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This Super Bowl Sunday, pass me a cold (non-alcoholic) beer

3-minute read

Andy Keenan
Special to USA TODAY Network

Dry January has come and gone. At least the “January” part.

A growing number of legal-age consumers intend to keep that “dry” part going. Perhaps, forever?

Much ink has been spilled in recent years about a shift, particularly among younger drinkers, away from alcohol. Some dubbed this group “sober curious.” Today, we may as well brand them sober loyalists — and their numbers are growing.

But with the Super Bowl on deck, followed closely by Valentine’s Day — two holidays known for celebratory consumption — drinking-age Americans will be put to the test again: To beer or not to beer?

But with the Super Bowl on deck, followed closely by Valentine’s Day — two holidays known for celebratory consumption — drinking-age Americans will be put to the test again: To beer or not to beer?

While data shows the majority of drinkers will still reach for a beer during the Super Bowl or a glass of bubbly while at a Galentine’s Day gathering, an increasing number are choosing to abstain — if not altogether, then at least by consuming less. Plus, as social acceptance of the movement takes hold, non-drinkers are celebrating sober — and without judgment.

Some 21% of U.S. adults reported they were practicing reduced alcohol consumption for Dry January this year — the highest level recorded since polling began in 2021, and up 6 percentage points from 2023, according to a January survey conducted by Morning Consult Pro. So for many, these two celebratory February occasions represent the first real social test of the year.

But whatever consumers decide to drink, and wherever they decide to celebrate, they’ll have more options to choose from, including an expanding list of NA (non-alcoholic) beverages.

In my role at Advantage Solutions, I see this trend firsthand every day in conversations with retailers around the country. Retailers pride themselves on being at the forefront of consumer trends and are committed to meeting new and fast-moving customer demands. With our industry experience and expertise, they rely on us and our front-row seat on this changing retail landscape.

NA beer volume sales grew more than 18% in the 52-week period ending Oct. 8, 2023, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to Circana multi-outlet and convenience store data. That growth stands in stark contrast to the overall beverage alcohol category, which was slightly down over the same period.

6Ͽover, the non-alcoholic beverage market is forecast to grow 25.4% in the U.S. through 2026, while low-alcoholic beverages are projected to grow 5.9% in the same period, according to data from Kantar. 

Most of those drinkers are shifting to NA options from the alcoholic version of the very same beverages. And of all beverage alcohol shoppers, 29% say they’re interested in switching to non-alcoholic versions, according to Kantar data. Most beverage companies have recognized this shift and are putting more resources toward this growing piece of the pie. Heineken, Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors and Constellation Brands all have NA options.

Big brands are all in

They did not tiptoe their way in, either.

Take Heineken, for instance, which last year aired the first national Super Bowl ad promoting an NA beer, Heineken 0.0.

“That is not a trend; that’s not a fad,” Jonnie Cahill, chief marketing officer at Heineken USA, told The Wall Street Journal at the time. “That’s a macro societal trend away from alcohol.”

The numbers bear that out.

Beyond Heineken’s big splash, Boston Beer Co., Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors and NA-only brewer Athletic Brewing (in which Keurig Dr Pepper recently took a minority stake) are investing in non-alcoholic promotions. Ad spending on NA beverages reached $9.7 million in January, up from just $1.4 million in January 2019, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.

So, what is driving this trend?

It wasn’t until the pandemic in the U.S. that the NA industry really kick-started, led by a trend among suddenly house-bound shoppers who were focusing more on their health and wellness.

The market quickly followed, and mocktails and other NA options started popping up everywhere from high-end cocktail bars to grocer’s aisles, packaged in eye-catching, cleverly branded cans. 6Ͽ appealing options in turn led to more interest among consumers.

Generational shifts have also played a part in this trend. Studies show that younger consumers witnessed the effects of alcoholism on older members of their family and are taking steps to avoid that. They want to stay level-headed and in control of their social image. They have also flocked to so-called functional beverages and other products to moderate their moods, including cannabis. 

The result is a migration away from alcohol in staggering numbers. One stat stands out here: College students refraining from alcohol increased to 28% in 2018 from just 20% in 2002, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

6Ͽ perspective:Dry January isn't just for problem drinkers. It's making me wonder why I drink at all.

Booze isn’t dead

But fear not, alcoholic beverage industry. Alcohol is not, by any measure, on the way out. The NA beer and mocktail market is still a fraction compared with the alcohol-beverage market.

Come Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day, plenty of Americans will be cracking a couple of traditional beers, a glass of wine or a full-strength cocktail.

And those Dry January participants? Count them among those raising a toast. Nationally, 18% of Dry January participants admitted to drinking more alcohol in February to compensate.

It is, after all, Boozy February.

Andy Keenan is executive vice president and general manager at Advantage Solutions, a provider of outsourced sales and marketing services to consumer goods manufacturers and retailers.