French Wine Declines as Nolo Category Rises

While wine consumption in France continues to drop, with red wine shunned more than other styles, French consumers are showing increasing interest for no- and lower-alcohol (NOLO) products. Louise Hurren reports.

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NOLO selections at Wine Paris
NOLO selections at Wine Paris
  • 15% of French adults say they never drink alcohol, with almost a quarter of 18-25 year-olds declaring themselves teetotal (source: Sowine/Dynata Baromètre 2023).
  • The decline of wine drinking in France is slow but steady: from 32 million hectolitres in 2007, consumption had fallen to approximately 24.7 million hectolitres by 2020.
  • Red wine in particular has fallen from favour, with consumption decreasing by almost a third over a ten-year period (2011-2021).
  • The younger generation has turned away from wine more than other age groups. The number of French wine-drinking adults aged 18-35 dropped by 7% between 2011-2021; according to Wine Intelligence, 42% of 18-24 year-olds prefer other drinks to wine.
  • The no/low wine market in France grew +6% in 2022 versus 2021 in volume terms, and volumes are forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3% between 2022 and 2026 (IWSR Drinks Market Analysis).
  • No- and lower-alcohol products continue to grow in France, with 29% of adults purchasing them and 14% listing them in their top three preferred drinks (Sowine/Dynata 2023).
  • No-alcohol still and sparkling wines are proving to be the most dynamic of the sub-categories and account for nearly three-quarters of the no/low wine market in France, but there is strong growth projected from low-alcohol sparkling wine as well (IWSR Drinks Market Analysis).


Wine on the decline

Alarm bells are ringing in France: Kantar/RTL survey results released in late 2022 showed that wine consumption in France is half what it was in the 1960s, and it is the younger generation that has turned away from wine more than any other age group. In February 2023, Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau announced plans to help the industry respond to what was described as a ‘crisis in the wine sector’, including financial aid for producers wishing to distill excess wine, and supporting French wine growers by developing longer-term plans in light of climate change challenges and evolving consumption patterns.

In 2022, 38% of French people declared they never drink wine, and demographic and lifestyle changes were suggested as factors. Wine's loss would seem to be beer and spirits' gain: in 2021, beer accounted for 39% of the expenditure on alcohol by French drinkers aged under 35, who also showed an interest in spirits and cocktails, while wine accounted for only 27% of this age group's alcohol spending.  

Preferred alcoholic drinks in France 2023 (credit Baromètre Sowine/Dynata 2023)
Preferred alcoholic drinks in France 2023 (credit Baromètre Sowine/Dynata 2023)

Dry January

Arguably, the French health authority's latest alcohol and health awareness campaign has not helped wine's cause. Aired in January, as the population swapped New Year greetings and toasted each other with “santé!”, its message was “la bonne santé n'a rien avoir avec l'alcool” (good health has nothing to do with alcohol”).

The annual Dry January abstinence campaign was launched in France in 2019. Today it is piloted by the Janvier Sobre association; founder Laurence Cottet stresses the difficulty of obtaining reliable participation figures but points to the fact that for the 2023 edition of Janvier Sobre there were 400,000 downloads of the campaign information kit from the website, compared to 300,000 in the previous year.

The movement is still in its infancy, but awareness is growing: 41% of survey respondents were aware of it, particularly those in younger age groups and from the upper socio-professional category, and 35% intended to take part (BVA/La Ligue Contre le Cancer/January 2022).

Interest in abstinence grows

The French may be popping less corks but there is growing interest in abstinence and the NOLO (no- and lower-alcohol) category in general, and the trend for dealcoholised and lower-alcohol wine in continues to gain traction. According to the Sowine/Dynata 2023 survey, 29% of French consumers now drink these products and IWSR Drinks Market Analysis shows 20% of French adults declaring themselves to be abstainers in 2022 versus 14% in 2021.

French abstainers are more likely to be from the youngest age group, with 23% of 18-25 year-olds (the highest number since the Sowine-Dynata survey was launched in 2010) declaring that they never drink alcohol. Alcohol-free 'wine' is considered to be more relevant by 18-25 year-olds: 44% say they consume this kind of beverage, compared with just 10% of 50-65 year-olds. Factors cited for this trend include a desire to reduce alcohol consumption (40%) and pay greater attention to health (38%), and an appreciation of the flavour (33%) and lower calorie count (20%).

Dealcoholised wine showing growth

Dealcoholised wine and the diversification of the wine market was the subject of a round table organised at this year's Wine Paris trade show by B&S Tech, a NOLO beverage production intermediary. CEO Stéphane Brière observed: “It's obvious to me from the diversity of no- and lower-alcohol products presented at Wine Paris that the category is on the rise, and that dealcoholised wine is not only a valid alternative but an exciting new development for the wine sector.”

