Low-ABV and nonalcoholic drinks are continuing their popularity streak, as evidenced by the proliferation of low-ABV beers and zero-proof cocktails, which offer a decidedly more grown-up take on the mocktails of years past. The trend is at least partially rooted in healthier eating and drinking habits.
“As consumers are becoming more health conscious, cutting calories, and reducing their sugar intake, it’s no surprise that health is the leading cause for consumers to reduce their consumption of alcohol,” says Nandini Roy Choudhury, client partner for food and beverage at business intelligence firm Future Market Insights. “Consumers are focusing more on overall well-being.”
Compared to the beer and spirit categories, the rise of nonalcoholic wine has been slower, she says, but that doesn’t mean the category is nonexistent. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
“This category has experienced marked growth in recent years, driven by consumers’ desire for better-for-you beverage options and innovation within the nonalcoholic beverage space,” Choudhury says.
She adds that while the nonalcoholic category remains small, accounting for less than 1 percent of share across all sales, the nonalcoholic renditions of wine, beer, and spirits have been among the fastest-growing subsets in their respective categories year over year.
According to Nielsen, in 2021 off-premises sales for low-alcoholic and nonalcoholic wines, beer, and spirits reached $3.1 billion—significantly higher than the $291 million in 2020.
Ryan Hanson, CEO and founder of Surely Wines, a nonalcoholic wine company, says that although the market is in a fledgling stage, there is a definite market for the product.
“We’re just getting started,” he says. “People are taking notice, which is a sign that the demand is there, and the demand is real.”
Based in California wine country, Surely sells a mix of products like sparkling white, rosé, and cabernet sauvignon through its website or at retailers like Total Wine. Because the brand is a relative newcomer to the wine space, Hanson says customer education is part of the business model. Not everyone has a clear idea of what the product is.
There are several versions of nonalcoholic wine and the differences range from flavor profile to how the drink is actually made. Surely, which is considered a de-alcoholized wine rather than a zero-proof wine, starts with a product that contains alcohol. Zero-proof wines use a non-fermented grape base that doesn’t yield alcohol at any point in the production process.
Surely sources through established California wineries and uses what Hanson describes as a “spinning cone column” to remove the alcohol from the original product. The process leverages centrifugal force to enhance distillation by placing two cones side by side, with one containing the full-strength alcohol. A combination of high speed and heat separates the ethanol from the wine.
Once that ethanol is transferred into the other cone, what’s left is the base liquid that Surely uses to create its product. Hanson believes this method yields a more premium final product since it starts with California wine rather than grapes or grape juice.
Still, there is a drawback to the cone method; once the spinning is complete, the product has lost about 30 percent of its original volume. This is why, Hanson says, premium nonalcoholic wines haven’t been common in the past. Demand wasn’t high enough to generate a strong ROI. However, that’s starting to shift.
“Premiumization of dealcoholized wines is gaining traction, owing to greater emphasis on flavor, high-quality ingredients, and more appealing packaging,” Choudhury says. “Consumers perceive nonalcoholic wine as a product worth spending money on.”
Hanson says one of the factors driving the demand for more premium products in this space is the customer’s desire to engage socially without facing the stigma of being a “non-drinker.” Consumers want a product that tastes good and can’t be distinguished from a regular glass of wine, he adds.
This is true for both people who do and don’t consume alcohol. Hanson says nonalcoholic wines aren’t just for people who abstain from alcohol; they’re also for those who imbibe but don’t necessarily want alcohol every time they do. Seventy-eight percent of nonalcoholic beverage buyers are also purchasing alcoholic beer, wine, or spirits, per Nielsen.
“We’re not anti-alcohol,” Hanson says. “We’re just pro more choices.”
Adding nonalcoholic wines to menus could help attract a younger clientele, too. Choudhury says that by and large, premiumization is being driven by millennials—and it’s trend backed up by data. According to research conducted by Future Market Insights, 54 percent of millennials reported they were more inclined to choose a premium beverage compared to other offerings.
Because of this, Hanson says restaurants would be wise to start including wines like Surely on menus. While the brand isn’t in restaurants just yet, Hanson hopes foodservice will soon be a part of Surely’s omnichannel strategy.
Not all premium nonalcoholic wines originate from a dealcoholized base. Luann de Lesseps, founder of Fosé Rosé, opted to go a different route when she created her brand of zero-proof bubbly.
Fosé Rosé starts from a white grape base and uses herbs and botanicals like rosemary, white oak, hibiscus, and vanilla to build a more layered taste that mimics alcoholic rosé. This technique ensures the beverage is completely alcohol-free, compared to many nonalcoholic drinks that may contain trace amounts with ABVs hovering around 0.5 percent.
De Lesseps, who rose to fame as a cast member on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York City,” decided to create Fosé after she and her daughter cut alcohol out of their lives at the onset of the pandemic.
“We just couldn’t find anything that we like to drink,” de Lesseps says. “There was nothing really elegant or elevated in that space.”
Like Hanson, she says part of the mission behind Fosé is to end the stigma that comes with abstaining from alcohol. She believes that just because someone sacrifices alcohol, be it for a night or for the long term, they shouldn’t have to sacrifice on taste or quality.
“No one’s going to know that you’re not drinking right along with them,” she says. “That’s important to me. You can still party and have fun even though there is no alcohol.”
Fosé is currently available as a CPG in several bottle shops around New York City as well as online, but de Lesseps is working to secure distribution and bring the product to a wider audience, including restaurants.
“It needs to be in restaurants,” she says. “There needs to be a healthy option in a restaurant that looks like you’re drinking along with everybody else.”