it’s too deep-rooted in culture and human nature to simply stop.  But a lot more consumers will now likely be looking for healthier drinks to help their bodies with e.g. immunity boosting ingredients, as well as low/no ABV options – if you like, ‘consciously counteracting’ their increase in human contact in the pub.  But for the vast majority, and this is an important point, pockets will not be as deep as they once were, and so in-bar prices for distilled non-alcoholic spirits and the like will undoubtedly have to fall.
This article was written by Elty Dudley-Williams, Projects Director