NoLo, Alcohol-free, non-alcoholic...what does it all mean?

As consumer buying habits and lifestyles develop and change, so too does the need to redefine categories and terms.  So how are today’s consumers describing the drinks market?


Alternatives to alcoholic drinks

There is a surge in new drinks without alcohol, responding to consumer health trends, and yet choice still appears to be limited. New products tend to be different versions of the same old products – we don’t need yet another alcohol-free beer. This sector of the drinks market needs a radical rethink.


Current Definitions

To help understand this drinks sector, here is a simple guide through the No and Low Alcoholic Drinks market definitions. Let’s start with Alcohol.

  • The definition of an Alcoholic Drink is: a drink that contains ethanol, that acts as a drug.
  • The definition of an Alcohol-Free Drink is: an alcoholic drink with the alcohol removed, such as alcohol-free beer or wine. The drink can contain no more than 0.05% alcohol.
  • The definition of a Low Alcohol Drink is: a drink that contains no more than 1.2% alcohol.
  • The no and low alcohol market is abbreviated as the NOLO market.
  • The definition of a Soft Drink is: a drink that contains water (often carbonated), a sweetener and flavouring


The Weakness of Alcohol-Free

The popularity of alcohol-free drinking has risen as consumers become increasingly aware of the negative physical and mental health effects of alcohol. The simplistic and obvious response from the alcohol companies has been to offer their consumers the same alcoholic drinks (and brands) with the alcohol removed. This ignores the important role alcohol plays in terms of flavour and mouthfeel. Alcohol contributes far more than its properties as a drug. Once alcohol is removed from a drink designed to contain alcohol, the flavour deteriorates.


Flavour deterioration of alcohol free drinks


Products in the alcohol-free sector are distress purchases. On a non-alcoholic drink purchasing occasion (such as when driving), the real product (with alcohol) is not viable due to the drug properties of the alcohol, so the inferior alternative - the alcohol-free version – is chosen. This makes no sense - why settle for an inferior product? According to Mintel, 52% of drinkers think that alcohol-free beer does not taste as good as standard beer. Surely there are better alternatives?


The Soft Drinks Challenge

Soft drinks are an alternative. They were not designed to contain alcohol in the first place, so soft drinks are not inferior versions of something else. However, soft drinks have their own problems. Sugar consumption is possibly the UK’s number one nutrition concern and artificial sweeteners are not much better. By definition, a soft drink is packed with either sugar or other sweeteners.


Sweet soft drinks


Find out more about the hidden sugars in drinks here.


Redefining the Market

There are a few key trends that are incompatible:

  1. The British continue to link socialising with alcohol consumption, and..
  2. Socialising is vital for mental health, but..
  3. Consumers are moving away from alcohol for health reasons

Conventional soft drinks are not the solution to this dilemma because of their negative impact on health. The drinks options for those avoiding alcohol are simply not good enough (61% of drinkers are not happy with the non-alcoholic choices available according to Distil Ventures, and our own research here supports this insight). The drinks industry has not kept up with consumer trends, perhaps driven by its own vested interests to protect major alcohol-based brands and the status quo in the huge conventional soft drinks market.


ZAG Drinks believes the solution is to create a new drinks category. A category for consumers who are avoiding alcohol but still want to socialise over a drink. For consumers who are health conscious and are cutting down on sugar and artificial sweeteners as well as alcohol. These consumers are adults with developed tastes, who have an appreciation of complex flavours rather than just blunt sweetness, and want to be treated as adults, not targeted with the child-like imagery of many soft drinks. This new category is called Social Softs.



The definition of a Social Soft is: a long drink without alcohol, with a less sweet, more challenging flavour. Designed for social occasions but not a copy of an alcoholic drink.

Rarely has there been such a mismatch between the consumer trends and the major suppliers in a consumer goods sector. ZAG Drinks is challenging the market with a new brand, a new product and a new category, designed to give consumers something they want but cannot get from the major businesses running the drinks industry.




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