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Nolo

In this article Victoria Wells talks about nolo drinks.
Photograph of various nolo beers in bottles and cans on a supermarket shelf.
© Victoria Wells

Low alcohol drinks, and especially low alcohol beer, have been around for many hundreds of years, first as small or table beer from the Mediaeval period when low alcohol beer was standard.

In 1949 Maurice Gorham wrote and published a book called ‘Back to the Local” which examined London pubs at that time. In the glossary to the book he notes the current state of what he calls teetotal drinks at that time and that:

”teetotal drinks are supplied in all pubs, although naturally the bigger houses have a more extensive range. Soda and tonic water are sold wherever spirits are sold, and most houses catering for mixed custom sell things like lime juice and orangeade. You cannot count, however, upon walking into a pub and obtaining a cup of tea on demand” (page 121).

Very little changed with regard to teetotal drinks until the 1980s when early non-alcoholic beer became available. However, early brands such as Barbican and Kaliber were, according to Williams and Katwala (2022), unsuccessful due to poor taste, poor presentation and not mimicking consumption practices (small bottles rather than standard pints).

Recent innovations in no and low alcohol products, often called simply nolo products, have been rapid. These innovations, according to Williams and Katwala have improved the taste and flavour profile of nolo drinks, more carefully mimicking the mouth-feel of alcoholic drinks, branding has been designed to appeal to audiences through social media and Instagram, and more established brands with already strong followings have launched on to the nolo market.

According to SIBA (the Society for Independent Brewers), 95% of consumers are aware of nolo beers and 40% of consumers thought the quality of nolo beers had improved from 2021 to 2022. Because of this, the nolo drinks industry is undergoing a period of substantial growth. Currently worth £255 million in the UK, its value is expected to reach £432 million by 2027. Compared to 52% of drinkers who had an alcoholic beer in the last three months, 24% also had a nolo drink (Mintel, 2022). These drinks have particularly shown promise with younger markets with 64% of 18-24 year old drinking nolo drinks in the last three months (Mintel, 2022). KAM media (a company specialising in insight on the UK hospitality and foodservice industries) also highlights that in 2023, 86% of pubs are now carrying at least 1 nolo beer. The SIBA Craft beer 2023 report also highlighted that 15% of their members produced a no or low alcohol beer in 2022, an increase of 5% since 2021 and that 18% of drinkers now drink nolo beers. They also highlight that 29% of pub visits involve no alcohol.

Health benefits, from both a policy and consumer perspective, have been one significant driver of nolo consumption. Stemming from public health debates centred on problematic alcohol consumption and the impact of alcohol consumption on health, support for nolo has come from governments and international organisations to support the alcohol industry to lower alcohol levels and to nudge consumers towards these products (Anderson et al, 2021; Nicholls, 2022). More consumers are moderating their drinking, building on a health trend since Covid and wish to reduce their risk of disease or manage their weight (Mintel, 2022) and in turn consume nolo drinks. Additionally, as conversations about mental health are opening up, consumers are more openly discussing their relationship with alcohol and taking a more mindful approach to alcohol consumption as social stigma around nolo has reduced (Willams and Katwala, 2022). However, as Anderson et al (2021) notes, the evidence base for the potential health benefits is limited and needs considerable expansion. Additionally nolo can only benefit health if consumers replace alcoholic drinks with nolo rather than adding them to their existing consumption (Andersson et al, 2021; Nicholls, 2022).

We’ll have to wait and see how this market develops over the next few years and whether nolo products will become an even larger part of what we drink, both in pubs and out.

Over to you

What do you drink when you go to the pub?

  • Have you tried some of the newer nolo drinks that are available?
  • Do you like them?
  • Would you substitute them for alcoholic drinks?
  • If you haven’t tried them why not?

Add you thoughts to the comments below.

References

Anderson, P., Kokole, D. and Llopis, E.J., 2021. Production, consumption, and potential public health impact of low-and no-alcohol products: results of a scoping review. Nutrients, 13(9), p.3153.

Gorham, M (1949) Back to the Local, Faber Finds

Mintel (2022) UK Attitudes Towards Low- and No-Alcohol Drinks Market Report 2022 (https://store.mintel.com/report/uk-attitudes-towards-low-and-no-alcohol-drinks-market-report)

Nicholls, E. (2022) You can be hybrid when to comes to drinking: The Marketing and Consumption of No and Low Alcohol Drinks in the UK, Report for the Institute of Alcohol Studies, March 2022.

Williams, C and Katwala, A. (2022) All Consuming: Non-Alcoholic Drinks, BBC Sounds (www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001bkr9)

© Victoria Wells/University of York
This article is from the free online

Pubs: History, Consumers, Management, and Protection

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