Zero-Alcohol Beer: A wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Anyone who has sampled one of the new zero-alcohol by volume beers (ZABVs) on the market can’t help but be impressed by how well they mimic regular beers, and many of our Daybreak members find them to be a very acceptable substitute for regular beers. On top of the taste, the packaging (regular beer bottle, very similar labelling) allows a very similar drinking experience, except for the intoxication. That can be important for people who normally like to crack a cold one open at the end of a working day, and it also gives a degree of camouflage in social drinking settings.

But is there a dark side to the marketing and promotion of these ZABVs? The answer may depend on your resting state of suspicion of Big Alcohol. Here are two possible takes:

1. The big breweries are to be commended. They have noticed the trend towards well-being and the decline of alcohol consumption and have responded to their customers’ changing needs by researching and launching zero-alcohol beers which taste pretty damn close to their alcoholic counterparts. They’ve packaged them up so they retain the look and feel of regular beers, and that preserves most of the social experience of drinking them, minus the alcohol.

2. The big breweries are to be condemned. They are seeking to normalise the consumption of alcohol by the trojan-horse strategy of introducing zero-alcohol beers into situations where regular beers are frowned upon. They’ve deliberately packaged the ZABV beers to blur the distinction between alcoholic and non-alcoholic brands and are encouraging minors to enjoy these introductory brands.

 

We’ve been discussing these two positions at Hello Sunday Morning for the last few weeks because FARE (Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education) has issued its position statement on the advertising and marketing of zero-alcohol by volume (ZABV) drinks, and it is closer to the second view.

ZABV beers can be seen as line extensions of similarly branded core beers, and in marketing terms, that means their function is to enhance the core brand. The commercial driver for their promotion could be to normalise beer drinking in situations where it is currently not normal (workday lunch, daytime generally, under 18-year drinkers, etc). In this view, ZABV beers are being promoted not only as substitutes for times when regular beers would otherwise be drunk, but in additional situations where regular beers currently aren’t. FARE is concerned that ZABVs could become accepted as alternatives to soft drinks and not just regular beers, thereby increasing the spread of the core brand imagery.

FARE believes the packaging and branding of these line extensions deliberately resembles the core brand in order to blur the distinction between the regular and the ZABV products. This blurring allows them to imprint the branding of full-alcohol beers onto children who are under the legal age for drinking, thereby enabling a swift transition to the core brand once they are 18 years old (if not earlier).

Because of this, FARE believes that ZABV products should not be sold in places where regular beers cannot be sold (e.g., they should no longer be sold in supermarkets). Likewise, they should adhere to the same Alcohol & Beverage Advertising Code (ABAC) on advertising and marketing that applies to regular alcoholic drinks.

In the case of ZABV beer brands that are not line extensions to existing regular brands (e.g., stand-alone brands like Sobah and Nirvana beers) FARE believes that these still normalise the consumption of alcohol because of the look and feel of their packaging and promotion, and should be regulated through ABAC restrictions.It’s a complex area. We at Hello Sunday Morning believe that FARE’s position has some merit, but in ascribing cynical motives to Big Alcohol they might be overlooking some of the real benefits of these products and their usefulness for people who want to change their relationship with alcohol.Packaging is an integral part of the experience of drinking alcohol. People who want to reduce their alcohol consumption may still have a need for a ‘grown up’s’ drink that can be drunk inconspicuously in social situations. For a ZABV to be acceptable as a substitute for non-drinkers or moderating drinkers in social situations, it has to replicate most of the experience of a regular beer, minus the alcohol. That means the packaging needs to look similar.

Importantly, visiting a bottle shop can weaken the resolve of moderating drinkers, and could be downright triggering for those with alcohol dependencies, so it would be counter-productive to limit the availability of ZABV products to these locations. Supermarkets currently sell Carlton Zero and other ZABVs, but a supervisor checks the age of anyone purchasing them, and that may be sufficient.

