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The new party drink of sobriety

Sphere is a cultural research tool that studies online data and applies machine learning models for deeper, more empathetic insights. This time, Sphere looks at The Goods: What today’s consumers are buying and why.

There’s been a subtle but steady shift in drinking habits that’s making hangovers go out of style. More people, especially Gen Z, are reevaluating their relationship with alcohol and deciding to break up with the bottle.

With heightened mental health awareness and mindfulness going mainstream, a decline in the glorification of binge-drinking was inevitable. This mindset shift signals a sobering reality to the 1.45 trillion USD drinks industry — capture sober curious consumers or lose market share.

The sober curious aren’t complete teetotallers but keep their relationship with alcohol in check. They drink occasionally but may choose to sometimes abstain. This new wave of conscious sobriety has heralded a post-pandemic boom for the non-alcoholic beverage market; sales are up in the US$395 million sector, rising 20.8% between August 2021 and August 2022.

Options for non-alcoholic beverages were once far and few, mainly comprising questionably flavored water and overpriced soda. Today, it’s a highly evolved buyer’s market of sophisticated pours made with fresh botanicals and herbs. The recent deluge of alcohol-free beers from both macro and craft breweries is also giving the sober curious their pick of proper hoppy ales or creamy chocolate stouts.

As no- to low-alcohol products grow in taste and popularity, they’re becoming more commonplace on bar menus and as socially acceptable choices on a night out. To find out how brands can retain this thirst, we used Sphere to analyze consumer reviews on sober party drinks.

Diversifying drinking

A Sphere analysis of Amazon Bestsellers in the Alcoholic Beverages category showed that a remarkable 23% were actually non-alcoholic. These alcohol-free alternatives were a varied mix of cocktails, spirits and wines, and the top 10 averaged a commendable 3.7 in ratings.

The price of sobriety

Sphere’s Pricing Research app determines how price sensitive consumers are towards specific products. If price sensitivity is high, any changes in price will significantly impact demand for the product.

By analyzing post-purchase reviews, Sphere picks up on whether customers think that a product is worth the price they paid or otherwise.

Compared to other non-alcoholic bestsellers, Seedlip Garden Non-alcoholic Spirit was the most price-sensitive. 24% of its consumers talked about its price in their reviews, which was a full 44% higher than the average price sensitivity of all products.

There was general consensus that Seedlip wasn’t worth the high price, especially since it wasn’t alcoholic. While consumers enjoyed its unique taste, they weren’t likely re-purchase because of how expensive it was.

Emotional buying

Sphere’s Pricing Research app also determines the consumers’ underlying motivations for purchase. The decision to purchase a product can be driven by emotion or function.

Emotionally-led consumers are influenced by publicity and branding, like influencer hype or well-designed packaging. On the other hand, functional buyers are driven by technical practicalities like product functions and features.

In this case, alcohol-free consumers are largely motivated by emotion. Their product reviews frequently mention flavor profile and product design. They tend to buy trendy products from brands that resonate with their values or come highly recommended by others.

Pocket friendly Dry January

Mindful drinking is far from boring if the range and complexity of these products is anything to go by. Alcohol-free makers have tapped into sober curious culture with innovative blends and beautiful branding but their high price points are a barrier to re-purchase.

Affordability could be the key to driving growth and maybe even persuade heavy drinkers to get a little sober curious. Stronger brand hype and iconic packaging could also elicit better emotional responses among mindful drinkers and get them to buy another round.

Write to anurag.banerjee@quilt.ai for more information on how Sphere can radically transform the way your company understands online data.

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