New year, new you, new drinks. After 2019 saw a frenzy of investments, mergers, and acquisitions in the realm of nonalcoholic spirit brands, 2020 could be the year that nonalcoholic drinks earn the same attention (and possibly the same prices) as familiar cocktails on menus at trendy bars and restaurants nationwide.
In 2019, an estimated one in five Americans participated in “Dry January,” a New Year’s resolution spinoff trend in which many casual drinkers give up alcohol for the month of January—likely after overindulging during the holiday season. The movement coined a catchy term, and it’s now about as ubiquitous in diet trend stories as the search for the next big plant-based milk. But it’s going to take more than a month of going dry to impact drinking habits in the long term.
This could be where mocktails (faux cocktails, with all the blends and ingredients familiar to a complex drink, sans alcohol) truly come into play. They look like cocktails, and if made well, they taste like cocktails. And they can be served year-round, making it easier for someone who doesn’t want to drink alcohol (for whatever reason, based on diet, pregnancy, or other health reasons) while socializing.
“Consumer interest in low- and no-alcohol products has been on the rise, particularly over the last year, as part of a larger health and wellness movement,” says Brandy Rand, chief operating officer of the Americas at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. This trend has been gaining momentum, Rand says, noting analysts have been seeing more cocktail menus dedicate real estate toward “zero proof,” “sans alcohol” or “mocktail” options—but it’s not widespread yet.
The beverage and alcohol market research firm recently conducted bartender interviews and menu analysis across 15 U.S. cities, and one consistent theme was consumer demand for low-sugar, and low- or no-ABV drinks. “This is not quite mainstream, but there is a marked increase, and more bars and restaurants are recognizing the need to innovate,” Rand says. The challenge, she says, is the wide availability and use of no-alcohol substitutes.
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