Functional drinks are focus point in alcohol-free: ‘The products that stand out are the ones taking on next level innovation'

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/jamesmcq24
Pic:getty/jamesmcq24

Related tags: NABLAB, alcohol-free, non-alcoholic beer, non-alcoholic, Uk, functional beverages

Functional drinks are the ones to watch as the alcohol-free category continues to evolve, according to online alcohol-free retailer Drift Drinks.

The company says functional drinks will be a ‘huge area’ of focus for it in 2022: pointing to the success of brands such as Impossibrew (which has a natural nootropic blend to boost serotonin levels); Fungtn (which uses functional mushrooms); and Iko Drinks Sparkling Mate (which uses yerba mate for a natural source of caffeine) on its site to date.

Alcohol-free drinks should be ones that 'deliver more'

Drift Drinks launched in November 2021 as a result of co-founder Isabelle Hefford’s struggle to find variety in alcohol-free options in pubs, restaurants and supermarkets: with the company then swinging into top gear over Christmas 2021 and Dry January 2022.

It was created with a very clear idea of what an alcohol-alternative should involve – setting out a stock of premium drinks that ‘deliver more’ than a standard soft drink – whether that’s in terms of flavor or functionality.

“I believe that, for a while, there has been a misunderstanding surrounding ‘alcohol alternatives’, especially as when you go out to a bar or pub with friends, the only alcohol-free options available are usually soft drinks or juices,”​ Hefford told BeverageDaily.

“We consider alcohol alternatives to be premium, crafted drinks with complex flavour profiles. They are drinks that deliver more, whether they mimic the taste of alcohol or provide specific health benefits (i.e. Kombucha). All the beverages we stock at Drift Drinks are crafted by experts in the field, making them more than just a soft drink.

“We also consider alcohol alternatives as drinks that match an occasion, for example, if you have your friends round on a Saturday evening, you want your non-alcoholic alternative to feel special and be on par with what you, or others, would usually drink at such an event.”

The site now stocks a range of brands such as Big Drop, Athletic Brewing Co., Drop Bear Beer Co., and Nirvana Brewery; while its collection of more than 50 products range from beer and cider through to cocktails and kombucha. All drinks are 0.5% ABV or under; with a separate 0.0% collection.

Standing out from the crowd

Drift Drinks' mission is to 'curate the world's best craft alcohol alternatives for all' - so how does it decide what these are?

"When it comes to choosing which brands to stock, we try to find the balance between supporting as many craft businesses as we can, whilst maintaining a curated and easy-to-shop website for our customers,"​ said Hefford.

“When bringing new brands on board, we look at a variety of things. The most important thing is taste, which is why we ensure all beverages are taste-tested by a number of different people to gauge feedback. We then look at the ingredients and nutritional value of the product, including the sugar contents and calories, as well as whether it is vegan or gluten-free.

“The bottom line is that we want to bring the tastiest drinks to consumers, whilst having a diverse offering to suit all. The brands we stock also change over time depending on customer feedback and preferences.”

drift inset

And functionality is a clear way of ‘delivering more’, says Hefford.

“The market is already starting to become overcrowded, and the product that stand out are the ones taking on next-level innovation, primarily in the functional drinks category. For example, you can now get CBD in kombucha, or adaptogens in beers. I think it is going to be fascinating to see this evolve over the next couple of years.

“The functional drinks category is a huge area of focus for us in 2022, promoting the idea that drinking is for the mind as well as the body. You can hydrate and be satisfied by the taste, whilst feeling the positive benefits such as relaxation, focus or energy.

“One the brands we stock, Impossibrew, sold out in minutes following an appearance on Dragon’s Den. They have introduced a natural nootropic blend that boosts serotonin levels, so you can still get that 1-2 pint feeling from an alcohol-free beer. Fungtn, another brand on our website, were the first to brew with functional mushrooms. The beers provide drinks with a natural way to reduce stress and restore balance.

“Yerba Mate, which is hugely popular in Latin America, is also a category to watch. It is a natural source of caffeine that boosts energy without the buzz slump. We have just launched Iko Drinks Sparkling Mate beverages, which are a cross between a non-alcoholic cocktail and a natural energy drink, and I think we are likely to see more drinks entering this sphere.”

Outside of functional drinks, Hefford sees mocktails move away from being sickly-sweet and offering a more sophisticated experience for consumers.

“Non-alcoholic beers are known to be the largest category driver in the now/low market and primarily where the category investment is going. However, we are seeing as many sales for cocktails and kombucha as beer. I think ‘mocktails’ have historically had a bad reputation for being high in sugar and fruit juice based, yet the category has come a long way in the last few years. We are switching the narrative and re-educating consumers on the craft behind non-alcoholic cocktails, as well as the complex flavour profiles they can have.”

Opening up to a wider audience with discovery boxes and subscription boxes

Since launching, the company has realised the potential of no and low alcohol drinks is larger than it expected.

“Whilst we had a target consumer in mind pre-launch, being a younger audience who are more health-focused, we are actually seeing that this lifestyle choice has no age or location barrier,” ​said Hefford.

“It is not just exclusive to Londoners, and we are sending as many drinks to rural areas as urban areas, we have even sent beverages up to the Highlands.

Drift - Isabelle Hefford[4]

“We do know that the majority of our customers are new to the alcohol-free world. There has been a huge mindset shift in the past year, with more people adopting moderation in all areas of their life,  and it’s great that more people are discovering that alcohol-free drinks pack as much taste as the 'real deal'.

“Nothing beats the feeling of introducing new people to the alcohol-free world, and to hear their positive feedback about the drinks we stock is a great feeling!”

As a result, the company has noted the potential of its discovery boxes and that is something it will continue to develop moving forward. These include an alcohol-free beer bestsellers box; a cocktail discovery box; and a vegan and gluten-free discovery box.

“Our discovery boxes became hugely popular, as they enable customers to have a taste of multiple drinks to find their favourites,” ​said Hefford.

“Since launch, we have continued to add new brands to our site, and have been planning to take it one step further with the launch of a brand new subscription box model, so customers can receive a regular supply of drinks, including new and old favourites.”

This subscription box will sent drinkers seven alcohol-free products around a different theme every month.

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