This month marks the start of resolutions for many around the world: To eat more vegetables, start volunteering, call home once a week, or be more mindful about drinking.
That last resolution has prompted a trend called Dry January, where people reduce or even cut out alcohol consumption for the month. As the head of a community of brewers that represents the beer industry on the global stage, you might think this month would be scary for our industry. It’s quite the opposite–we welcome Dry January!
That’s because the beer industry is committed to promoting moderation. A key way to accomplish that is through the substitution effect, where consumers who choose to drink substitute higher-strength products with lower-strength options. That could be switching out a cocktail for a beer–or switching from a regular strength beer to one that is lower- or no-alcohol.
Brewers aren’t just talking the talk around promoting moderation. We’ve put our money where our mouth is. The beer industry has made large investments to develop and promote lower- and no-alcohol products that allow consumers the choice of controlling their alcohol intake without sacrificing their enjoyment.
Enjoyment is key. A few decades ago, no-alcohol beer was, let’s be honest, not very good. Today, the investments have paid off and there are delicious, refreshing no-alcohol brands with flavors and mouth feels that match the regular-strength version. Note that I said the regular-strength version and not “the real thing.” That’s because when it comes to beer, it’s the real thing regardless of how much alcohol it has. It’s still water and grain, flavored with hops, and fermented with yeast.
Consumers have recognized this quality and authenticity–and rewarded brewers by making low and no-alcohol beer their first choice as they seek to be more mindful of their alcohol consumption. In 2022, lower and no-alcohol products grew by more than 7% in volume across 10 key global markets–and this trend is expected to continue. Beer and cider make up 75% of the lower and no-alcohol category globally–and 97% of the market in the EU.
The lower and no-alcohol market is still at the very early stages of growth, and effective policy can support consumer adoption of these choices. The public health community has goals to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol, and shifting consumers towards lower-alcohol beverages is a time-tested, evidence-based way to achieve those goals. While any alcoholic beverage can be abused, shifting populations to lower alcohol choices can reduce harmful drinking indicators, as demonstrated by recent research in the UK and Spain.
Dry January represents a rare confluence of a consumer trend, business investment, and public policy goal. Consumers have an opportunity to try new products that can help them moderate drinking throughout the year. The beer industry has an opportunity to showcase the many lower- and no-alcohol brews that we’ve been developing for decades. And public health decision-makers can see the substitution effect in practice, motivating them to adopt policies that make lower-alcohol options more affordable and more accessible.
Together, we can shift consumers toward lower-alcohol choices and promote moderation. That’s worth cheersing to–no matter what’s in your glass.
Justin Kissinger is the president and CEO of the World Brewing Alliance (WBA).