High and dry: the rise of low and no alcohol beverages

Kyle Skene, general manager, Giesen Wines

The low and no alcohol category is booming, with alcohol giants grappling to meet the needs of consumers looking for lighter and healthier options. Heineken, Diageo, The Clean Vic and Giesen Wines are among those who have taken note and are brewing products to cater to this demand.

According to IRI’s Moderation & Abstention Report, in Australia the liquor abstention rate is now at 20 to 23 per cent of the adult population. It is set to rise for a longer term, helped by events like Dry July, Ocsober and January’s post-Christmas blowout temperance period.

Locally, non-alcoholic beer has the largest share of the low or non-alcoholic options in the market. Liquor giant AB InBev said it wants to increase its sales from the non-alcoholic drinks category to 20 per cent by 2025. Adult non-alcoholic soft drinks are also rising, with online liquor stores such as Alcofree selling the product range.

UK-based International Wines and Spirits Record (IWSR) conducted a global Low- and No-Alcohol Report in 2019 which showed that 52 per cent of adults are trying or tried to reduce alcohol intake. 

“The rise in mindful drinking, along with health and wellness, is a trend that is here to stay. In order to quantify this growing space, our clients asked us to provide a global benchmark for low and no alcohol in order to define the opportunities and understand the underlying consumer motivations,” said Brandy Rand, president of IWSR in the US.

Non-alcoholic wine has been around for quite a while but few have managed to emulate the distinct taste. 

Here we explore one winery that is making its mark in the growing category. 

Marlborough magic

Forty years ago, the Giesen brothers, Theo, Alex and Marcel, ventured from Germany to New Zealand, where Giesen Wines’ story began. After establishing itself as a key player in the market, the company is now exploring the potential of alcohol-free wine, having recently created Giesen 0% – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

“Over 40 years ago, they knew they’d found something special. They began planting the southernmost vineyard in the world in 1981 and since then, they’ve paired their German heritage and familial love of excellent wine and food with the best of Marlborough to continually craft industry-leading wines for every occasion,” Kyle Skene, general manager of Giesen Group told Inside FMCG.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was their first vintage so it was fitting to use that as the base for their first foray into this growing category. So what led Giesen Wines on the path to creating a non-alcoholic wine? The idea came about when chief winemaker, Nikolai St George, decided to participate in a fitness challenge.

The Fit 24 challenge involved a complete lifestyle change: no alcohol for a month, decreased sugar and increased exercise, less device time. The less alcohol part was quite hard for St George. He felt like he was “missing out”.

“International alcohol-removed offerings existed, but there was nothing with a dry finish that exemplified the crisp, fresh flavours of Marlborough,” Skene said. 

St George began by making a full-strength wine before using an innovative spinning cone technology to remove alcohol content. This type of vacuum distillation is also used in making perfumes and is known for its gentle treatment of the wine.

“We pass a finished wine through the spinning cone, which takes out the aroma and then the alcohol. Once the alcohol is removed, the aroma is added back in. This allows for the distinctive citrus nose on Giesen’s finished product,” Skene explained. 

St George said it was important for them to create “something varietally expressive”. The alcohol-free Giesen 0% – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has citrus flavours with blackcurrant and passionfruit notes. Although it lacks the full-bodied texture, “it still has a really wine-like quality”.

But is creating a no alcohol version of the wine cheaper or more expensive than the usual kind? Skene said that the extra step in creating the product adds cost.

“There is an extra step in the process which does add cost, yes, because we go through the entire winemaking process before we gently remove the alcohol. Creating a blend this way was crucial in ensuring the wine retained the characteristics of a classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc,” Skene said. 

So how are consumers taking to the new beverage? Skene said he has noticed consumers are more receptive to drinking low and no alcohol options.

“This mirrors the rise of mindful drinking and general health-conscious trends coming through the market. There’s still plenty of demand for full-strength options, but our zero per cent blend was a priority to make sure we had an option for those looking to moderate. This sits perfectly alongside our Pure Light Sauvignon Blanc lighter alcohol offering, which has received rave reviews,” said Skene.

Giesen Wines is planning to supply Giesen 0% – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in Australia in the next few months and will also tap the US and the UK markets later this year. 

“If pre-sale orders are anything to go by, this wine is set to explode! Consumer feedback has been amazing, with a lot of customers in these markets asking when they can purchase locally,” he said.

Giesen Wines is also currently working on using grape marc (the remains after crushing) in composting. There are plans in the future to commercialise this operation throughout Marlborough, and the company wants to be a part of it. The Kiwi winery also has an interesting by-product that is created through Giesen 0% which they plan to tap into in the future.

Giesen Wines has been in the industry for decades now, since the Giesen brothers planted their first vines way back in 1981. It has witnessed major changes in the liquor industry. 

“The biggest changes especially in recent years revolve around technology and consumer behaviour. Technology has evolved hugely both in viticulture and winemaking, with the growing demands of the industry. Giesen, along with the rest of the industry, has become more consumer-centric – we’re devoting more time to research and development to ensure we’re meeting and exceeding changing consumer expectations,” shared Skene to Inside FMCG.

He said that the biggest wine trend in 2020 is the need for companies to continuously innovate and shake up the industry.

“It means questioning everything we do and why we’re doing it. Our millennial and Gen Z customers in particular have high standards, enjoy novelty and want to see values-driven companies doing the right thing. This has spurred on growth in organic and sustainable wine production, as well as the consumer interest in moderation that’s reflected by our recent Pure Light and Giesen 0% wines,” Skene concluded.

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