Sober Me: Rethinking Alcohol for a New Generation of Drinkers

As we covered in our 2020 Nourish Trend Report, there is a new generation of drinkers who are rethinking alcohol and are part of the new “sober curious” movement. But, that doesn't mean they don't want "drinks with benefits" and aren't willing to pay for them.

Also contributing to growth in this space is the legalization of cannabis, which is viewed by many consumers as being healthier and lower calorie than alcohol.

The concept of “drinks with benefits” doesn’t just mean enhanced with CBD or THC. In our 2019 Trend Report, we wrote about the shift from physical to emotional well-being and the rise of medicinal mushrooms or “adaptogens” as consumers look to plants over pills for physical and mental health.

Adapting with Adaptogens for Next-Gen Imbibers

Adaptogens (helps with anxiety and stress management - herbs, roots, mushrooms) and nootropics (enhances cognitive function - caffeine, grape seed extract) have the potential to be a bigger market than CBD in the wellness drinks space according to intelligence platform CBInsights. Of course, these ingredients enjoy the advantage of being readily available, and they’ve been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines.

Why do people drink? What is their desired need state? To be social, as well as to relax and feel good, or at least better. Or, they want the warm hug of a chai with additional functional benefits instead of taking a vitamin or supplement in the form of a pill. Not only does it perform a needed task, but it also tastes better doing it!

Digging into social drinking, what if there’s a “better” way to do it, without the calories, hangover, and adverse health effects, while still providing the flavour of alcohol? Not to mention without the social stigma of being the one ordering a club soda at the bar.

Adaptogens and nootropics have been around longer than CBD, their effectiveness has been more widely researched, and they have a lower barrier to entry. And yet, consumers have a higher awareness of CBD. However, that awareness is often confused with THC, the psychoactive part of the cannabis plant. Four in 10 US consumers incorrectly think CBD is another term for marijuana and over half of them believe you can get high on CBD, according to a recent survey by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Who’s Already On Board?

New York-based Kin Euphorics is one example of a company targeting these new consumer needs by taking adaptogens and nootropics outside of the supplements aisle to craft non-alcoholic beverages for social drinking occasions. It combines the adaptogenic herb Rhodiola rosea with several nootropics such as caffeine and 5-HTP into a drink that aims to help people relax and be more social.

Closer to home, Greenhouse sells a Dr. Chai beverage that’s blended to give you “a cool dose of Zen.” It comes complete with a premium price tag and a contents list that reads like a who’s who of functional ingredients. The slick packaging and hip, moderately cheeky brand persona make it a veritable poster child for the “drinks with benefits” movement.

Things to consider:

If you’re a Manufacturer:

There are still unmet needs with this emerging no- or low-alcohol movement, including new, “adultier” flavours, more premium ingredients, packaging, and experiences. What products can you develop to allow this set of consumers to drink “better”? Can you design a beverage that combines nootropics such as caffeine or adaptogens like ashwagandha, reishi, and turmeric into a drink that aims to help people relax and be more social?

If you’re a Retailer:

Can you showcase products to make consumer resolutions easier for January and beyond? Canadian non-alcohol beers like Partake are low-calorie and don’t sacrifice taste, as evidenced by its World’s Best award in the non-alcoholic category at the World Beer Awards. Added bonus: you don’t need to be granted a licence to sell these products!

If you’re in Foodservice:

How can you capitalize on your guests’ desires for more adult non-alcoholic beverages on-premise? Can you up your coffee game and bottom-line with a more cocktail-type presentation like New York-based Felix Roasting does as part of its “Felix Experience?” Is there now an opportunity to sell these beverages off-premise as well to capture lost revenue from on-premise alcohol sales?

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