When thirty-two-year-old Yashika Sharma, a Gurugram-based advertising professional, planned her baby shower this April, she was clear about one thing—if she wasn’t going to drink, neither were her guests. At the same time, she didn’t want to serve the regular colas, fruit juices or nimboo pani. “I ordered a selection of zero-alcohol beverages including beer, gin, cocktails and even wine,” says the soon-to-be-mother, adding: “They tasted great, some of them just like the real thing, and we could party without getting drunk.”
Globally, there is a spike in the consumption of zero-proof or non-alcoholic beverages. With a growing number of teetotallers, health-conscious millennials and the ‘sober curious’—those exploring elements of a booze-free lifestyle without fully abstaining—the market for crafted beverages with organic ingredients and avant-garde flavour profiles is growing. Non-alcoholic beverage sales increased 33 per cent to $331 million in the US in 2021, according to data from NielsenIQ. They did especially well on e-commerce platforms—there was a 315 per cent increase in online non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic beverage sales last year.
While India is still a nascent market, it is only likely to grow. There is a whole class of enthusiasts that is embracing non-alcoholic beverages because they are low on calories, considered somewhat healthier and, most importantly, claim to not compromise on taste. “Our customers vary from people who don’t drink at all to those who drink occasionally to those who cannot drink for whatever reason,” says Aneesh Bhasin, Co-founder of Mumbai-based Svami, a pioneer in the Indian craft tonic water space that launched three ready-to-drink non-alcoholic cocktails—G&T, Pink Gin & Tonic and Rum & Cola—last year. “If someone does not want to drink alcohol, she should have more tasty and complex drinking options available.” Svami’s beverages, which were launched after a year of R&D to get the taste just right, are already contributing 20-25 per cent to its revenues. While the G&T has classic botanicals like juniper, its non-alcoholic Rum & Cola is flavoured with vanilla, caramel and cinnamon, and has only 56 calories.
Delhi-based craft beer brand Kati Patang also launched its range of non-alcoholic beverages called NOT last year. Available in three flavours—NOT G&T, NOT Cosmopolitan and NOT Old Fashioned—these imitate the taste of the popular cocktails, minus the alcohol and the calories. “Our NOT Old Fashioned brings alive a not-usual experience, with over 35 spices, to give you the complex flavour and experience of the classic cocktail with no alcohol and lower calories,” says Lata Upadhyay, Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of Kati Patang. The NOT Old Fashioned, which has oaky notes of bourbon whisky, zero-alcohol aromatic bitters, and the fine finish of vanilla and nutty flavours, has only 19 kcal per 100 ml.
Upadhyay says the company did not anticipate the demand and has run out of stocks. The next production cycle starts in mid-June and stocks will be replenished by July.
Sober Gin is the latest entrant in the market. This Goa-based gin has zero carbs, zero sugar, zero alcohol and only five calories. It is infused with juniper berries, ashwagandha and tulsi, which is supposed to boost immunity. Priced at Rs 1,499, it can be purchased from the website. On its website, its Founder Vansh Pahuja says that the pandemic was a turning point for Sober. “The government banned all liquor stores, and all bars and restaurants were shut down. So, what do people drink now when they are not drinking? Now almost everyone is not drinking... Can anything replicate the same experience or ritual?” Pahuja says that’s how Sober, India’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirit, came into being.
Ganesh Iyer, Managing Partner for Indian Subcontinent at Zero Percent Shop, a division of privately owned Finnish company Third Culture Group, says it’s all about mindful consumption. “Globally, especially post the pandemic, people are now more conscious of their health and what they are consuming. Low on calories, low on sugar is gaining prominence. Plus, the 18-24-year-olds are hardly drinking alcohol.”
Zero Percent only stocks craft products that use botanicals and natural ingredients with no emulsifiers or preservatives. Some of the products include Noughty Sparkling Chardonnay made from grapes of southern Spain. With only 2.9 gm of sugar per 100 ml, it has just 14 calories per glass. A bottle costs Rs 1,750. Coast from Belgium is an alcohol-free craft beer with citrus and tropical fruit flavours, priced at Rs 250 for a can. It has only 33 calories. There is also GinISH from Denmark made from natural botanicals such as juniper berries, coriander seeds and chilli, and tastes like gin. It is priced at Rs 1,750 for a bottle.
Zero-alcohol beer is likely to be the next big thing globally. According to insightSLICE, a US-based global market research provider, the global non-alcoholic beer market size was estimated to be $9.6 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $35.6 billion by 2030 at a CAGR of 8.1 per cent. Some of the world’s biggest brewers have sensed this and have launched zero per cent alcohol versions of their famous brands. In India, AB InBev has launched Budweiser 0.0, Hoegaarden 0.0 and Hoegaarden Rosee 0.0, while Heineken offers Heineken 0.0. The products are available in all major cities and can also be bought online through Amazon.
With nearly 40-60 per cent less calories than traditional fizzy drinks and the taste of beer to boot, these no-alcohol beers are popular with a younger generation that is more health conscious and would like to avoid a ‘beer belly’. Unlike regular beer, which is brewed after full fermentation, non-alcoholic beer is made in controlled conditions allowing only limited fermentation, which prevents the yeast from producing alcohol.
Mumbai-based Coolberg is India’s first zero-alcohol beer company. The ‘beer’ is made by malting barley in water, boiling it to a high temperature, and then cooling the brew. Coolberg offers six variants—Malt, Ginger, Cranberry, Mint, Peach and Strawberry. Its most popular offering is the Malt beer, made with toasty notes of barley malts and hops.
Since these beverages are non-alcoholic, they can be purchased online. They are popular not only in the metros but also in smaller towns, and states such as Gujarat and Bihar, which have prohibition. “Our non-alcohol cocktails are very popular in Gujarat. Ahmedabad and Surat are big markets for us,” says Svami’s Bhasin.
So, next time you are the designated driver at a party or are avoiding alcohol for whatever reason, give the fizzy drinks a miss and pop open a can of zero-alcohol beer or pour yourself a no-alcohol cocktail.
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