One of the UK’s most non-PC comedians, the late Bernard Manning, used to have a running gag at his shows in which he would pick an overweight member of the audience and a slimmer one and suggest the thin one looked like he had been in a famine his larger mate had caused.
This oddly reminds me of the brief time I spent working in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, when I discovered the Californian city had an extremely polarised population. Half seemed crazed, teetotal health fanatics on a weight-loss regime, while the other 50% were obese individuals on the path to early death from massive overconsumption of food and alcohol.
The health-conscious members of my office were firmly in the former camp and found it hard to accept I’d pop to a bar for a few beers after work. Apart from Fridays, which was the only acceptable drinking evening for my colleagues, my bar visits were invariably solo missions. To the majority in the office my behaviour suggested a raging alcoholic – just like the stereotypical English blokes they’d read about.
I wonder whether we’re falling into a similar polarised situation in the UK when it comes to drinking alcohol? Of most interest is the younger grouping of Generation Z – the 18 to 24-year-olds. It’s clear total alcohol sales are falling in the UK, and this is particularly prevalent among Generation Z.
Research by KAM Media found that in 2018 almost two-fifths (39%) of the group claimed to be teetotal, which is more than twice the average level in the UK across the whole population. Proof of this move to a healthier lifestyle can be seen in almost half (49%) of respondents heading to the gym at the end of the day compared with a modestly higher 51% who go to the pub. This represents a serious 20% uplift in gym-goers since 2015.
However, countering these numbers is evidence from the Stonegate wet-led pubs business, which last year enjoyed a record-breaking fresher’s week. Chairman Ian Payne thinks part of the fall in consumption is simply down to the higher strength of beer today. Whereas a few years ago 3.8% ABV was the normal level for a beer and 5% Stella something akin to “loopy juice”, craft beer today is so packed with flavour and alcohol Payne says it’s impossible for most people to drink more than three pints in a session.
KAM Media founder Katy Moses suggests government statistics show levels of obesity, diabetes and alcohol problems are the same as before. There has been no noticeable decline in-line with the healthier trends we are seeing among Generation Z. “There seems to be two extremes of healthy and indulgent,” she says.
While this is undoubtedly the case, Moses suggests the middle ground is the dangerous (uncertain) part of the market for leisure and hospitality operators. But is it? We are seeing massive potential in what is undoubtedly the bridge between these two polarised camps – low and no-alcohol beer and spirits.
Drinks businesses around the world have recognised new product development in this area could provide the double-whammy of tempting non-drinkers into the category while appealing to regular drinkers who want to consume less and perhaps alternate between low-alcohol beer and their 10% triple IPA.
Certainly sales for low and no-alcohol beer in Western Europe have risen 18% in the past five years, according to Euromonitor, which predicts a further 12% climb by the end of 2022. I suspect low-strength beers might not have particularly appealed to Bernard Manning but, thankfully in many respects, the world has moved on and the market needs to adapt to the desires, demand and sensitivities of the younger generation.
Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider
This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.