However, we agree with the ‘trainer-wheels’ hypothesis and would not want ZABVs promoted to school kids. Similarly with marketing and advertising – ZABVs should not be directed at children, and we’d be comfortable with ZABVs falling under the ABAC’s advertising and promotional codes for those under 18 years of age.

 

So in summary:

Hello Sunday Morning welcomes the introduction and increasing acceptance of new ZABV beverages because they provide an acceptable alternative for non-drinking adults and those moderating their alcohol consumption.

We believe that the marketing and advertising of these beverages should be in line with the existing ABAC codes to prevent direct or incidental promotion to minors.

It makes good sense for ZABVs to be available in locations other than licensed premises, but they should not be sold to minors.

What do you think? Leave your comments below…

I don’t know about anywhere else but u18s are not allowed to purchase AF beer in Ireland plus you can only buy them at the times alcohol is allowed to be purchased also I am giving up alcohol for good I find them as an excellent substitute for reg beer they help me anyway I personally think the advertising of alcohol and sponsorship of events should be stopped the way tobacco was to discourage minors and health warnings on bottles of how alcohol can damage your physical and mental health

Supermarkets already supply cigarettes and staff have to check ID

I stopped drinking over three years ago and discovered 0% beers while traveling in Spain, where they are available in every bar and restaurant. I love them – all the refreshing taste of beer with none of the side effects. I consider them to be a correction to a bad old recipe. Moreover, they’ve made the transition to being a non drinker much easier because they allow me to easily engage in social activities with drinkers. I’ve even gained a few converts to sobriety. I believe FARE might be misguided on this. Beer isn’t bad, alcohol is, and introducing young people to the 0% options might just show them the alcoholic versions aren’t worth the trouble.

I’m happy that the brewers are catering for non drinkers at last. I don’t see a dark side at all. It’s nice to go out without having to resort to a cola or poor orange juice. Even the supermarkets are stocking a good variety of a/f beers now.

I appreciate your article and thinking beyond my own personal need at the moment for AF beverages. All good points and where there is an upside there is often a hidden down side. Glad there are news items getting people to think more broadly about possible motives of producers. My goal is water only at some point in my AF journey. Early days

Non-alcoholic beverages haven’t worked for me in the past. Much like I have a distaste for vegetarian/vegan products that mimic meat (burgers, sausages and the like). For me, stepping away from alcohol meant embracing it wholly and that was not having to hide that in social situations. Soda water with a slice of lime always did it for me. I remember being at a very “sophisticated party” and the little girls were given their soft drink in champagne flutes to mimic the mummies who lots of coos of “how cute”. Not cute. Silly and dangerous. Very few alcoholics or problem drinkers I know any longer drink for the taste of it. Hence why alot of us switched from good quality wine/beer to the heavy stuff often only drinking it with water in concealable bottles. I initially drank for the social aspect of it, the taste of a good bottle of wine WITH food and WITH friends and family. That progressed to very anti-social drinking (ie when I was far to old to be getting blasted at a family BBQ or friend’s birthday dinner I simply forwent those in favour of bottle of the strong stuff in front of netflix. The perpetuation of the brand is worrisome. The wholesale adoption of kids (and I have teenage boys now) of arguably dangerous energy drinks in favour of softer options is one example. As was the move by young women in particular to rainbow coloured mixers.

I was essentially an alcoholic, 8+ beers every night, night after night. I read about Hello Sunday Morning and decided to give it a go. I stopped drinking for more than 2 years and over that time I enjoyed consuming about 3 or fewer non-alcoholic beers some nights or on social occasions where I previously would have had “real” beer. I believe one of the reasons I went back to drinking after this was that non-alcoholic beers were available in so few pubs and bars – I welcome the sight of non-alcoholic beers in more and more places. Maybe I’ll have the strength to stop drinking again now… having said that, I do believe the companies are doing it for money, but essentially I don’t care – if it helps problem drinkers stop drinking the real stuff then it’s a positive..

