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Competing Goods

Our latest Levercliff consumer tracker says that 31% of consumers have reduced alcohol intake in the last 3 months, and 23% would like to do so. Are Lo/No alcohol products the perfect answer?

Our latest Levercliff consumer tracker says that 31% of consumers have reduced alcohol intake in the last 3 months, and 23% would like to do so. The Health Survey for England 2021 found that 1 in 5 adults drink above the recommended weekly limit of 14 units.

Lo/No alcohol products would seem to be the perfect answer.

Talk about having your cake and eating it. Lo/No alcohol products let you enjoy that beer and cut down on your alcohol intake at the same time. So maybe we can add this to a list of “Objective Goods Fully Reconciled”?

Maybe.

Some research indicates positive effects of Lo/No alcohol products in reducing alcohol consumption, and there has been widespread support for Lo/No drinks, including by a number of government bodies.

However, research at the University of York has shown there is very little evidence to support this, and that more data is needed on consumer behaviour world-wide to create a strategy for the marketing of Lo/No drinks before it can be claimed as a replacement to alcoholic drinks.

Professor Victoria Wells, from the University of York’s School of Business and Society, said: “Although the Lo/No industry is booming in terms of sales we know very little about how, when, and in what ways it is chosen by and used by consumers. Lo/No has been promoted as being a healthy alternative, and governments hope that consumers will use it to replace alcoholic drinks, but there is no research that currently supports this.”

In addition, there are some concerns around unintended consequences that haven’t been worked out just yet, and some research shows that a big %of consumers are using No/Lo products in addition to their regular alcohol consumption. Survey results from the Social Market Foundation indicate that among those that have consumed Lo/No drinks, about 4 in 10 have cut back on their alcohol consumption. However, a similar number reported no change, and a significant proportion of consumers of Lo/No also indicated that they do soon top of, rather than instead of, stronger products. This raises concerns about whether Lo/No products can tackle alcohol-related harms at a population level.

Alcohol Change UK has research suggesting that ‘Alcohol-free’ (AF) drinks were found to be important for most “harmful and hazardous” drinkers trying to reduce their consumption. 83% of their respondents who were trying to cut back found AF drinks to be important to their attempt. They found that the use of ‘alcohol-free’ drinks was associated with success in moving from higher to lower drinking categories for the majority of their sample.

Alcohol Change UK also point to a range of potential negative impacts from No/Lo alcoholic drinks:

Trigger Effect – the idea that the taste or the ritual triggers people in recovery or who have had, for example, liver treatment, to start drinking again.

Brand Building Effect – the idea that if a country has looser rules on the marketing of AF drinks, companies that choose to produce AF-versions of existing alcohol brands can promote their wider brand, putting brand elements of their alcoholic products into contexts where they would not otherwise be allowed.

Induction Effect – the idea that parents and other adults give alcohol-free drinks to young people, introducing them to the taste and ritual of beer/wine/spirits at a younger age and/or to more young people, and that this in turn increases the consumption of the alcohol-containing version of these drinks once the taste or ritual is acquired.

Inequalities Effect – the idea that, while the Replacement Effect (people substituting alcohol with AF drinks) is positive, it might mainly benefit wealthier parts of the population, exacerbating health inequalities.

Bleeding Effect – the idea that the Additionality Effect (i.e. where people drink AF drinks in addition to their existing alcohol intake) while itself neutral, might lead to people drinking AF drinks in more situations where alcohol doesn’t normally exist (e.g. breakfast cafes) and this in turn might lead toother people believing those drinks to be alcoholic drinks, which in turn increases the normalisation of the consumption of alcoholic drinks in these situations.

Policy Distraction Effect – the idea that that the benefits of the Replacement Effect(people substituting alcohol with AF drinks) will distract Government for other essential policy changes or are even are used as an excuse, by Government or the alcohol industry, to say they are acting on alcohol harm while failing to progress other effective policy changes to reduce alcohol harm.

Researchers are calling for more work to be done to understand the impact of these potential effects.

So, where does all this leave brewers, wine makers, and distillers? Brand owners will need to position themselves somewhere on a continuum from “substitution” (drink this instead of your regular drink) to “Additionality” (drink this on new occasions when you wouldn’t normally drink alcohol). Where they land on this continuum will depend on the nature of their business: existing sales of alcoholic drinks, brand history, and distribution patterns, to name a few considerations.

Ultimately this will have an impact on the way the these drinks are presented in store and in pubs. Businesses that get a handle on this quickly will be best placed to succeed.

Then maybe they will be able to reconcile three of Isiah’s competing goods:

Great tasting drinks

Lower alcohol consumption

A thriving drinks industry

Good!

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Written by Will Shaw, Senior Consultant

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