Non-alcoholic beers and mixed beer beverages in vogue

Worldwide sales of more than 40 million hectoliters
© Rügener Insel-Brauerei GmbH

Growth surpasses optimistic forecasts

Increasing awareness around a healthy lifestyle is leading to a growing market for non-alcoholic beverages. Even the brewing industry can feel the effects of the trend. The market research institute IWSR forecasts global annual sales growth for non-alcoholic beer of 8.8 percent by 2023. This is partly due to the fact that non-alcoholic beer and mixed-beer beverages are lower in calories than other alcohol-free beverages such as juice or soda, and are increasingly viewed as ideal thirst quenchers.

Worldwide sales of more than 40 million hectoliters

According to Euromonitor International, worldwide sales of non-alcoholic beer and alcohol-free mixed beer beverages totaled 40.91 million hectoliters last year. The figure was only 33.56 million hectoliters in 2015, 35.77 million in 2016 and 37.66 million hectoliters in 2017. The market research institute anticipates that the success story for these alcohol-free drinks will continue, forecasting sales of 43.53 million hectoliters for 2019 and 46.50 million hectoliters for 2020.

Germany in the lead with non-alcoholic beers and mixed beer beverages

In Europe, Germany is in the lead with non-alcoholic beers and mixed-beer beverages. The German brewery association estimates production at 6.04 million hectoliters for 2018. Spokesman Marc-Oliver Huhnholz: “Demand last year surpassed even our optimistic forecasts.” The segment grew almost 13 percent compared to the prior year. Non-alcoholic radler drinks and other alcohol-free mixed beer beverages were almost 19 percent higher.

Non-alcoholic beer – from the motorist’s beer to hip healthy drink

Looking at the trend over time, it is clear that the run on alcohol-free beverages in Germany started rather slowly in 2008, despite several earlier attempts. Sales at that time totaled some 2.3 million hectoliters. In 2010, sales reached the 3 million hectoliter mark. In 2012, production totaled 4.14 million hectoliters. In 2015, the figure was 5.24 million hectoliters. A big jump occurred between 2017 and 2018 – from 5.49 million to 6.04 million hectoliters.

Consumption of alcohol-free beers and mixed-beer beverages was particularly high in Western Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe. By contrast, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, North America and Australasia showed sharp declines – which opens up a great deal of potential.

Huhnholz: “In the meantime, every 15th liter of beer produced in Germany is alcohol-free. That makes German brewers the world leaders in the production of non-alcoholic beer. We anticipate that the market share of alcohol-free beer will grow from approximately 7 percent today to 10 percent in the next few years, based on an overall market of 94 million hectoliters.”

Proof that Germany has a special connection to non-alcoholic beer lies in the fact that the first alcohol-free beer developed there by Ulrich Wappler at the VEB Engelhardt Brewery in Berlin-Stralau was launched as the “Aubi” (the motorist’s beer). It was introduced at the Leipzig trade fair in 1972. But today, it isn’t just motorists who drink alcohol-free beer. People now generally associate the consumption of non-alcoholic beer with a sense of responsibility, pleasure, health and fitness.

Good taste is mandatory, alcohol content is not

As part of an independent study on beer trends from a consumer perspective, K&A BrandResearch asked consumers from Generation X/Y/Z in Germany what is important to them when it comes to beer, as well as what trends they anticipate. Among other things, the results indicate that alcohol-free, reduced alcohol and mixed-beer beverages are highly relevant for approximately 60 percent of those surveyed. And they showed that good-tasting beer didn’t necessarily have to contain alcohol.

Deutschland hat bei alkoholfreien Bieren und Biermischgetränken die Nase vorn
© Rügener Insel-Brauerei GmbH

Another study that reflects the major shift in opinion regarding alcohol-free beer was conducted by Webbosaurus. In the study, the 10 largest breweries in Germany, measured by production of beer, and 48 craft beer breweries were monitored online. The question that was posed: What are the most popular beer brands? Erdinger came out ahead. Philipp Rodewald, president of Webbosaurus, offers this explanation: “It was particularly the alcohol-free aspect that gave Erdinger its favorable view on the social web. Its marketing and sponsoring activities position the brand as a healthy beer alternative, especially among runners.”

The aspect of health was underscored yet again in new research findings: Scientists working with Prof. Claus Hellerbrand, at the Institute for Biochemistry at FAU, together with the working group of Prof. Ina Bergheim, at the University of Vienna, recently found that the substances xanthohumol and iso alpha acids contained in beer have a favorable impact on biological processes, particularly when consumed together.

Even at very low concentrations, they can significantly hinder the production of inflammatory factors in liver and blood cells. At present, the only way for humans to consume xanthohumol and iso alpha acids is likely through drinking beer. The positive aspects named here are countered by the alcohol content. However, scientists believe it is conceivable that a positive effect can also be achieved by consuming non-alcoholic beer. “Xanthohumol and iso alpha acids appear especially promising for the treatment or prevention of liver damage due to obesity,” says Hellerbrand.

Unconventional thinking is allowed

New ideas for alcohol-free mixed beer beverages continue to move in the direction of health. One focus is on flavors from herbs, blossoms, vegetables or spices. Younger consumers, in particular, and their willingness to experiment are driving the trend toward new flavors in mixed-beer beverages. Data from Mintel shows that about one-third of European beer drinkers would find beverages  flavored with spices or herbs appealing. The 18 to 34-year-old group is especially interested in these kinds of innovations.

Willingness to experiment is also called for where classic alcohol-free beers are concerned. Here, it is the non-alcoholic versions of craft beers such as India Pale Ales that are becoming more popular. For example, there has been a notable venture from Insel Brewery in Rügen, which recently entered the alcohol-free beer segment with four innovative varieties: Skipper’s Special Bitter, Snorkeler’s Sea Salt IPA, Surfer’s Summer Ale and Swimmer’s Saison. They are produced with a brewing method based on the use of natural hops, a novel fresh distillation method, varietal, unfiltered fermentation carbonation and bottle ageing. The products also stand out because they are all wrapped in wet-strength, natural paper.

Involvement pays off

The global brewing industry would do well to not only include alcohol-free beers and mixed-beer beverages as mere tag-alongs within their product range, but to make a strong commitment to them – because the future likely holds a great deal of potential for the non-alcoholic beer segment. And perhaps the optimistic future projections will be topped again and again.

Friederike Arndt

As a freelance trade journalist, Friederike Arndt is regarded as an expert in the area of beverages. She spent a long time writing for, inter alia, the trade magazines Getränkeindustrie (beverage industry) and Getränkefachgroßhandel (beverage wholesale trade). On the blog, she reports on the latest trends and innovations in the field of non-alcoholic beverages.