I agree with your summary. I am thrilled about the fact that more ZABV are available and the non drinkers who like an “adult drink” have more choice now. of course. It looks and tastes so similar to traditional beer we do need to be very careful how it is marketed.

I think anything that aids people in moderating their alcohol consumption is a good thing. I think the zero beers also help people with alcohol problems.

Recently I have been making the transition to an alcohol-free existence and ZABV beers have seriously helped. I hadn’t thought about the other side to the argument, but it is a valid point when considering children. Just as normalising the practice of alcohol consumption can occur in a family setting, normalising an alcohol free life can occur in the same way, whether it be through consuming ZABV beers or regular soft drinks. Being able to covertly participate in the social activity of sitting around and having a few has been vital to me not falling off the wagon, particularly considering I don’t have to enter a bottle shop and be tempted by the real stuff. Overall, the perspective that ZABV beers are a wold in sheep’s clothing is a bit extreme considering the other benefits to this type of product.

I think FARE are missing the point. The ZABV movement is a revelation. It is the best way to empower people who choose not to drink alcohol and is helping erode the pervasiveness of our drinking culture in many different social settings and venues. This should be embraced not ‘regulated’. History shows prohibition does not work it just makes the target substance more attractive. As a Hotel licensee who is currently choosing not to drink alcohol being able to grab a ZABV beer and have a chat with customers or staff has made my life alot easier. I dont have to explain myself and the diversity of alcohol free product now available is giving our customers plenty of choices to socialise without stigma and being hassled by peer group pressure. The Health & Wellness trend is a huge influence in food trends and I see this as a natural extension of this. ZABV’s should be available everywhere to make them just as pervasive as our drinking culture.

Anything to limit alcohol consumption for those wanting better health and well being is a good thing, and I think ZACV beer does that well. I agree with HSM summary, as the marketing to minors would be my major concern

Yes, totally agree. These beers are made for adults for whatever reason, ie cutting out or cutting down of alcohol, & not to be targeted at minors. I believe they should only be sold in liquor stores & not supermarkets. Why should a person on a checkout have to ask for I.D. This is not part of their job description, & we shouldn’t forget, some of these people are school kids under 18 themselves.

Minors (not all but a vast majority) since the dawn of time or the brewing of alcohol at least, have raided their parents stash, got an older brother to buy or have some how got hold of alcohol. That will not change regardless of advertising laws or any other safe guards that are put in place. I think that swing or the shift that non alcoholic beverages have bought about is a good thing. It can only be good for the minors to see this shift in culture. Let the advertising be used for good not evil.

I am now 2 months alcohol free and feel enormously relieved to have gotten this far. Although mainly a wine drinker, I have found ZABV very helpful, allowing me to navigate the most difficult tipping point – evenings, meal time – without falling back onto the alcohol trap. I can have a beer with my partner, who has one glass of wine only, and enjoy a taste and feel that I find refreshing. I can also have a drink in hand at social gatherings, and while I don’t feel any pressure to drink alcohol from friends or acquaintances, it allows me to blend in comfortably. I understand the concern about marketing to minors, but I think alcopop drinks are a much more insidious threat in this respect. When I first started drinking, I didn’t like the taste of beer much, but the effect was exhilarating. It was easy enough to get hold of booze when I was a teen in the 60s and I suspect easier still now given its ubiquity in our society. On balance, I think ZABV are a positive influence.

Not sold to minors

I have ‘used’ Carlton Zero as an alternative to heavy or mid strength beers with some success and have noticed that Carlton Zero has started appearing in pubs etc, which for me is a bonus. I enjoy the flavour of beer and a cold drink while I tinker in the shed, read a book, after mowing the lawn etc. At the same time I have found that I have to be mindful of the habit of having a drink in my hand returning and what the might lead to…. remembering that I am having a cold drink because I am thirsty not just because.

