Group of friends toasting NA drinks

Consumers seek guilt-free, enjoyable alternatives with improved taste profiles and broader variety

Amidst shifting consumer preferences, Non-alcoholic (NA) options have become integral to mindful drinking, with half of global non-alcoholic consumers choosing an NA option weekly1. These options, appealing beyond mere beer substitutes, offer increased drinking occasions earlier in the day2. The initial draw of NA beer lies in delivering a full-strength beer experience without the intoxicating effects. As consumers seek flavorful alternatives, the demand for NA beers, hop waters, and other non-alcoholic options has surged, fueled by a desire for bold taste experiences. This article delves into the world of non-alcoholic beverages, exploring the factors driving their popularity. However, the growing demand poses a unique challenge: producing exceptional alcohol-free options that align with the preferences of today's consumers.

Embracing Mindful Drinking: The Catalyst for NA Beer’s Ascent

As consumers prioritize well-being, a rising trend toward mindful drinking contributes to the growing popularity of NA beer and other options. Health-consciousness continues to drive the quest for alcohol-free alternatives, enabling enjoyment of social occasions without compromising health. Movements like Dry January and Sober October encourage broader exploration of new non-alcoholic options. 

However, the NA category faces challenges, as observed by Kalsec Hop Scientist Jake Kirkendall, “A growing variety of NA beers fill the market, but the majority disappoint. They tend to have thin bodies, lack flavor, and often have undesirable off flavors, such as oxidation.” Such experience is common for consumers venturing into the category as they search for and remain loyal to those NA beers that fulfill the complete sensory experience they desire.  

New entrants recognize the demand for a complete sensory experience, finding success by delivering more beer-like qualities. As Jake notes, “I gravitate towards options displaying more beer like qualities, and I think most importantly, these beers have the effect where I will reach for a second one. I drink these beers because I enjoy the flavor and continue to keep them stocked as part of my regular rotation to this day.” Jake adds, “I routinely speak with others both in the brewing industry and from outside of it who share similar experiences and perceptions of the current offerings.”

 “A growing variety of NA beers fill the market, but the majority disappoint. They tend to have thin bodies, lack flavor, and often have undesirable off flavors, such as oxidation.” Jake Kirkendall, Hop Scientist

Craving the Full-Strength Experience: Elevating NA Beer’s Taste Profile

Fueled by a desire for a full-strength beer experience, consumers actively seek NA beers boasting rich flavors and aromas reminiscent of alcoholic brews. Brewers and beverage innovators are responding to this demand by utilizing advanced brewing techniques and premium ingredients to craft NA beers that authentically emulate a full-strength beer experience, all while being alcohol-free. The NA beer landscape now spans a wide range of styles, from hoppy IPAs to rich stouts, ensuring consumers can indulge in a spectrum of taste profiles and aromas, satisfying their desire for a complete and satisfying non-alcoholic beer experience.

Expanding Non-Alcoholic Choices: A World of Variety

Non-alcoholic beverages have broadened their appeal through natural flavor extracts and innovative techniques, offering a spectrum that includes NA Beer, Hop Waters, NA Spirits, and even NA seltzers that appeal to different audiences. 

  • Crafted with natural flavor extracts and innovation, NA beers now offer an array of flavors and styles, catering to every taste preference, from lagers to IPAs. Consumers can indulge in diverse options, mirroring the richness found in alcoholic beers, with an expected rise in European Radler Styles.
  • Hop waters, positioned as both alternative and complement to traditional NA beers, are poised for continued growth, blending sparkling water familiarity with intriguing hop character, promising ongoing variations and ingredient additions for heightened flavor experiences.
  • The expanding landscape of non-alcoholic seltzers and spirits caters to varied preferences and occasions, while the potential federal legalization of cannabis in the United States introduces the prospect of NA cannabis beverages infused with THC and/or CBD, aligning with trends observed in Canada.
  • Continued industry shifts should be expected, driving major brewers to strategically integrate NA beers into existing brand families, emphasizing brand power and a move towards non-alcoholic alternatives. In the craft sector, major players present challenges for smaller breweries grappling with technical limitations, leading to the exploration of alternatives like hop waters and teas.
  • Anticipated global expansion of NA IPAs, especially in IPA-popular regions like South America and Eastern Europe, aligns with the broader growth of NA options in health-focused markets such as China and Brazil.

This collective momentum supports the expansion of robust NA brand extensions and choices, reinforcing the ever-evolving landscape of non-alcoholic offerings.

