“Non-alcoholic beer has huge long-term sales potential, both in Muslim-dominated regions and health-conscious but beer loving Western markets,” Forsyth, Mintel global drinks analyst, writes.
“This is an area of innovation which all major brewers should be focusing on – as consumers want reassurance of product quality – something trusted brands can provide,” he adds.
Mintel research found that Spanish beer buyers led the pack in 2013, as 60% bought non-alcoholic beer – this figure rose to 69% for consumers aged 45-54.
Though lower, the overall figures are also impressive elsewhere – 47% in Germany (with non-alcoholic beer accounting fort 19% of launches, compared with only 11% ion 2012), 29% in Italy, 26% in Poland, 18% in France and 14% in Britain.
Once beer bitten, twice shy…
But despite strong consumer demand, Forsyth says such launches accounted for only 3% of global launch activity thus far in 2014, compared with 4% in 2011 and 10% in 1999.
Why is this? It’s perhaps a case of once beer bitten, twice shy for the world’s biggest brewers…
“While non-alcoholic beers were pushed heavily in the late 1990s and early 2000s, this failed to translate into global sales, because the product was widely viewed as inferior,” Forsyth says.
“This meant people preferred to drink a soft drink if they were not drinking alcohol, rather than a poor imitation of beer,” the Mintel analyst adds.
“Yet the modern varieties, especially in Germany, are much closer to the taste of full alcohol beer and make an ideal adult or ‘premium’ soft drink option…largely due to the refinement of the production process,” Forsyth writes.
Mintel said its research shows that non-alcoholic beer is especially popular among older consumers and women – 63% of Spanish female beer buyers have bought it in the past six months, compared to 57% male buyers.
Attracting women into beer, keeping men engaged
In Germany the respective percentages are 50% and 46% – figures that Forsyth says show that millennials are less likely to drink non-alcoholic beer, with older consumers presumably “more health conscious and less resilient to the negative effects of alcohol”.
“Therefore, non-alcoholic beers will be a key pillar of the strategy to target aging Western populations with very different product needs,” he says.
“Also of interest to brewers is that Spanish and German women are slightly more likely to drink non-alcoholic beers, meaning it is a great way of attracting more females into the category, while still appealing to men.”
Of course beer mix drinks are also part of this, well, mix, or rather a bridge between standard strength and non-alcoholic beer, with Forsyth pointing to continued uptake for low alcoholic beers, especially Radlers (beers mixed with soft drinks or juices) which are known as ‘shandies’ in the UK.
This trend began in Central and Eastern Europe, but is spreading west and north. For instance, Heineken sold over one million hectolitres in the former region, with its Ciuc Natur Radler (pictured) in spring 2012; Radlers took an 2% share of the entire Romanian beer market in the first year of sales.