The Dry January trend has seen a steady increase in participants over the years, with 1 in 6 adults pledging to take part this month – a 22% growth from last year. The pledge was started as a simple guide by Alcohol Change UK, a charity aimed at reducing the harm caused by alcohol but has since taken on a life its own with millions coming onboard every year from all around the world. But it’s not just a reduction in alcohol that is affecting the drinks industry. The last two years have fundamentally changed our drinking habits. From at-home mixology to conscious consumerism, we’ve taken a look at how pandemic behaviour has forever changed the meaning of “Fancy a drink?”

Saying yes to no and low

Covid-19 gave people more time at home to focus on self-improvement and personal wellbeing. As good health became synonymous with freedom, a strong immune system, good sleep, mindfulness, outdoor exercise, and mental health all went up in value. With lockdown causing major disruptions in people’s sleeping patterns, the link between alcohol and bad sleep in particular led many to reconsider their typical levels of consumption.

Job losses and tighter spending also meant that those who typically treated themselves to a tipple were now having to cut back on luxuries while others who tend to only drink in social settings and at work gatherings were suddenly removed from collegiate pressure. And with that cut back came the discovery of no and low alcohol drinks. By early 2020, the no and low alcohol sector was in 36% growth, projected to increase another 31% by 2024.

From Gordon’s 0.0% gin to brands like Seedlip and Caleño, who specialise in no-alcohol spirits, consumers are looking for alternatives that don’t feel like a compromise but taste just as good. Non-alcoholic wine and beer is equally in demand – sales grew by 58% in 2020 and are expected to keep rising. Moretti, Heineken, Stella Artois, Kopparberg, Leffe, Corona, San Miguel… the list of alcohol-free producers goes on, with new products launching at a steady pace. Clearly, non-alcoholic beers are for more than just Dry January. There’s logic behind it, too: globally, the World Health Organisation expects the proportion of drinkers to fall to 40.3% before 2025, with a quarter of drinkers in the UK already considering themselves to be semi-regular consumers of low and no alcohol beverages.

Premium over percentage

Lockdown also gave people an opportunity to hone their cooking skills, polish up on mixology and experiment with new ingredients. Instead of going out with mates to feel buzzed as quickly and cheaply as possible, consumers had the time and space to take pleasure in their drinks, exploring unconventional flavours and consistencies. And this newfound love for the premium isn’t going anywhere – Bacardi’s 2022 cocktail trends report notes that 30% of UK adults plan to drink more premium cocktails this year, while 50% of bartenders globally have reported an uptake in more premium drinks. Tequila in particular is seeing a major uptake, with celebrities from Kendall Jenner to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson launching their own creations to the public.

Ready to drink

If there’s one trend that’s showing no signs of stopping, it’s the canned drink. Ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails have gone hand in hand with the last two years of outdoor socialising, with beautiful packaging taking centre stage on social media. ‘Instagrammable’ cans like Punchy and Shake Baby Shake are taking over influencer feeds while reflecting the new health and wellness benefits people are seeking in their drinks. It’s no longer about how much flavour or alcohol you can fit in a can – refreshing, light, sippable drinks are where it’s at.

This shift may be why hard seltzer, or spiked seltzer, has seen a massive boost in popularity in recent months – with brands like Gen-Z favourite White Claw making their way overseas from the US. The lightweight, low-calorie drink typically contains lower alcohol and sugar contents than ‘traditional’ alcopops like Hooch or Wkd and demand for it shows no signs of stopping: the UK’s hard seltzer category is forecast to reach around £600 million by 2025. It’s so popular that major brewers like Bud Light and Corona have come out with their own seltzer-y adjacent drinks – check out Ritas Spritz and Refrescas.

Sustainable sipping

While health benefits are a key selling point for beverages going into 2022, consumers are increasingly looking for a second sticker on the bottle: sustainability. After COP26 and a growing spotlight on climate change, the F&B sector is starting to be transformed by a demand for local and ethically sourced ingredients, zero-waste production methods and recyclable or biodegradable packaging. With conscious consumerism making waves as one of the top 6 new trends this year, it’s no surprise that these values are being reflected by some players already – Hackney Brewery has introduced a Toast Ale made from unsold surplus bread, while hard seltzer brand Served uses wonky shaped fruits to infuse it drinks. They’re met by multinationals like BrewDog, the B-Corp promising carbon negative emissions and Bombay Sapphire, who is on track to be the first gin brand made with 100% sustainably-sourced botanicals. It looks like drinks contributing to a healthy planet are becoming just as important as those affecting our personal health.

Alternative highs

There is one type of beverage where sustainability, health and 0% alcohol seem to converge – and that’s herbal drinks. They’re plant-based spirits or cocktails that offer a stimulating, pleasant effect without the alcohol. Three Spirit promises plant-powered highs, from their energising ‘Livener’ (fuelled by the schisandra berry) to their bottle of ‘Nightcap’, with relaxing valerian root. Edi has created ‘Spirited Euphoria’, a spirit distilled from hemp that “won’t intoxicate you, but will help you to unwind” while Trip has launched a range of chilled CBD cans (hello RTD!) for stress-free sipping. Those looking to extend their high can also access ‘drinkables’ with micro doses of THC from dispensaries or online (where legal, of course), like Cann, House of Saka or Artet. The line between alcohol and weed is becoming blurred as brands deliver new drinks that seem to tick both boxes.

After 2 years of on-and-off lockdowns and a rising interest in personal growth, it’s clear that the discoveries we made mid-pandemic are driving F&B trends well into the future. For those looking to cut back on their alcohol intake, brands are expected to deliver a 0.0% alternative that is just as good, while others are matching the demand for wellness and sustainability within their tipples. Consumers are prioritising beverages that will help both themselves and the environment – without losing out on pleasure or convenience.

Keen to catch up on the newest trends in F&B? Drop us a line – we’re always here for a chat (and a drink).