Kyle Skene was one of the most cheerful people to be found at the recent World Bulk Wine Exhibition. Amsterdam’s skies were grey, and so was the mood of many visitors, who spoke privately about the downturn in wine. The General Manager of New Zealand’s Giesen Group, however, looked happy as he poured wines for anybody who wandered past.
The reason for his buoyant mood sat in one of the buckets on his stand — Giesen’s 0% non-alcohol Sauvignon Blanc, which he said had been their most tasted product of the show.
Giesen’s 0% range of wines is the second-biggest non-alcohol wine brand in the US market. Skene said the category is growing at 20% a year, and attracts a premium price. “It’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “Huge.”
Skene said Giesen was so excited about the non-alcohol category, that the company had invested in two spinning cones. He added that the ability to create non-alcoholic products means wineries can now compete head-to-head with other beverages like soft drinks.
“The category is moving at speed,” he said. “Historically, in the wine industry we haven’t had to move at speed. It’s very traditional, very historic.”
Skene wasn’t the only person excited about the growth of non-alc wines. The category was the talk of the exhibition, with an entire panel convened to talk about it.
A disruption that’s an opportunity
The panel was moderated by Irem Eren, Head of Sales and Business Development EMEA at BevZero, a dealcoholisation service.
Eren opened by saying that when it comes to de-alcoholised wines, “We’re mostly talking about 10 key markets: the US, UK, Germany, Spain, France, Australia, Brazil, Japan and, lately, China as well.”
According to IWSR data, sales in the no- and low-alcohol category have already reached $11 billion, and are expected to surpass $24 billion by 2032. “So it’s going to double,” said Eren. “And a 9% increase is expected by 2026.” Compare that to wine consumption, which fell 7% between 2008 and 2023, according to the OIV.
The no- and low-alcohol category have already reached $11 billion, and are expected to surpass $24 billion by 2032.
As Skene told Meininger’s, there’s also evidence that non-alc drinks sell at higher price points than their alcoholic counterparts. The Guardian recently reported that US consumers spend nearly $400m on non-alcoholic drinks per year; the average non-alcoholic spirits sells for around $26, compared with $12 for the alcoholic version.
“No- and low-alcohol is not a disruption,” said Eren. “It is an opportunity.”
Florian Ceschi, Global Wine and Grape Broker, Ciatti Europe, agreed. He said the wine industry was under pressure because “we are arriving in a kind of critical moment, with historically the lowest production in the world, and probably also the lowest consumption at the moment” —which means non-alcohol products could bring much-needed revenue to wineries.
It’s about moderation, not abstinence
The low- and no-alcohol movement isn’t about people giving up drinking alcohol, but about expanding their options.
“When this category started, these products were seen as a sacrifice. There were different reasons: health reasons, religious reasons, pregnancy…” said Eren.
Now, however, people aren’t abstaining because they have to, but because they’re choosing to. As a result, they’re switching between alcohol and non-alcohol, depending on the occasion.
“This ‘bottomless brunch’ time is over,” she said. “It’s no longer about wine, beer or spirits. The consumer is looking for a dynamic experience”, so they switch between the different drinks categories.
Laura Willoughby, founder of the UK’s Club Soda, a ‘mindful drinking club’ and retailer of non-alcoholic drinks, agreed that the trend is about moderation, not about abstinence. “This is about people making different health decisions about what they’re going to drink during the week.” She said people now often choose not to drink between Monday and Thursday, and will keep alcohol to the weekend or special occasions — and when they do finally open the alcohol, they will be moderate in their consumption. “It’s not just one homogenous group of people who don’t seem like they’re not having any fun.”
People who are reaching for an alcohol-free drink want to have an equally good experience.
Critically, she said, people who are reaching for an alcohol-free drink want to have an equally good experience. “One of the things we learned very early on was that people were upset by the choices they had in the pub, or bar, or restaurant,” said Willoughby, because what was on offer was just Coke or soda water with lime, when what people wanted was a sophisticated, adult beverage.
Sebastien Thomas, co-founder of Moderato, a producer of non-alcoholic wines, agreed. “The bulk of no-alcohol consumers are flexitarians — people who love wines,” he said, saying non-alcohol wines “are not for teetotalers or people who have never drunk alcohol. These are for people who like wine and want to keep the pleasure they have from a crisp, refreshing white wine or a sparkling bubble.”