I found that a really interesting read. Being a new Sobriety member I am exploring non alcoholic alternatives and am kind of questioning myself as to its validity for me. I was a wine drinker – appreciated a nice glass of wine (a little bit too much in years of past) and the nice glass turned into “glasses”. I can’t just drink ONE so my relationship with alcohol was in question. We broke up. I tried every plan. Then I found NON alcoholic wine and beer as an alternative. I am not normally a beer drinker – however on a real hot day I find it a refreshing beverage and now NO alcohol I like it even more. My thoughts on your statements above? for me the jury is still out – I am not sure where it will fit? If there is No alcohol are we deceiving ourselves by still getting that “wine” or that “beer”. And if there is NO alcohol does it rate down as just another soft drink? Thank you for the article as it is raising questions in my going forward what I should be thinking more about. The more I read about alcohol the stronger my sobriety becomes.

I avoided “look alike” alcohol alternatives for a long time until I addressed the underlying reasons that caused me to lean a bit too heavily on alcohol in the first place. Now that I can take or leave it I occasionally buy a six pack of no alcohol beer. I agree with your summary on availability and marketing. For anyone struggling to become sober, the more resources the better I think.

I totally agree. It serves a purpose for non drinkers to have an alternative to be able to fit in more socially even if it’s only in their own heads. I believe most people are too self absorbed with themselves and their phones to even notice what others are drinking. But there’s no doubt there is a sinister motive behind the idea and that it to normalise the consumption of beer regardless of age.

I don’t think these beers should be sold to kids, but I applaud their wider availability. Recently I travelled to Spain, where I was astonished (and pleased) to find that wherever you go you can source a cerveza sin alcohol. This is not the way in Australia, where pubs don’t seem to stock zero alcohol beers at all.

I agree that it does normalise beer drinking,we quit alcohol 3years ago and was introduced to these beers a year ago,they make social situations less uncomfortable for other people but I think it still links you in to the evening drink at the end of the day and can become another habit.We now use them as a special occasion not regular.I am pleased to not need alcohol to make my life better.

Personally, I cannot buy any product that mimics the taste, packaging or size of bottles, stubbies of wine, beer or any alcohol. My wine, champagne liqueur glasses have gone. Anything that may trigger. Maison or ginger beer (zero alc) are also taboo for me. I began drinking early 70’s. A product of low alcohol beer from local milkbar/grocery store. which was in the soft drink fridge.

I was promoting Carlton Draught Zero in an hotel in Bendigo, the choice for non alcohol drinks being pathetic, soft drinks only. Explaining to the Proprietor that this new beer looked like beer, tasted like beer and was a great way to keep all customers happy, we had choices! His response was “I believe that beer should look like beer, taste like beer and have the effect that beer should have! Oh well, I tried… maybe if others go to the Golden Vine requesting options, we could make an impact ☕gotta say that the coffee was good!

Agree wholeheartedly with HSM’s considered viewpoints!

Agree with first 2 but not 3 should only be sold at licensed venues alongside their alcohol counterparts

I think they are a great alternative for giving up alcohol and still be able to be included in social gatherings whilst enjoying a beer.

Speaking as someone who used to drink a LOT of beer, never once did I actually really drink it for the taste. I may have pretended I preferred one brand over another, or one style of beer to another, but at the end of the day, I’d have had whatever was on offer. I really drank beer for the effect. I drank beer to get drunk and I had no problem switching to wine or spirits if the beer ran out. If the beer didn’t run out, I’d drink till I fell down. If I drink something for the taste, it would be soft drink or juice, anything else in fact except beer. Having zero alcohol beer is for people who want to pretend they are drinking alcohol, or maybe slow down their drinking, one zero, one real beer etc. I even tried drinking beer shandy to slow down my drinking, but just ended up drinking twice as much. Zero alcohol doesn’t mean zero calories and frankly I can do without those either. I don’t think this is anything magnanimous or thoughtful to help non-drinkers by the breweries. It’s profit at the end of the day. They don’t really care if you are buying the zero alcohol of the full alcohol, as long as the money is in their pocket they’re happy. If you really like the taste of beer, then go for it, but for myself, I’ll be giving this a wide berth. I know from my shandy ‘experiment ‘that I drink beers to get drunk and nothing more or less and don’t stop till I’m there. So if I drank one of these zero beers, the very next drink would be a regular beer and then that for the rest of the night. Not even the debilitating hangovers stop me, so best I don’t even start.

