Mindful drinking offers New Year cheer

Sobriety and sustainability present a heady opportunity for hospitality businesses, says Robyn Black.

Dry January and Sober October have caught-on in recent years but for a growing number of people, drinking mindfully all year round is the sensible way to cut down on the booze. What is mindful drinking, though, and what are the opportunities for hospitality businesses?

In a nutshell, it’s about being more aware of personal drinking habits. That means taking into account what you are drinking, where you are drinking it, and why. Crucially, it doesn’t mean abstaining from alcohol completely (although some mindful drinkers do choose to do that).

Statistics indicating the size of the mindful drinking market are hard to come by. What we do know is that in 2018, 8.6 million UK consumers were actively moderating their drinking, according to the Drinkaware Monitor 2018. Plus, with the pandemic driving healthier choices in drinks (more on that later), that figure is likely to be significantly higher today.

Less but better

A key player in the mindful drinking movement is Laura Willoughby. She is co-founder of Club Soda, a community made up of individuals, venues and low- and no-alcohol drinks brands, that has spawned a mindful drinking festival, mindful drinking guides, a book and (pre-covid) guided pub crawls around venues offering the ‘sober curious’ a great place to socialise.

For her, the definition of mindful drinking is “about adapting your drinking habits to live well, so that might be drinking less, or never”. What it’s not about is staying at home and nursing a glass of water.

“When we first established Club Soda we only wanted to help people change their drinking,” she explains. “But we learned that too many people were struggling to change on their own and cutting themselves off from others. So we worked out how changing your drinking could also be a social activity.”

The first problem they faced was the woeful lack of choice when it came to no- and low- drinks in pubs and bars. As David Gallacher, divisional director at on-trade operator Mitchells & Butlers, pointed out in Footprint’s inaugural Drinks Industry Sustainability Index, people are beginning to demand more from their alcohol-free tipples.

“We’re looking at the customer call now for low- and no-alcohol solutions,” he said. “We see much more demand from our guests, and they want something more interesting than soda and lime. So how can drinks manufacturers innovate to a position where there’s a really compelling, exciting range of relatively healthy low- and no-alcohol alternatives?”

To give credit to drinks manufacturers there has been huge progress in this area in recent years. The low- and no-alcohol category is booming. Danish brewer Carlsberg, for example, reported a 29% growth across its alcohol-free brews in the three months to September 2020 compared to the same period last year. Heineken reported this autumn that its Heineken 0.0 alcohol-free beer hit double digit growth in the third quarter of 2020.

Innovation in this area is of course in response to this growing consumer demand but let’s not forget, too, that health and wellbeing is also part of the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 3: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages… Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including…harmful use of alcohol”).  

Removing alcohol units from the marketplace has therefore become a key sustainability pillar for alcoholic drinks companies. Two of the biggest examples are brewer AB InBev and Diageo. The former has pledged that 20% of its global beer volumes will be made up of no- or low-alcohol beer products by 2025. The latter’s global strategy reads: “Change the way the world drinks for the better, by promoting moderation and addressing the harmful use of alcohol. Our goal is for people to ‘drink better, not more.’”

A mindful drinking concept if ever there was one.

Conscious consumption

Camille Vidal, a former brand ambassador and consultant for the likes of the Bacardi family of brands, founded mindful drinking platform La Maison Wellness back in 2018 and is now often to be found talking about “healthy hedonism” on programmes such as Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. She also sees synergies between mindful drinking and sustainability.

“I try to talk about bringing mindfulness to the glass and conscious consumption, so while mindful drinking isn’t always about not drinking any alcohol, it is always about where the ingredients are from. Are they local? Organic? Seasonal? And, absolutely, sustainability comes into that.”

As a result, Vidal works only with brands she knows that echo these values. Mermaid Gin, for example, made from locally-foraged samphire and elderflower; or Everleaf, a spirit alternative created by conservation biologist Paul Mathew using “only ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients”. 

There are plenty more out there of course. Some of the more recent and most interesting include a beer made with no water by the Wild Beer Co brewery (they use whey instead) and a rum made from waste banana peel by Discarded (the peels come from a flavour house that uses the fruit but ditches the skins).

This marriage of mindful drinking and sustainability is also emerging in the form of burgeoning drinks categories such as kombucha and CBD-based drinks (CBD, or cannabidiol, is a legal cannabinoid classed as a novel food by the Food Standards Agency). Vidal works with both kombucha producer Real Kombucha and CBD specialist OTO. It is clear that producers in such sectors are using both mindful characteristics (such as being lower in abv or focusing on the functional benefits of their ingredients) and sustainable practices (such as resource efficiency) to build their brands.

It seems then that our changing relationship with alcohol is helping to drive a more sustainable drinks industry and these two shifts have manifested themselves in the rise of mindful drinking. This could be the time for the hospitality industry to embrace this growing trend, especially as we head into a year in which health and wellbeing will undoubtedly be a priority for more consumers than ever.

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