Navigating Opportunities and Challenges in NA Beer Production

While consumer adoption of NA beers is on the rise, brewers encounter challenges in meeting heightened expectations. Producing NA beers with complex and rich flavors that rival their alcoholic counterparts poses a daunting task. Despite years of R&D investment and brewing mastery, producing a full-flavored NA beer remains intricate. Brewers must meticulously address the sensory experience, ensuring authenticity in mouthfeel, aroma, and overall taste without the presence of alcohol. Consistency in flavor and quality across batches is pivotal for building brand loyalty and retaining consumers. Additionally, overcoming the entrenched stigma attached to NA beers and positioning them as appealing choices for all occasions presents a significant hurdle.

Challenges for NA Beer Manufacturers

Sensory Complexity

    • Balancing and enhancing taste and aroma profiles to match alcoholic beers' complexity.
    • Overcoming the absence of alcohol's contribution to flavor and mouthfeel.

Consistency in Quality

    • Striving for uniformity in flavor and characteristics across batches.
    • Establishing reliability in the product to build consumer trust and loyalty.

Addressing Stigma

    • Challenging preconceived notions surrounding the drinking experience of NA beers.
    • Educating consumers about the quality and appeal of modern NA offerings.

 

The current landscape of NA beer production is characterized by two primary categories: complete fermentation and low to no fermentation methods. The complete fermentation approach involves removing ethanol through methods like membrane filtration or thermal de-alcoholization. However, membrane filtration may introduce a slightly acidic off-character, and thermal de-alcoholization can lead to decreased volatile profiles and oxidized flavors.

In contrast, the low to no fermentation methods have gained popularity for their cost-effectiveness and space efficiency. This approach includes three main methods: interrupted fermentation, cold contact process, and the use of maltose-negative yeasts. While these processes avoid expensive equipment, they can yield beers with low fermentation character, excessive sweetness, and an unfermented worty quality.

Complete Fermentation Methods

  • Utilize processes like membrane filtration or thermal de-alcoholization.
  • May introduce off-flavors or decrease volatile profiles.

Low/No Fermentation Methods

  • Include interrupted fermentation, cold contact process, and maltose-negative yeasts.
  • May result in beers with overly sweet and worty characteristics.

Innovative Solutions and Future Outlook of NA Beer

To tackle challenges and meet escalating demand, breweries are embracing innovative strategies. Advanced methods are employed to enhance the flavors and aromas of NA beers, bringing them closer to their full-strength counterparts. One increasingly popular technique is mixed method brewing, where fully and partially fermented beers are combined, reducing off flavors and providing better control over the final product. 

Another emerging approach involves strategically using extracts and natural flavors to mask undesirable characteristics and compensate for missing volatile and flavor attributes. Tools such as advanced hop extracts, ester replacement products, ethanol replacement flavors, and mouthfeel modifiers  enable brewers to bridge the gap between a good match and an outstanding one. By addressing specific flavor removal or absence, brewers can elevate their NA beers, enhancing their resemblance to full-strength counterparts or amplifying beer-like attributes.

Utilizing Brewing Techniques

  • Employing methods like dry-hopping and flavor extraction common with full-strength beers.
  • Exploring mixed method brewing to combine the strengths of fully fermented and incompletely fermented beers.
  • Enhancing flavors and aromas using new technologies and processes.

Flavorful Natural Ingredients

  • Using extracts and flavors like hop extracts and ester replacements helps mask off-flavors and bolster missing characteristics, enhancing NA beer quality.
  • Enhancing the diversity and complexity of NA beer profiles.

Thriving in the Evolving Non-Alcoholic Landscape

The surge in the non-alcoholic market is propelled by evolving consumer preferences towards health-conscious and mindful drinking. While brewers confront challenges in meeting these trends, embracing proactive and innovative solutions to craft exceptional alcohol-free experiences will yield substantial dividends for those pushing boundaries. By leveraging advanced techniques, premium ingredients, and expert insights, the future of the market promises excitement and immense potential. As demand evolves, breweries find a unique opportunity to thrive and cater to the varied tastes and preferences of consumers in this rapidly expanding segment of the beverage industry.

Discover the future of non-alcoholic beverages and learn how to bridge the gap between NA beer and full-strength beer. Reach out  to us for more information or download our comprehensive NA Beer Handbook to explore innovative strategies to elevate your non-alcoholic offerings. 

1,2Source: Innova Global Low and Non-Alcoholic Beverage Category Survey 2022