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Healthy Booze? How Alcoholic Drinks Are Changing


For the first time since 2002, figures show alcohol consumption in the UK has been in decline.  Much of this is due to the changes in consumer trends; people wanting healthier choices and being more aware of alcohol’s harmful effects.  In an earlier article, I talked about the rise of a new drinks category, which has come off the back of these changes - adult soft drinks.  This category consists of non-alcoholic drinks aimed at appealing to adults with their sophisticated ingredients and flavour combinations.  Since writing the article, more and more companies have jumped on this emerging opportunity.  One brand that springs to mind is Seedlip – the world’s firstpremiumnon-alcoholic spirit.  Alcohol brands are facing tough competition due to the rise of health conscious drinkers.  This, as well as increased popularity in trends such as ‘Dry January’ has led to more than half of consumers seeking greater choice of alternatives to alcoholic drink in pubs and bars.

On top of this, there has also been a recent call for an outright ban on all alcohol advertising.  This came from a report published in a recent scientific journal.  The article claims that youngsters who are exposed to beer, wine and spirit ads is linked to their misuse of alcohol.

This may be quite a bold claim, and it’s well known that alcohol misuse, especially among younger consumers causes no end of issues.  For those who are unaware alcohol is actually the leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds across Europe.  Regardless of this though, there isn’t actually any conclusive evidence out there that exposing people to alcohol advertisements is linked to alcohol misuse.

While an outright ban on the advertisement of alcoholic products seem unlikely, it is clear that alcohol companies do need to push through the noise when it comes to this new wave of health conscious consumers.  So how do they do this?  Well, the tricky thing is, it’s actually forbidden for brands of alcoholic drinks to directly claim any health benefits, so appealing to this demographic can be quite challenging.  Times have certainly changed since the famous Guinness ad campaign from 1929 claiming that Guinness was “good for you”.  There are subtler ways that these brands can market themselves though, and still appeal to those trying to cut down on how much they drink.  We have actually seen a number of examples of this recently:


Use of Natural Ingredients

A couple of major players in the alcoholic drinks industry, such as Smirnoff and Absolut have started using natural ingredients in their drinks in order to imply healthy connotations.


Calorie Labelling

As well as incorporating natural ingredients into some of their brands, Diageo has also started putting more obvious calorie labelling on its products.  If alcohol companies are able to display a pleasing level of calories on its packaging, customers may see this as a selling point.  Of course, we have certainly seen a rise in lower calorie and ‘light’ versions of popular beers in recent years, so it seems there is a market for that.


Organic Products

Organic alcoholic products are a relatively niche thing, although they are making inroads within the wine industry.  No one has found in research that organic products actually offer any health benefits, but people do tend to believe that organic products are somehow healthier and more premium than their non-organic counterparts.  Again, this is a cue that the alcohol industry could use this to their advantage and therefore, could see organic products breaking through into the broader sector.


Low-alcohol, alcohol free and low-carb

As I said earlier, non-alcoholic products like Seedlip and growing interest in ‘lighter’ beer products have seen noticeable growth.  However, I think there’s still some work to be done in this area to remove some of the stigma surrounded by some of these products.  You are still more likely receive disapproving looks if you order a non-alcoholic beer, than if you ordered a traditional soft drink.  Low-carb alcoholic drinks have also been a bit of a slow burn, which is surprising considering the waves that low-carb products have made in many food categories.


Functional alcoholic drinks

Niche products containing functional ingredients have started to come out of the woodwork during the rise in healthy drink choices.  Products such as Vitamin Vodka containing vitamins K, B and C, and Barbell Brew containing 22g of protein per bottle are amongst them.


What could this mean going forward?

As you can see, these changes are subtle, and are a big step from actually making any health claims.  This helps keep alcohol companies safe from conflicting with restrictions, but I’d like to predict that we’ll see them push the envelope further as time goes on.

The benefits for us as a consumer are that these companies are clearly taking a more customer focussed approach, changing their products to match our changing attitudes.  The trouble is though, are consumers actually thinking about health when making alcohol choices?  I would imagine most people choosing an alcoholic drink for the same reason – for a bit of indulgence, and to relax and have fun.  I’d be surprised to see someone choose a vitamin infused vodka because they were actually looking for something to benefit their health.  It’s clear there’s nothing easy about finding new ways to push your alcoholic products while more and more people are looking to make healthier choices.


Final thoughts

While I can see an increase in alcoholic products with healthy associations, I would also advise alcohol companies to tread carefully in this area.  As these associations increase, the less informed may start to believe that these types of drinks are actually good for you.  The last thing alcohol companies want to do is increase binge drinking.

What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear your opinions on whether you think alcoholic drinks with healthy associations is a good thing.


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