In my opinion AF beer or AF beverages in general should be sold anywhere. It’s just so good to have an option now and fare is getting way too tangled with this argument. There will never be a way to please everyone and as far as AF beer being a gateway drug – this has no foundation. Maybe someone needs to start a pretty serious research project on this (fare maybe or better still an independent organization) and check in with some results after a couple of years. Zero alcohol beer is pretty new and it’s too early for outcomes. Why would underage people drink AF beer anyway when they can get the real stuff from friends or family?. I think the packaging and promotion of AF beer adds to the’ placebo’ affect if that’s what you’re looking for.

Breweries are responding to many of us who prefer not to consume alcohol but we still demand a quality, tasty product. This is also evident in supermarkets and fast food outlets who have an ever increasing range of vegetarian and vegan options. All these businesses are wanting to retain our custom. I think FARE are over thinking the issue. By all means sell only in bottle shops but PLEASE don’t have ZABV drinks confined to the scrap heap with “cigarette” lollies!! I would like to see the breweries supply their ZABV range in hotels. Going for a social drink can be boring as generally no alcohol beers are sold. Same issue in small bars and restaurants. Hopefully this will change over time.

This is tricky, and clearly the Big Corporations really see an opportunity here, which has incididious undertones. That said, I am 5 months off the juice, and really miss the taste of beer. Have enjoyed quite a few of the ZABV beers, and they have really helped me stay off the alcohol but still enjoy the taste of beer. So, for me they’ve helped me stay to my current goal. That all said, there is much that is really problematic, at best…

I think af beer can be either a good or bad thing, depending how one uses it. If it is used simply as a substitute without accompanying behaviour change, then it can be detrimental. My friend’s husband gave up alcohol to save his marriage, but the drinking behaviour didn’t change. He drank up to twelve af beers a day, and lasted two months before going back to “real” beer, and divorce. If the drinking habits genuinely change, then af beer can be a great option rather than simply a substitute.

Personally, I’d like to see AF beer/wine continue to be sold in supermarkets… if I’m forced to go to a bottle shop or similar than I may fall into the trap of buying the real thing instead (something I’m trying to quit and my resolve isn’t as strong as others here appear to be)… it’d have a very negative effect on me if I was forced to only be able to buy it at places that sold alcohol. I understand the concerns about it being marketed to children, but I haven’t felt that come across in any of the marketing I have seen so far (and chances are, as mentioned in previous comments, they can always find someone older to buy the real stuff, or break into their parents stash as has been done for years).

Well ok, I hadn’t considered the minors….but I credit ZABV for helping me reach 52 AFD. Wouldn’t have managed witching hour without it. Surely that’s a good thing!

I’m glad AF beers seem to be more available and widely marketed – did I hear somewhere that it is the fastest growing sector of the market? Hope availability in supermarkets continues – let common sense (e.g. ID checks etc.) and step-up parenting etc. prevail. Sober three months, really happy. Ex told me the other day I had not truly ‘quit’ if I was drinking AF beer. Gave me something to think about. But I don’t have triggers, I used to drink for taste and effect, the problem was automatic elbow… Can walk into a pub or bottle shop no problem, head straight for the AF section. Really enjoy the taste of beer – and it was a real job to find a couple of AF beers that to me tasted OK. Now only occasionally have a couple, it’s for the taste. Don’t go out much but it would be good if pubs would offer some variety in this regard – hopeless many of them, can’t even get a small bottle of mineral water which his my go-to. Would prefer to nurse a bottle of AF beer in such places. Next stop is to explore AF wine options… Isn’t that what it is all about, options?

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