Government’s ban on the sale of alcohol during the Covid-19 lockdown brought about an unexpected bonus for the alcohol-free drinks trade. But what exactly is driving this surge in sales?
The sale of alcohol-free beer, cider, wine and sparkling wine has hit an all-time high over the past couple of weeks.
Lizette du Plessis, store manager at Spar Cape Quarter in Cape Town, says the business experienced a spike in sales of alcohol-free wines since the Covid-19 national lockdown, and the subsequent ban on alcohol sales, was announced.
She says the demand for alcohol-free wines intensified during week four of lockdown, and the most popular purchases were Leopard’s Leap Natura De-Alcoholised Classic White and Red, Van Loveren’s Almost Zero and Ravishing rosé, as well as JC Le Roux’s Le Domaine Non-Alcoholic NV.
An alcohol-free wine that has shown solid sales during the lockdown is Van Loveren Almost Zero. CEO Phillip Retief says he noticed a significant rise in sales during the fourth week of lockdown.
According to Phillip, the sale of Almost Zero alcohol-free wine has doubled on a month to month basis since December 2019.
Ziyanda Tutu, owner of Sena Wines, a premium non-alcohol wine range, also reported a rise in sales during the fourth week of lockdown. “While business was somewhat slow during level five of lockdown, sales have since soared, and we’ve definitely noticed an increase in demand for our wines.”
She says Covid-19 has driven people to look for alternatives to alcohol. “In the past, they didn’t have a reason to drink alcohol-free wines. People won’t necessarily take to a product if it’s not constantly in their faces. The circumstances have forced different purchasing decisions among consumers.”
Change in consumer behaviour
But why the sudden surge in the sale of alcohol-free products? If you simply look towards social media, South African longed for the taste of wine (or a product closely resembling the taste) since the ban was instigated.
Phillip says it’s a combination of curiosity and “trying something new that’s wine-related.”
It’s no secret the Covid-19 pandemic has raised consumers’ health consciousness. Evolving eating and drinking habits might have created an opportunity for the alcohol-free wine trade. “Perhaps it’s an impulse purchase or maybe even emotional support for the wine sector that’s really struggling at the moment. But yes, I do think that the product’s low calories and other health benefits will convince others to try these wines, and hopefully, stick to it.”
Ziyanda says there’s a degree of truth to all the factors above, but there’s a variety of reasons. “The current increase in sales of alcohol-free wine is, I believe, more circumstantial. But there’s certainly also a degree of conscious decision-making from consumers. People are a lot more health conscious than 20 years ago, and that there’s a growing trends towards consumers who want to enjoy wine responsibly with all the prestige and sophistication associated with it.”
This hike in sales of alcohol-free wines raises several interesting questions. Did the lockdown mark the beginning of the end for the disrepute associated with the taste of alcohol-free wines, now that Covid-19 is driving health and wellness trends to greater heights?
Beer has made some serious inroads in breaking down these stereotypes as Castle Free and Heineken Zero has proven to be a very popular purchase among shoppers. The taste is near indistinguishable from the real thing. However, the same cannot always be said for wine.
“With wine, you’re always going to get judgemental consumers who don’t appreciate a product for what it is and there’ll always be a negative stigma associated with alcohol-free wine,” says Phillip. “However, the general consensus towards a product like Van Loveren’s Almost Zero has been overwhelmingly positive. Opinions have certainly changed over the course of the lockdown, simply because many people have, for the first time, had a positive experience with the alcohol-free wine.”
Ziyanda says alcohol plays an important part in the construct of a wine. “Alcohol is a very important factor in terms taste and mouthfeel. Scientists and chemists are constantly working to get alcohol-free wines as close as possible to the real thing. There’s definitely a need, and it’s developing.”
“If you think about it, alcohol is actually the only negative factor associated with wine. If you’re able to remove the negative aspect, without compromising on taste, it can be a very successful product.”
Can alcohol-free help your business?
Phillip says that while it won’t break the bank in terms of sales, it can definitely close some of the costing gaps in your business.
“On a smaller scale, it has helped build some momentum. Especially sales teams have learned something new around the future positioning of alcohol-free wines to stock in Delis and butcheries.”
Ziyanda says that while alcohol-free products might not sustain a big business, it can certainly help during times like these. “For a small business like myself, I believe I’m more in touch with what the consumer wants, and I’m able to adapt quicker.”
“When it comes to alcohol-free products, the wine industry needs to listen to the needs of the consumers and help create more innovative products that are consumer-driven, instead of industry-driven.”