Popularity of low and non-alcoholic beer rises sharply in New Zealand

By Jimmy Ellingham for RNZ

New research into New Zealanders' beer buying habits shows a huge rise in the popularity of low- and no-alcohol beer.

Sales of low-alcohol beer have shot up 1116 percent in the past five years, as the days of limited choice have gone.

The rise is detailed in a study published today by industry group the Brewers Association of New Zealand.

It found a sharp rise in no-alcohol beer sales is behind the jump, as well as an increase in products and brands.

Low- and no-alcohol beers still make up only a small percentage of the market - zero-alcohol products account for 2 percent of supermarket sales.

But their rise is a standout figure in the research, done by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.

Owner of Palmerston North bar Brew Union Murray Cleghorn said the increase in popularity of low-alcohol beer was a recent development.

"We run a low-alcohol beer on one of our 21 taps and that does actually turn over very well.

"Maybe three or four years ago Kiwis stigmatised low-carb or alcohol, [and] no-alcohol products, and that stigma's gone, I think."

Other factors played a part too, including the lower drink-driving limits and a cultural shift toward intolerance of driving over the limit.

"It's not common to hear people saying they're having a low-alcohol beer because they don't want the alcohol.

"It's usually for a purpose. It's usually because they've got to be moderate and they've got to drive home, which is great."

Wellington crafter brewer Garage Project developed a low-alcohol IPA called Fugazi in 2016, which has proved popular.

And, co-founder Jos Ruffell said, it couldn't keep up with demand for a non-alcohol hazy IPA called Tiny, released in November.

"The response to that has been overwhelming... It's flying out the door.

"It just seems to be hitting the right note at the moment. It's full flavoured. It's very aromatic. It's a beer that you can have and you don't feel like you're missing out at all."

New Zealand was mirroring the global move toward low- and no-alcohol beers, Ruffell said.

"I just think it's a progression of the trend, quality over quantity, people being more conscious of their consumption, maybe even the lifestyles people are leading coming out of lockdown.

"Having a non-alcohol beer is really hitting the spot for them."

Brewers Association executive director Dylan Firth said low-alcohol beers had come a long way in a short time.

There had also been strong growth in low-carb beers, which made up 8 percent of the beer market.

Sales for these grew 33 percent in the past year.

"I think it's one of those things that's happened pretty quick. The New Zealand brewing industry can be pretty agile and see trends and move towards it.

"Beer is one of those products you can make in a relatively short time compared to, say, wine."

Firth said the beer industry was worth about $2.8 billion in 2021 and supported more than 6500 jobs.

And although New Zealanders were drinking less beer than in the past, the spend was staying steady, suggesting they're looking at quality not quantity.

The association represents industry heavyweights Lion and DB.


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