Jean-Claude Ruf, Scientific Director with the OIV (Organisation International de la Vigne et du Vin) was a round table participant. “Dealcoholised or partially dealcoholised wines have shown significant growth in recent years and their progression should continue in the coming years,“ he commented, confirming that the OIV is currently working to define what types of oenological practices can be admitted for such products, to meet both technological challenges and consumer expectations.

France's first no-alcohol drinks retailer

April 2022 saw the opening of Le Paon qui Boit in Paris, France’s first specialist retailer of 100% alcohol-free drinks. Founded by lawyer Augustin Laborde (“we have absolutely nothing against alcohol, we just want to offer a quality alternative”), the store stocks non-alcoholic options including 0% beer, dealcoholised wine and 'sober spirits' plus soft drinks such as kéfir, kombucha, maté, CBD, syrups and ginger beer. 

Laborde elaborates: “We launched with 250 references and in less than a year, we've expanded our range to 450 different products. The vast majority of our customers are 30-40 year-old 'flexi-drinkers' who choose to abstain from alcohol from time to time. The remainder never drink alcohol at all, for a variety of reasons including health, age, religion or taste preference.”

Retailers build the category

La Paon qui Boit stocks Moderato, a range of dealcoholised wines co-founded in 2021 by former Pernod Ricard brand manager Sébastien Thomas. A partnership initiated by French supermarket chain Carrefour in late 2002 put Moderato products on supermarket shelves in the greater Paris area in time for Dry January 2023; spring 2023 will see expansion into the south of France, and the launch of a non-alcoholic rosé. “Retailers are really stepping up and helping us build this category,” observes Thomas, who plans to triple his sales year-on-year with a 2023 forecast of 150,000, compared to 50,000 bottles sold in 2022. 

French NOLO pioneers

Chavin was one of the first French companies to focus on dealcoholised wine, and it has shown double-digit growth each year since its creation in 2010. Today, half of the company's 13 M€ turnover is accounted for by NOLO, and export sales account for 90% of their business, with products distributed in 62 countries. In 2021 the company launched a super-premium brand for the on-trade sector – Pierre Zéro Signature sparkling white – which is now listed in 10 Michelin-starred restaurants in France.

Chavin CEO Mathilde Boulachin comments: “We saw the market really start to take off around 2015, and the category is growing and developing, it's currently being structured. To create a category we need to be more numerous, and federated – for example, we have to keep changing the back label for the various different countries that we sell to, because there's a lack of common regulations for NOLO products from one market to another.” 

Unfermented options

Le Petit Béret stand at Wine Paris
Le Petit Béret stand at Wine Paris

“We're not trying to imitate wine. Our target audience doesn't drink wine, but they want beverages that will enhance their dining experience,” says Laporte. His sales figures speak for themselves: in 2020 the company sold a million bottles of Le Petit Béret products and by the following year, this figure had quadrupled.

Wine growers add dealcoholised choices

In a world where consumers have more choice than ever, growers are adding dealcoholised products to their offering. Izzy Meuli is sales and marketing director at Ampelidae, an organic winery based in the Loire Valley. “We saw a gap in the market for people who were temporarily not drinking alcohol, and particularly a gap for dealcoholised Sauvignon Blanc - it makes up 70% of our volume, so it made sense to start with this grape.”

After a pilot run in 2020, Ampelidae commercialised the 2021 vintage, launching it in January 2022. Meuli reports that although export market sales were dominant at the start (70% versus 30% domestic), this is changing: sales in France in February 2023 were more than double the average monthly figure of 2022. 

In the south of France, Domaine de l'Arjolle created their Zéro range of 0.0% alcohol wines in 2020 with sparkling white, red and rosé options, adding a sparkling white reference in 2021. The domestic market accounts for 30% of Zéro sales, and progress worldwide has been impressive, soaring from 20,000 bottles sold in 2020 to 80,000 in the space of two years.

French attitudes to no- and low-alcohol wine evolving

Belgium-based oenologist and dealcoholisation specialist Thierry Cowez helped Domaine de l'Arjolle create their Zéro range: “France is finally starting to become a consumer market for the NOLO category, it's being taken more seriously, attitudes are evolving. dealcoholised wine is no longer just a trend but a real behaviour change,” he notes.

Susie Goldspink is Head of No- and Low-Alcohol with global beverage alcohol data and insights specialist IWSR. She observes: “As we know, France has historically been a strong market for wine consumption. This, coupled with the evidence that younger adult generations are increasingly moderating their alcohol consumption, leads to these consumers being open to no/low-wine options, especially as the technology and taste improve. For both no- and low-alcohol wine, emphasis is moving away from what is lacking – alcohol – and onto the quality and taste of the offer. The message is that no/low-wines are not a compromise, but are enjoyable and flavoursome in their own right.”

The article was updated on 28 March 2023 with just published data from Sowine/Dynata 2023.



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