It’s Not about Drinking or Not Drinking, It’s about Drinking Better.
With Carrie & Charlotte snapped drinking 0% alcohol wine in a preview from the next installment of Sex and The City, I think it is finally safe to say that the non-alcoholic (NA) movement is going mainstream.
The timing is impeccable. It is just over 100 years since Prohibition (1920-33) - so it feels right that America finds itself once more on the brink of a seismic shift in the way it thinks about and drinks alcohol. And it will be a seismic shift. The growth is explosive: the NA beer market is already worth $9.6bn globally and is projected to be worth $30bn by 2030. We now have Sober October and Dry January. There are at least five non-alcoholic liquor stores in New York — compared to a big fat ZERO just 18 months ago. There are dozens of new and amazing brands in the space from Athletic Brewing, Kin and Ghia to Lyre’s, Three Spirit and, of course, our very own AVEC Drinks.
The timing is impeccable. It is just over 100 years since Prohibition (1920-33) - so it feels right that America finds itself once more on the brink of a seismic shift in the way it thinks about and drinks alcohol. And it will be a seismic shift.
Without doubt, the rise of the NA movement has been the most striking development since we started AVEC Drinks just over a year ago. The speed of growth has been break-neck, and honestly, amazing to watch. So given AVEC’s proximity to the space, I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on the category, how it’s developing and our position in it.
So what is going on?
Accelerated by the pandemic - and under the noses of many - the world of drinking is being totally re-thought. More specifically, what people choose to drink during the “adult occasion” (dinners, drinks, parties, etc.) is taking a new shape.
Why? In a word: health. It goes without saying that alcohol in excess is unequivocally bad for you, and there is even some debate around whether any amount is ok. Increased interest in health and living a healthy lifestyle has led to Gen Z drinking 20% less and to older generations scrambling to readjust their intake.
In fact, the modern sober curious movement has been in full swing for a while now. Big, typically European, brands like Seedlip (sold to Diageo in 2019) pioneered a new way of thinking. What if you could make spirits, wines, or beers taste the same (or better) and remove the alcohol?
This thought was radical when they started in 2014.
More than just being radical it marked a huge shift in the way a whole industry thought about it’s future.
For many years innovation in drinking had been very linear. For the most part it focused on better, or more premium versions of existing things. Think of the craft beer revolution, the recent boom in premium spirits, or the current interest in aperitifs. But with the rise of alcohol as an enemy it has led to phenomenal and totally non-linear innovation.
To use a motor industry analogy - Emerging hard seltzer brands like White Claw represent the sort of threat made by upstart Japanese car manufacturers Nissan & Honda in the 1980s, whereas the NA movement is more like the threat posed by Tesla and electric cars today.
We are lucky enough to partner with most of these NA brands at AVEC. At least, when I think about it, I break down the category as follows:
- Mimics/Spirit Alternatives
- Functional Beverages/ Alternatives to alcohol
- Tonics & Pre-Made “Mocktails”
These range from zero-proof beers and wines, to spirits and liqueurs. For the most part they are trying to taste like alcohol. Some brands like Lyre’s (the mimic bird) and Ritual seek to replace exactly what you’d expect to find behind a bar: spirits like gin, tequila and bourbon, but without the alcohol. They get there by combining different herbs, spices, and sugars. Whereas, Seedlip creates “distilled” non-alcoholic spirits from peas that have been compared to gin, but really are their own thing entirely. Then, of course, are the big NA beer and wine players like Athletic Brewing, Noughty, & Fre. Many are absolutely delicious and taste very close to the real deal.
This is probably the most exciting category. This ranges from THC & CBD beverages like Cann and all the way through to adaptogen-driven brands like Kin Euphorics, Three Spirit, or Bonbuz. What binds this category together is that they are offering a different sort of high or feeling to alcohol. Instead of trying to taste like alcohol, they want to replace the feeling with something different entirely. They pose a simple and valid question: why is alcohol the dominant legal drug? Lot’s of big businesses are betting that this is due for a change.
The last category is somewhat adjacent. Arguably both AVEC & Ghia are here, alongside Curious Elixirs & Casamara Club. This lot is mostly focused on creating delicious NA beverages that are tasty, and often better for you. In AVEC’s case, this is in reaction to the sleepy, grossly unhealthy mixer category. P.s. the average tonic water has 100% of your daily (WHO recommended) added sugar intake (~30g). In Casamara Club’s case, it is more of a direct reaction against tasteless seltzers and sugary sodas.
At AVEC, we have always been on a mission to help ourselves and others drink better. The interesting thing is that our mission hasn’t changed but the world around us has. It is clear now that customers are not only anxious about the amount of sugar and general crap that goes into their drinks, but also are anxious about the amount they are drinking overall. Clearly, America is drinking too much (⅓ adults are excessive drinkers) and drinking is mostly bad for you. However, there is also clearly a magic to drinking - a magic that we think shouldn’t be entirely forgotten.
Not all the evidence is in the “against” column for alcohol. Rather, balance and moderation are the name of the game. In fact, in this superb and wide-ranging article in the Atlantic, Kate Julian argues that while too much booze is bad, “throughout history, drinking has provided a social and psychological service.” She is backed up by Robin Dunbar of the FT, who suggests that “Drink is the secret to humanity’s success” and shows that societies that drink are happier and better connected as a result.
At AVEC, we don't believe drinking is only bad for you. But we do think there is an urgent need for people to drink better. The enemy is our societal acceptance & encouragement of overconsumption (college hazing, free shots, free pouring etc), the lack of mandatory ABV & nutritional facts requirement (if you have booze in your beverage, you don’t have to list your nutritional content!), reliance on artificial ingredients and sweeteners to boost profits & flavors, and general lack of education and transparency around drinking.
That's why we think that it’s not about drinking or not drinking:
It’s about drinking better.
This means less volume - more quality, less added sugar - more balanced nutritional profiles, less fake crap - more real ingredients.
And to be clear, this is what a lot of people are already doing. A lot of people who are “sober curious, are just that - curious. Ask any of the NA stores like Boisson & Better Rhodes - and they’ll tell you that most of their customers also drink alcohol. They are just looking to drink a little bit less.
In fact, that’s why we call them “conscious drinkers” or even, “flexi-drinkers” rather than “sober-curious.” (And we fully expect “conscious drinkers” to become “all drinkers”).
At AVEC, we want to provide the tools to help us drink better. We offer delicious, more interesting drinks that use real ingredients & balance rather than added sugar to create flavor. Our mixers can be drunk by themselves as a healthy artisanal soda, or mixed with your favorite spirit to create a delicious mixed drink.
Rather than be too preachy, we just wanted to offer a healthy, more sophisticated choice for consumers. But the difference is quite dramatic. We have 80-90% less sugar in our drinks than the nearest alternative (you can add some if you need), we go to extreme lengths to use the best possible ingredients (fresh juice not from concentrate, single origin where possible, and organic where possible) and always use real ingredients grown from the ground rather than “natural flavor” or other fake ingredients.
Like Prohibition - we expect over-reaction followed by synthesis and for a new reality to emerge. This time with a healthier relationship with alcohol. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater - instead let’s all walk arm-in-arm with Charlotte & Carrie and learn to drink better.
Drink Better, Mix AVEC.