Why millennials and Gen Z are helping to lead the surge in zero-zero drinks

the sixth day8:55Why millennials and Gen Z are helping to lead the surge in zero-zero drinks

Lee-Anne Richardson says she hears from many young Canadians about reducing their alcohol intake, drinking soft drinks, or choosing complete sobriety.

Dartmouth, NS, resident is Founder of Sober CityA peer support group for people struggling with addiction.

Richardson feels that millennials and Generation Z are making more informed choices about the negative effects of alcohol than previous generations, and are more open to having comprehensive conversations about their mental health.

I think young people see alcohol as a way to make anxiety worse, and to make mental health problems worse.– Lee-Anne Richardson, Founder, Sober City

“They’re like, ‘I don’t want to go down this path,’ so I’m going to totally abstain or downvote or things like that,” she said. “I think young people see alcohol as a way to increase anxiety, to increase mental health problems.”

Headshot of Lee-Anne Richardson, founder of a peer support group in Nova Scotia Sober City, and mental health and addiction advocate.
Lee Ann Richardson has been sober for nine years. When she quit drinking, she found it hard to find places to go and things to do that didn’t involve alcohol, so she built a peer support group. (Lee Ann Richardson)

According to the World Health Organization in May 2022 Report on alcoholharmful use can cause death and disability “relatively early in life” in people between the ages of 20 and 39, with 13.5% of all deaths attributable to alcohol.

Nonalcoholic drinks are good for some people who are sober or watching their alcohol use, Richardson says, but not for everyone.

“It can be exciting because it tastes and smells and feels like the real thing, but overall, I think it’s a really good idea and they help, especially young people, to stick to less drinking or to be completely sober.”

Jill Lynch, CEO of Zero Cocktail Bar in Toronto, says millennials and Generation Z don’t consume alcohol as much as her generation did in the 60s and 70s, because there’s less stigma around people choosing not to drink.

She also says that the market for zero protection has grown to include a wide range of options.

“When I started doing this, I probably found three products on the market,” she said. “There are now more than 200 on the Canadian market.”

Portrait of Jill Lynch, CEO of Zero Cocktail Bar in Toronto, Ontario.
Jill Lynch believes that non-alcoholic drinks have been here for a long time due to the increased market demand and acceptance of people who don’t drink. (some good clean fun blog)

when asked before the sixth day Host Brent Bamburi on what surprises customers most when they sip a non-alcoholic cocktail for the first time, Lynch said people were surprised how good it tasted.

“I wanted to satisfy my need, that is, could I make myself a drink? So I started doing some research and realized I could probably do that. I just started experimenting and researching. Then I invited some of my friends to try those zero-scratch cocktails and I might,” Lynch said. They loved them. I knew I had something I needed to take to market.”

watch | Is this the golden age of soft drinks? | about it

Is this the golden age of soft drinks? | about it

Mitch Cobb is the CEO of Upstreet Craft Brewing in Prince Edward Island, which now has its own non-alcoholic brand of craft beer called Balance.

Cobb says that after two years working in the beer business, he noticed it was affecting his health and decided to reduce his consumption.

He said that’s when he realized there weren’t a lot of zero-beverage options on the market. Its brewery launched its first non-alcoholic brew in 2020, and its non-alcoholic products are especially popular with a younger clientele.

“We’ve kind of seen a demand for it within our employees and within our customer base — we’ve seen a lot of trends, the talk of millennials and Gen Z,” Cobb said. “How are they drinking less and really focusing more on their health and wellness. We really saw that we were on to something and that there was a lot of potential there.”

Photo of Mitch Cobb holding a can of beer sitting on a chair.  Cobb is the co-founder of non-alcoholic beer brand Libra, and CEO of Upstreet Craft Brewing in Prince Edward Island.
Mitch Cobb says he’s well aware of people calling alcohol-free drinks a trend, but he thinks it’s a sustainable movement, driven by Generation Z and Millennials. (Ryan Williams / Unbound Media)

Cobb believes that people of all ages are becoming more informed about their health and wellness these days, but the difference with Gen Z and Millennials is that they still want to get out and do the same things they used to do — except for the booze.

They still want the same social experiences, but they don’t want to wake up the next day feeling bad.– Mitch Cobb, CEO, Upstreet Craft Brewing

“They want to be able to go out and meet their friends. They want to be able to go out to dinner, but they don’t want to wake up the next day feeling bad.”

Cobb calls it “a huge shift from previous generations” and says people used to either drink or not. If you don’t drink, it’s usually for health reasons, problems with alcohol, or because you’re pregnant.

“It really kind of shifted,” he said. “There’s not this hard line in the sand.”

It is a movement, not a trend

With hundreds of products on the market now, Lynch says nonalcoholic drinks are “definitely” here to stay and there is no longer a stigma attached to sobriety or support programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Suddenly, you hear words like “sober” and “irresistible.” And maybe those words will help change people’s mindsets,” Lynch said.

She says some people are now going through the pandemic phase feeling like heavy drinkers and looking for alternatives and support.

“It is not necessary for the person to be in a frenzy in terms of being an alcoholic. But the person could also say that the pressures of life are too much for me at the moment and I probably consume too much alcohol. Let me cut down and maybe there is a healthy alternative.”

Two cans of tonic with floral graphics sit next to a glass decanter full of liqueur on a bar counter
The London Brewing Co-operative brews non-alcoholic “brews” in partnership with On the Move Organics, a London-based organic grocery delivery company. (submitted by London Brewing Co-operative)

Richardson doesn’t think the soft drink market will vanish because of what she calls the brand’s “Instagram-worthy” and “instantly” aesthetics.

“I really think it’s here to stay because of the way I’ve been watching it grow over the past three years. It’s been a steady growth,” she said.

She feels that restaurants and bars will have more zero-free options on their menus each year, and that the younger generation will want zero-free drinks in the long run which will prevent it from being a fad.

“With the advent of non-alcoholic products and more sober-friendly spaces, it helps, frankly, everyone. It even helps kids who aren’t of legal drinking age yet because they’re starting to take an interest in older generations’ drinking,” Richardson said.

Cobb says he’s heard many people in the past few years describe it as a trend but believes it’s become more of a movement, stemming from the craft beer industry and a lot of consumers themselves.

“People, especially Gen Z and millennials, have grown up with this really interesting packaging around craft beer, and these really innovative flavors. The non-alcoholic beer market is kind of building on that and out of it.”

Cobb adds that it helps reduce stigma around not drinking, and helps people feel confident about going out and sharing cans and flavors they’ve discovered with friends.

“Once people realize that they can go out and they can still socialize and do the things they want to do and not necessarily drink alcohol, they won’t go back to drinking the way they used to, especially with the newer generations.”


Radio segment produced by Mickey Edwards.

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