The so-called “sober curious” movement is gathering pace in the beverage arena as more individuals opt to lower their alcohol intake or remove it altogether. That is, according to UK-headquartered flavor ingredients provider Treatt. As more Millennials and Gen Z consumers look to explore a lifestyle less influenced by alcohol, beverage companies are met with new challenges to cater to a new target audience with appealing and innovative flavors, the company notes.

Alcoholic drinks make up 16.5 percent of the beverage market, making this pillar one of the largest categories, with consumption sitting at approximately 33 billion liters a year, according to Treatt. With the current focus on health and wellness, industry can perhaps expect to see this number slowly decline, creating challenges for the alcohol market specifically, the company notes. Shifts in consumer demand result in greater adaptability and Treatt has listed the ways beverage brands are responding to the new interest in sober living.

Cocktails are getting a makeover
As Millennial and Gen Z generations embrace healthier lifestyles, cocktails are starting to tap into the better-for-you trend. Spirited options without the spirit are the drink of choice when in a social setting for these generations who prefer low- to no-alcohol, without compromising on flavor. Mocktail bars are popping up and rising in popularity. With the rise of sober influencers, mocktail bars are helping consumers satisfy the demand to have a great time without alcohol. Although there is no alcohol in these drinks, the prices are staying the same and sales are going up. Non-alcoholic beverage sales grew from US$700 million to US$1.1 billion in the past year in the US alone.

No booze beer
Meanwhile, businesses have been keeping an eye on the impact small-batch entrepreneurs have on the low- to no-alcohol market, with several players entering the market already. Several large beer companies in Europe and the US have promised to fill at least 20 percent of its global portfolio with non-alcoholic beer by 2025. This means that pretty soon, sober curious beer drinkers will have a market catered to them with many options to choose from.

Non-alcoholic beverage brands
With many younger generations staying away from alcohol, beverage brands seek more creative ways to attract the sober curious customer. Companies are taking canned seltzers and adding herbs, nourishing plants and other compounds that support cognition and health. 
Flavored, low-alcohol sparkling water and hard seltzers are trending in the beverage market, driven by influences from the US. Offering huge potential for innovation in flavors, this emerging sparkling beverage category is due to hit Europe this summer as an alcoholic beverage with a health halo.
These drinks replace the typical regular non-alcoholic beverage, but it helps the healthy lifestyle that the sober curious consumers are looking for. 
Other companies, such as those that offer non-alcoholic wines, are providing the full aroma and taste of typical wine, but with no alcohol and half the calories. In addition to brands tweaking their ingredients, sparkling waters and sodas are on the rise thanks to a decline in alcohol consumption. 
In social gatherings, many sober curious consumers are looking for a beverage that is a bit more interesting than water or a carbonated soft drink. Beverage manufacturers are evolving to meet healthier lifestyles by reducing sugar and adding premium ingredients. The soft drink, sparkling water and seltzer companies have continually been able to engage alcohol abstainers effectively. So much so that this led to a 54 percent growth in sparkling water in 2018 and a 2.9 percent surge in soft drinks sales last year, Treatt notes. 
Meanwhile, botanicals continue to blossom in alcohol NPD. Innova Market Insights has tracked a 21 percent CAGR growth in alcoholic beverages launches with botanical flavors (Global, 2015-2019). The market researcher has also found that 18 percent of launches with botanical flavors were tracked with a No Additives/Preservatives health claim, crowning it as the most widely used claim paired with botanicals (Global, 2019). Gluten-Free (17 percent) and Organic (14 percent) claims took a close second and third place in the flower and herb space.
“Classic fruity, tropical flavors continue to be consistently popular during the summer – think crisp and refreshing flavors such as watermelon, cherry and pineapple,” Julie Barnes, Product Development Specialist at Treatt, tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “The wellness trend has rocketed in popularity recently, with the COVID-19 pandemic only strengthening consumer desire for functional beverages,” she adds. 
Last week, US-based Square One Organic Spirits launched organic-certified ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails aimed at Millenials and Gen Z consumers, in line with current market trends.