Canadians say cheers to booze-free bevvies

Your guide to this booming beverage category
non alcoholic drink

Beyond Dry January

Sober curious. Mindful drinking. These buzzwords have bubbled up from a growing global movement of adults giving up (or reducing their intake of) alcohol for health and wellness benefits. The behaviour takes Dry January, after holiday boozing, to a year-round practice. Helping empower the movement to cut back are new non- and low-alcohol alternatives that taste like the real thing, minus the hangover and calories.

Joel Gregoire, associate director of food and drink at Mintel, says the firm’s research shows more than half of Canadian adults (approximately 57%) believe mocktails are a good substitute for the real thing, reflecting changing attitudes towards nonalcoholic drinking.

“No longer do you have that person sticking out with a glass of water or juice – with this category, they’re still able to enjoy the flavour profile of a cocktail as well as social moments,” he says. “The category offers a sense of inclusion.” 

Fad or the future?

Will Orford, director of purchasing at Fresh City Farms in Toronto, sees no signs of the category fizzling out. “Non-alcoholic beverages have become a staple in many fridges,” he says. “As new parents, they’ve become a staple in our house for my partner and I when we want something refreshing with dinner but still need our wits about us.” Producers also continue to innovate in the category. “We’re seeing non-alcoholic options for things like Prosecco, stouts and porters,” he notes.

A spirit-less spike

Buzz-less beverages have surged in popularity, with NielsenIQ naming it as one of the biggest trends of 2022. According to the market researcher, consumers spent US$3.3 billion on no- and low-alcohol products within the U.S. off-premise market last year.

Fresh City Farms began carrying proof-less beverage options in some of its eight locations and online in 2020-2021, and Orford is buzzed about their reception so far. 

“We have seen consistent growth,” he says. Breaking down sales for adult beverages, Orford says non-alcoholic spirits now sit “comfortably in our top three alongside beer and red wine.”

Though the non-alcoholic beverage market is still developing in Canada, Sarah Parniak, senior Canadian manager, non-alcohol for Seedlip – a seven-year-old brand acquired by Diageo in 2019 – says once more retailers dedicate shelf space to these beverages it will prove “a turning point” for the category in Canada. “Shoppers need clear direction on where to find these products,” she explains. “Layering in education and occasion at shelf will help to establish a dynamic shopper story and set the stage for long-term growth.”

Bevy of brands

In recent years, Canada has seen new entrants like Sobrii, a brand featured on Dragons’ Den last year, which has a gin and a tequila with less than 0.5% alcohol, zero sugar and zero calories.

Vancouver-based Opus launched in late 2020 with a zero-proof Peach Bellini, Gin and Tonic, and Aperitivo Spritz. “In the first month, we sold 12 cases at retail, then 65 and then 90 and eventually moved 2,000 cases in a month,” says Opus founder and CEO Christos Kalaitzis.

And just in time for Dry January 2022, Corona Canada launched Corona Sunbrew 0.0%, a non-alcoholic beer that the company says contains 30% of the daily value of vitamin D per 330-mL serving.

This article was first featured in Canadian Grocer’s November issue.

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