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Have yourself a less than merry little Christmas… booze-free drinks on rise in Northern Ireland

Non-alcoholic beverage sales set to grow by 17% this year


More people are turning to low and alcohol free drinks

More people are turning to low and alcohol free drinks

More people are turning to low and alcohol free drinks

Not so long ago, you might have felt insulted or short-changed if someone offered you a bottle of alcohol-free booze for Christmas.

But times have changed and the popularity of such beverages is increasing all the time.

Indeed, the UK’s first alcohol-free off-licence opened in London last week.

And, with massive improvements in brewing techniques, there has never been a better time to be a 'dry drinker' as breweries prioritise flavour and 'mouth-feel' in their alcohol-free ranges.

Even Guinness now has an alcohol-free option.

In Northern Ireland, sales in the ‘no and low’ alcohol category — also known as NoLo — are expected to grow by 17% this year, according to researchers at IWRS Drinks Market Analysis.

NoLo covers any beverage with under 1.2% alcohol content.

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Sainsbury’s and Tesco, meanwhile, both report that sales of NoLo drinks have seen massive rises year-on-year.

The proliferation of ‘mindful drinking’ — a term that has come to the fore during the pandemic with people paying more attention to how much alcohol they consume — is one of the main reasons for the boosted sales.

Although the traditional low alcohol wines, ciders and beers have all increased in popularity, the most significant hike is in completely alcohol-free spirits.

Tesco has said that sales of its NoLo spirits have soared by 106% since the start of 2021, while Sainsbury’s has seen a 91% year-on-year increase.

According to the charity Alcohol Change UK, nearly half (42%) of adults have tried NoLo drinks.

The Drinks Business, meanwhile, has reported that this sector of the market will have grown by over a third (34%) by 2024.

Since the concept of ‘Dry January’ began in 2013 with just 4,000 people taking part in the UK, that has increased to 130,000 who officially participated at the start of this year.

Many of these have steered clear of booze since, and have been buying non-alcoholic drinks.

But even prior to January, it’s clear that people here no longer feel that a festive season without what the late DUP leader Ian Paisley called the Devil’s Buttermilk is unthinkable.

Local food and drink guru Paula McIntyre said the range of non-alcoholic offerings has grown a lot recently.

“The low and no-alcohol market has exploded with quality over the last few years,” said the popular chef.

“There has never been a better time to be dry drinker although, personally, if I’m not drinking I’d rather have an apple juice or a diet coke.”

A 2018 study by University College London, which analysed thousands of 16-24 year-olds over the course of a decade, found that increasing numbers of young people did not drink alcohol at all, and reported significant decreases in the number who drank above recommended limits or binged.

Whether those figures have been affected by the subsequent pandemic remains to be seen.

For Jill and Daid Crawford from Co Down, the trend towards NoLo has become a business.

The Portaferry couple have set up a company called DrinksNo/Low that enables those concerned about alcohol intake to easily access beverages online either with no or reduced alcohol from established global manufacturers.

The service is also available to local off-licences and independent grocers to offer these beverages to shoppers.

Jill told the Belfast Telegraph that they hope to be able meet a growing demand in the market.

“We launched the website two weeks ago so we’re ready to serve our customers in time for Christmas,” she said.

“There has been a shift in trends towards low and no alcohol drinks and we’ve already been getting repeat orders from various farm shops and delis.

“So far, we’ve had nothing but positive feedback.”

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