Jonny Stevens, founder of better without:

Ever wandered into a bar and panic ordered a diet coke out of lack of choice or inspiration? Unlikely if you have the choice of an alcoholic alternative, but if you are the designated driver, practising mindful consumption, or altogether switching out the ethanol for an alcohol-free lifestyle, this scenario is probably all too familiar. No insult to Coca Cola intended here - their products have rightfully earned a prominent place on the bar, but there are few non-alcoholic beverages that rival the familiarity and fame of the syrupy substance, often propelling alcohol-free consumers into making hasty, indifferent and uninspiring drink choices. More and more, we are hearing consumers commenting on the lack of alcohol-free alternatives available in pubs which leave them feeling uninspired and excluded from social occasions taking place throughout UK bars and pubs. Being seen with a pint of “fizzy soda” quite often provokes unnecessary questioning, and let’s face it - are sugary drinks REALLY what consumers want?

Insights tell us otherwise. The UK’s social responsibility body and regulator for alcohol labelling, packaging and promotion, The Portman Group, recently reported that nearly 59% of alcohol drinkers have at least tried a direct low or no substitute for their favourite alcoholic beverage. The report also told us that alcohol-free consumers are increasingly ditching the simple soft drink alternatives in favour of replacements that rival the flavour profile, premiumization and theatre of alcoholic drinks. The demand for complexity and a substitute designed for the adult palate sees a significant percentage of drinkers reportedly happy to pay comparable prices for carefully produced non-alcoholic alternatives, if the product delivers on these factors.

While we have seen rapid growth in the low and no alcohol category of late and with UK alcohol-free beverage sales increasing by 30% in the off-trade markets during lockdown, accessibility and choice of alcohol-free products throughout UK’s pubs and restaurants falls short of the accelerating consumer demand with the existing few low and no alternatives getting lost amongst the variety of alcoholic beverages lining our UK bars.

As consumers, we’ve been familiar with the idea of alcohol-free beers for some time now, with key beverage players producing non-alcoholic alternatives decades ago, often being sold in the past as stand-alone alternatives or as part of a very limited alcohol-free range within the UK on-trade drinks category. The number of hospitality brands also engaging with alcohol-free campaigns such as Dry January has also increased over recent years, so the low and no alcohol movement isn’t entirely new to this sector. However, with momentum growing beyond these scheduled campaign dates and a shift in the nation’s drinking habits, the demand for innovation has grown. Whilst research by IWSR suggests the low and no beer sector looks to grow from 2% to 6% of the overall beer sector by 2023, low and no alcohol beers must now share the alcohol-free market with the rapid wave of new product developments. These include the development of new low and no alcohol wines, ciders, craft beers, spirits and ready to drink products. It’s no surprise therefore, that limited alcohol-free options or calendarized alcohol-free campaigns no longer cut it, nor do they meet customer demands from the hospitality sector.

Time to change? The hospitality industry has undoubtedly been one of the worst affected industries over the last 12 months, with the Covid-19 pandemic imposing costly restrictions and forcing many operators into temporary (yet lengthy) unplanned closures. While we all eagerly anticipate the reopening of pub, bar and restaurant establishments, now more than ever, it’s fundamental that the hospitality industry listens and responds to the shift in drinking habits that has taken the off-trade drinks market by storm. Particularly as the low and no trend is likely to stick around, driven largely by the lower drinking rates amongst our younger generations.

So, what should hospitality brands be doing now to prepare their drinks range for reopening?

Many hospitality brands have started to acknowledge the shift in drinking habits and implement change to accommodate low and no alcohol alternatives within their drink offerings. Social listening is a fantastic exercise for delving into customer insights, conversations and preferences, and also great for discovering new trends and products on the market. With the alcohol-free industry growing, richer insights are emerging, with stacks of articles, reports and sales data being published daily by industry leaders.

Despite the huge growth within the category, what’s not to be overlooked is the barrier that faces both the on-trade and off-trade space. Alarmingly, The Portman Group recently reported that 13% of all adults do not recall seeing a low alcohol option available for sale. We’ve addressed one potential contributor to this factor, being the obvious lack of choice currently within the hospitality sector, however it has become increasingly apparent that the visibility and communication of choice available are also low and have been holding some people back from switch to an alcohol-free alternative. While industry and consumer insights are a great opportunity for hospitality brands to better understand the low and no alcohol alternatives being enjoyed over lockdown, communication and visibility is a vital barrier hospitality brands will need to address before reopening. Importantly, the support of technology will likely assist hospitality brands in overcoming this, with numerous brands now owning branded apps, as a result of the restricted service and social distancing guidelines implemented late last year. This is one potential positive to take from the pandemic, allowing venues the ability to clearly identify and communicate their alcohol-free alternatives and product descriptors straight into the hands of their customers.

We, at better without, have also been working to help overcome this barrier. Born out of my own frustration and finding it difficult to discover great low and no alcohol options, despite there being so many great low and no alternatives out there, I wanted to create a place where finding and reviewing these products and the venues that serve them, is made easy. With my experience of working within the hospitality and technology industry and my passion to help people discover low and no choices, the app was born. The better without app launched in December 2020 and has since taken the off-trade market by storm. We’re now working closely with hospitality brands to help showcase venues their low and no alcohol offering via the better without app once pubs and restaurants reopen. We’re hoping this helps to promote the venues serving alcohol-free alternatives while supporting the alcohol-free community in finding products and venues that meet their alcohol-free requirements.

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About better without. The place for happy drinkers.better without’ is the first app for discovering low and no alcohol drinks. Founded in 2020, better without was created by founder Jonny Stevens, to support the fast-growing community of people who are choosing to moderate their drinking or not drink at all. Download the better without app to discover, find and rate low and no alcohol beers, ciders, wines, spirits and more!

For more information, please contact Jonny Stevens on 0203 882 0728 or