Importantly, consumers were demanding products that were good quality experiences in their own right, rather than a poor imitation of the alcoholic version. “They want to enjoy the moment and enjoy the product.”
There’s money to be made
Willoughby said that research has shown that “£800m is lost by not offering and upgrading people from tap water to something they have to pay for. That’s a significant opportunity.”
She said that no- or low-alcohol products have two roles to play. First, they must feel like a reward. “It’s special and it suits the occasion. And the second thing is social inclusion. Do not underestimate the impact of how much people want to be included in a social situation.”
Willoughby said that since UK pubs have begun offering alcohol-free options, they’ve noticed that group bookings have increased. “Friends will always check the menu in advance, to make sure that everybody’s got a vegan option, a gluten-free option, and good alcohol-free drinks.”
She said that pubs and wine bars are improving their profit margins by increasing the number of drinks they offer. “We’re seeing massive demand for alcohol-free in the UK.”
Non-alcohol is a different category
What the panellists all emphasised is that no-alcohol wine needs to be a satisfying drink in its own right, rather than a poor cousin of wine. Simply removing the alcohol isn’t enough — the new product needs just as much balance and texture as a full-strength wine.
And people won’t buy non-alcohol products without trying them first. As Willoughby said, most people know what to expect when they buy a bottle of whiskey or red wine, so they’re willing to take a chance on a new brand. But a non-alcohol product is a complete unknown, so people must try before they buy.
You cannot make a good non-alc drink without good wine
The panellists emphasised that no-alcohol products must succeed as drinks in their own right, rather than as a pale substitute for the real thing.
“If you want to sell good quality non-alcoholic wines, then they need to fit within the wine family,” said Thomas. “This is literally what customers are telling us in France.”
Not only that, but it’s not possible to make high quality products from poor quality wine.
The trade hasn’t caught up
The no-alcohol category is so new, that distributors have yet to find a place for it, though Thomas said some are realising that they’re missing a financial opportunity. “There is an opportunity to sell something that is sophisticated, that can go well with meals or a celebration. But to do that, you need to find the right partners.”
The panellists also said that producers who enter this space must be prepared to spend considerable time educating the trade, because they are not familiar with the category.
However, things are evolving rapidly and there are increasing numbers of stores that specialise in non-alcoholic products, including Club Soda in the UK, Nix and Nix in the Netherlands, and Boisson in the USA, which recently received $5 million in investment from Convivialité Ventures, the investment arm of Pernod Ricard.
There are technical challenges
While many wineries are seeing the opportunity and deciding to launch a no-alcohol product, Eren said they don’t understand the challenges involved. “I receive calls every day from wine producers saying their importer and distributor is asking for a no-alcohol wine,” that they think it will be easy to create
First, there are different ways to remove alcohol. For an alcohol adjustment, reverse osmosis is the standard. “You can remove one or two degrees,” said Eren. “People also do it because of global warming and high alcohol levels — but if you want to go down to zero alcohol, you use a spinning cone”.
But just removing the alcohol doesn’t mean the result is ready to bottle, because it will need some adjustments. Not only that, but it has to be made ready for shipping, generally by adding sugar.
Gianmaria Zanella, Responsible R& D, Enologica Vason, said it’s critical to take care of “the oxidation and redox stability”. Further, the microbiological stability is different than with conventional wine — yet there can only be minimal SO2, or the product will smell bad.
"Not every wine is suitable for de-alcoholisation."
As Eren said, not every wine is suitable for de-alcoholisation.
“Well, there’s a long way to go,” said Willoughby. “What excites me is that beer was the leading product and the sector is very proud of their alcohol-free beers. I’d like the wine industry to be proud of its non-alcohol wines. The customer is demanding that quality and wants to pay for it.”
Out in the hall, Skene could not agree more. Not only is he excited about the non-alc category, but he said his winemaking team are invigorated by it, and bursting with ideas.
Additional income through by-products
And then, of course, there’s the question of what happens to the alcohol that’s taken away from the wine. Skene picked up a blue bottle from his counter —a newly launched gin, made from the ethanol taken from Sauvignon Blanc. He said the base wine was so aromatic, there was no need to add any botanicals to the gin, apart from juniper berries.
Oh, and there’s an alcoholic lemonade as well, made from Sauvignon Blanc ethanol and the many lemon trees growing on the property.
No wonder Skene seemed so happy. One wine has turned into three products — and three new revenue streams.
And the door is wide open. The no-alcohol category is in its infancy, meaning there’s a first mover advantage going begging.