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South Africans turn to zero alcohol drinks

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From non-alcoholic beers and ciders to spirits that look and taste like the alcohol versions, there is something for everyone who wants a drink without the buzz.

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THE TREND of mindful drinking and selection of non-alcoholic beverages and cocktails has been on the increase in South Africa but with the ban on alcohol firmly in place, there’s been a dramatic increase in sales and interest in these drinks.

From zero alcohol beers and ciders to spirits that look and taste like the alcohol versions, there is something for everyone who wants a drink without the buzz.

In comparison to American and European drinkers, South Africans have been slow in taking up what has been called the mindful drinking trend over the past few years.

A May 2019, a European white paper showed that 61% of UK consumers wanted better choice when it came to non-alcoholic drinks and that there was a 58% increase in those inking low and no-alcohol options compared to 2018. In the US the same data concluded that 83% of Los Angeles bar managers considered non-alcoholic cocktails as a growing trend, while 40% of restaurants offered a non-alcoholic drinks menu.

Back home, the founder of The Duchess Alcohol-Free Drinks range, Johannes le Roux, said there has been a significant increase in mindful drinking.

“The new generation of non-alcoholic drinks has seen a 150% increase in sales year on year. They’ve seen their online sales skyrocket, from 5% of their total sales, to about 25%,” said Le Roux.

He added: “Due to the global pandemic, consumers have become even more aware of the negative effects of excessive alcohol on their health. They are actively looking for alcohol alternatives which don’t compromise on taste or experience.”

Founder and owner of the drinks company Truman & Orange, Rowan Leibbrandt, agreed which is partly why last year they increased options in this category for South Africans by introducing Ben Branson’s Seedlip to local drinks menus – it’s the world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirit.

“The majority of these types of products are being drunk by people who maybe have one gin and tonic and then maybe want to tone it back a bit on their alcohol intake because maybe they are driving or have an early morning the next day, so people alternate between alcohol,” said Leibrandt.

He added that for various reasons – including health and wellness, religious beliefs and pregnancy – South Africans were looking for better options in this category of drinks.

With restaurants feeling the brunt of the pandemic regulations, Leibrandt said they have seen an uptick in bar owners and managers wanting to add non-alcoholic beverages to their drinks menu as soon as possible.

This week, award winning restaurant Salsify at The Roundhouse announced it was introducing a Wellness Drinks Pairing. Chef Ryan Cole has paired his dishes with teas and alcohol-free cocktails from a non-alcoholic “G&T” with the snacks plate to a cucumber-flavoured CBD drink with the pine-smoked trout.

The ban on alcohol as well as the Dry January campaign has meant that South African drinkers have little choice but to explore their options at home and at restaurants.

Chairperson of the Federated Hospitality Association of SA (Fedhasa), Rosemary Anderson, said mindful drinking was not enough to save the restaurant and hospitality trade restricted during the pandemic.

“Food is still down, since people do not want to pay for an expensive steak if they can’t have it accompanied with their favourite wine or beer,” she said.

Anderson added that the ban on alcohol possibly wouldn’t grow the zero-alcohol beverage sector in the long term.

“It might help to force people to go for the substitute and a small percentage might continue enjoying the non-alcoholic versions of the brands, but majority of South Africans are fiercely loyal to the drinks that they love, that are synonymous with watching rugby, enjoying a good meal or celebrating an occasion. It is not about only the drink – it is about the whole experience and culture that is in our wonderful diverse South African diverse cultures.”