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January, 22

Dry January: the new youth of non-alcoholic drinks

Les Echos - Credit, Eléonore Théry

Since Canada Dry, zero-degree beverages have largely evolved, adopting the look, flavors and codes of alcoholic competitors. A flourishing market driven by new drinking habits. To be consumed without moderation at the time of Dry January.

It's time for a drink. But is it reasonable to raise the elbow?
For a few years, millions of daring people around the world have committed to a high-flying challenge launched by the British prevention association Alcohol Change UK in 2013: Dry January, or the commitment to stay sober throughout the month of January. The challenge is quite simple: all you have to do is serve yourself a drink that looks and tastes like alcohol but doesn't contain a drop of it.

Between the bitterness of a Brewdog Nanny State IPA, the freshness
of a French Bloom organic sparkling wine or the summer taste of Lyre's spritz, there's no shortage of choices. The list of these guaranteed hangover-free drinks is growing steadily, from large groups - William Grant & Sons, Martini & Rossi, Pernod Ricard... - to new independent brands, from beers
to spirits, from trendy bars to supermarkets.

Nearly 40% of French people consume them from time to time, and 9% of them at least once a week, according to an Ifop/Heineken study published in early January. And the market is showing crazy growth: 20% between 2017 and 2018 and 30% the following year (IWSR). Globally, the category is expected to grow by more than 30% within the beverage market by 2024.

A new desirability

Yet the idea is hardly new. As early as the 1970s and 1980s, a first wave of non-alcoholic aperitifs appeared and enjoyed a small success: Canada Dry ("Golden like alcohol, its name sounds like an alcohol name... but it's not alcohol"), then Panach or Buckler on the beer side, the aniseed-flavoured Pacific or the unforgettable Mister Cocktail on the aperitif
side. But very often, dipping one's lips in these beverages was more of a constraint, even a punishment, than a pleasure, because the taste was not really there. Worse, these drinks were quickly labeled as cheesy by those who tried them.

French Bloom, a bioMALO fizzy drink

"In the years 2000 to 2010, it was a rather aging market, in decline, which suffered from a bad image among consumers," summarizes Antoine Susini, marketing director of Heineken France. That was before it found a new lease on life - through beers first - and built a more desirable and festive image. Among the pioneers of this revival is Seedlip, founded by Englishman Ben Branson in 2015, whose aromatic blend of allspice, cardamom, lemon peel and zest is now sipped in bars around the world.

A strategy to make people feel less guilty.

In the meantime, the tide has turned. Health is no longer just in the public policy arena, it is at the heart of consumers' concerns, especially
millennials, who have made wellness a new guru." Today, we pay more and more attention to what we consume: we favor organic, local... Until now, the phenomenon was not much about beverages. Now, people are starting to pay as much attention to their glass as to their plate," observes Marion Lebeau, co-founder of the Osco aperitif - an idea she came up with when she was pregnant and found the offer unsuitable: too sweet, artificial and not very festive.

While France still ranks third among the 38 OECD countries that drink the most, a slew of new words imported from Great Britain have come to describe the trend: slow drinking, which prefers tasting to binge drinking to the point of thirst, or nolo, which refers to abstinence (no alcohol) or moderation (low alcohol by volume).

Dry London Spirit, the alcohol-free gin from Lyre'sDR

"Since the 1960s, there has been a structural decline in alcohol consumption, especially among young people. People are drinking less but better quality drinks," says Benoît Heilbrunn, professor of marketing at ESCP. The phenomenon of moderation is also part of the growing sacredness of the aperitif, reinforced by the various confinements.

"The cocktail hour is becoming longer and longer, as meals are becoming less structured and the border with dinner is becoming less and less clear. And to make this moment last, we reduce the degree of alcohol", continues the specialist, who advances a deeper reason for this success, "a strategy of guiltlessness, in a culture influenced by the Judeo-Christian history".

In other words, a way to give yourself a good conscience...
A care brought to the packaging

For these new trendy drinks, the art lies in imitating the codes of classic spirits, from their flavors, including a characteristic bitterness, to the packaging. Lyre's, launched in 2019 and now celebrating its one millionth bottle sold, is a master of the art. The Australian brand features all the most popular spirits, from gin to whiskey, rum to amaretto, in sleekly designed bottles reminiscent of the cocktail heyday. "Your taste buds are used to certain flavors, like the spritz in France. It's about not abandoning them," says founder Mark Livings.

Osco, the 0° aperitif created by Frenchwomen Laura Falque and Marion Lebeau.
Young French start-up, Osco has charted a different course.
"We didn't want to be a copy of an existing alcohol, the challenge being not to pass for a juice or a soda. We opted for a pronounced taste and a bitterness with a nice length in the mouth," describes Marion Lebeau. Its manufacturing secret? Verjuice, a green grape juice harvested by hand before maturitý, combined with aromatic plants.

Technical headache

A clever parade, because the technical development of these beverages is a real puzzle that relies on clever technical innovations. Some make the alcohol disappear, like Heineken, which heats its beer at a low temperature after brewing, to evaporate it while preserving the flavors.

"We have invested 6 million euros in 2019 in our Alsatian brewery to install 0.0 technology on a dedicated line. Thus, all of our 0% alcohol references are now 'made in France,"

" Antoine Susini says. Lyre's relies on " an avant-garde scientific method", says its founder. The process consists of isolating three molecules, essences, extracts and distillate, then mixing them in water-based ethanol, before adding natural flavors.

 READ ALSO : Spirits: the world's giants are moving into alcohol without... alcohol

"Some flavors are particularly complicated to recreate, the smoky side of whiskey for example. Another difficulty is the texture: the slightly viscous sensation on the palate. We worked a lot on this. The idea, again, is to have the sensation of drinking alcohol. His creations have been successful with three profiles: seniors and those forbidden to drink alcohol for medical or religious reasons, young people, concerned with well-being, and the generation of forty-somethings, who try to moderate their consumption.

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