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Dry January Makes a Splash

We’re all familiar with New Year’s resolutions, which often stem from a desire to atone for the previous holiday’s overindulgences. Case in point: Dry January, which is now a global movement celebrating 31 days of sobriety for the first month of the year. The campaign kicked off in the UK in 2013 as a fundraiser led by nonprofit group Alcohol Change that asked Brits to donate the money they’d normally spend in a pub—and reap the added benefits of ditching hangovers and trimming waistlines. (Roughly 58 percent of people who did Dry January in 2018 reported losing weight, according to a study from the University of Sussex.) This year, one in six Britons who drink alcohol say they’ll participate in Dry January, and that trend is likewise gaining momentum in the US. Although 75 percent of American drinkers are reportedly consuming more alcohol since the start of the pandemic, Morning Consult data also shows that 13 percent of US drinkers were interested in participating in Dry January in 2020, up from 11 percent the previous year. (This year’s numbers have yet to be counted.) Here’s how brands are getting in on the sober-curious buzz.

Brewing Dry Beers
The non-alcoholic beer and cider category have enjoyed impressive recent growth, with sales rising nearly 32 percent from 2020 to 2021. “The conversation around non-alcoholic beer has changed,” said Athletic Brewing Company co-founder Bill Shufelt. “It’s no longer about restricting yourself. It’s about rewarding yourself and making better choices.” Heineken recently promoted its Heineken 0.0 alcohol-free beer via a spot that empathizes with non-drinkers throughout the ages: a clan of Vikings shun a member who tries to “cheers” with milk instead of ale; at a Bridgerton-style Regency party, a pompadoured woman gets dirty looks for raising her cup of tea; a man sheepishly holds up his juice box at a groovy ‘70s party. The campaign is running on TV, social, digital and out-of-home channels in countries including Austria, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Italy, Poland, Spain and the US, with the aim of helping non-drinkers feel comfortable among those imbibing. “With so many of us looking for alternatives to alcohol when at social and evening occasions, especially during periods like ‘Dry January,’ as is common in many regions, the non-alcoholic beer segment has exploded over the last five years,” said Bram Westenbrink, Heineken global brand director.

Corona is perhaps taking the health call one step further by introducing Sunbrew, its new alcohol-free beer that’s infused with vitamin D. The brand’s previous category offering, Corona Zero, has thus far been available only in Mexico, but plans are underway to launch in Europe early next year. Sunbrew, for its part, will launch first in Canada—a place renowned for its lack of sunlight in winter. Additional market rollouts include the UK, Europe, South America and Asia, with an accompanying 60-second spot shot in stop motion on a beach in Costa Rica to show the sun’s effects on nature.

Calling All Wine Lovers
From grains to grapes, the alcohol-free wine market is likewise expanding. In fact, Nielsen data shows that sales of alcohol-free wines rose 43 percent in the first half of last year, which made it the second fastest-growing wine category. This isn’t a new idea—the first wines to contain less than .5 percent alcohol by volume appeared in the 1980s, with the Ariel brand introduced as an early alternative for Hyatt Hotels guests. Today, new brands are exploring celebrity partnerships to help generate buzz for their buzz-free bottles. California’s Miller Family Wine company, for example, just launched its newest Hand on Heart non-alcoholic wine collection in collaboration with the world’s first female Iron Chef, Cat Cora. The pandemic also proved fruitful in terms of boosting sales. “2020 saw the most growth in Ariel’s sales in many years,” said COO Jeff Meier.  Alcohol-free wines made by FRE likewise experienced a 30 to 40 percent sales surge in the past year, while Surely introduced a new non-alcoholic cabernet sauvignon in late December that’s already garnering positive reviews. “Thinking has really expanded,” said Brie Wohl, FRE’s VP of marketing. “In the last couple of years, [we’ve seen the] sober movement, the sober curious: largely younger consumers who have decided to make alcohol-free choices. [They have] a different idea of what it means to live a healthy lifestyle.”

New Shots for Spirits
Finally, in spirits news, Vermont-based whiskey maker WhistlePig dipped a toe in the non-alcoholic market by launching its PiggyBack Devil’s Slide, a collection of zero-alcohol rye-aged whiskeys. Included in this lineup is the CBD-infused “Devil’s Half Send”—which may be followed by its THC-infused counterpart, “Devil’s Full Send,” should marijuana rules ever allow. Accompanying the Dry January campaign are labels inspired by a temperance-movement poster called the “Devil’s Toboggan Slide,” which jokingly mock the idea that consuming any whiskey will corrupt the drinker. “It’s a really cluttered space, both in terms of the fast pace of non-alcoholic [products hitting the shelves] and the crowded nature of the whiskey space and how many new launches are coming to the market every month,” said VP of marketing Eliza McClure. “We like to stand out…by pushing the envelope a little bit further, and taking people to an unexpected place and being a bit irreverent about it.” Full proceeds of Devil’s Slide sales will go to bartenders economically impacted by the pandemic. Additional distillers including Ritual, Lyre’s and Seedlip are also producing alcohol-free spirits, helping contribute to the nearly 114 percent year-over-year growth enjoyed by this category.

As Dry January initiatives continue gaining traction, a clear market is growing to support alcohol-free trends. “Quit lit” books now provide insight to sober-curious readers, while global mentions of the words non-alcoholic and mocktail increased on social media sites  81 percent and 42 percent, respectively, according to media-tracking firm Social Standards. Brands, for their part, are doing what it takes to get in on the non-boozy fun. Cheers!