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Quarter of UK drinkers embrace 'zebra striping' with alcohol-free options

Published:  07 June, 2024

A new industry report by research consultancy KAM and alcohol-free beer brand Lucky Saint reveals that a quarter of UK drinkers are alternating between alcoholic and alcohol-free drinks during their visits to pubs and bars. The report, titled ‘2024 Low and No: Drinking Differently,’ launched this week, highlighting the UK’s shift towards moderation.

Traditionally, alcohol-free drinks were reserved for designated drivers, but now a significant portion of the population is incorporating them into their drinking routines. This practice, known as ‘zebra striping,’ where individuals alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks in one outing, is adopted by 25% of UK adults according to KAM. When considering other forms of moderation, such as mixing alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks without strict alternation, the figure rises to 66%, with 78% of 18-24-year-olds engaging in these habits.

The report indicates that alcohol moderation is a year-round trend among UK adults. Three-quarters of UK drinkers are actively reducing their alcohol consumption throughout 2024, a trend supported by sales data showing consistent moderation during summer, festive seasons and Dry January. Furthermore, the proportion of UK adults drinking alcohol more than once a month has decreased to 88% in 2024, down from 93% in 2023. This decline coincides with 11m UK adults (16% of the population) trying low and no-alcohol beer for the first time in the past year.

KAM Insights also notes that over 20% of 18-24-year-olds claim not to drink alcohol, the highest of any age group, yet 53% of this demographic visit pubs or bars at least once a week. The report highlights that over one-third of pub visits by UK adults are now alcohol-free, emphasising that the pub remains a central social venue even as alcohol consumption declines. Young people, in particular, demand quality alcohol-free options, with 68% expressing dissatisfaction with venues that lack such choices.

The influence of non-drinkers on venue selection is growing, with 65% of UK adults and 85% of 18-24-year-olds stating that non-drinkers in their group impact their choice of venue. Moderation has become an integral part of everyday life, not confined to specific occasions. The most common time for moderation is weekends (31%), followed by weekdays (27%), celebratory events (17%), and Dry January (11%).

As alcohol-free drinks gain popularity and become more available, including in supermarket meal deals, UK attitudes towards them are shifting. The report finds that 76% of UK adults, and 85% of 18-24-year-olds, find it acceptable for a colleague to drink alcohol-free beer at their desk at work.

Katy Moses, MD at KAM, said: “Increasing numbers of UK adults are actively moderating their alcohol consumption, whether driven by a desire to improve their physical or mental wellness or to save money.

“What’s key, however, is that a decrease in alcohol consumption doesn’t mean a decrease in the demand for great experiences in pubs, bars and restaurants. People don't want to miss out on all the occasions where alcohol is normally present, going to the pub with friends, celebrating a birthday, enjoying a beer while watching sport, for example.”

Luke Boase, founder of Lucky Saint, added: “This report shows that the way people are moderating is continuing to evolve. Alongside traditional moderation moments like Dry January, people are seeking to drink less year-round, and even alternating alcoholic and alcohol-free drinks on a night out. 

“After thousands of years of centring social occasions around drinking – be it a pint of beer down the pub or a glass of champagne to mark a special occasion - we’re seeing a rapid cultural shift in attitudes towards alcohol. Today, it’s exciting to see the continued rise of moderation, the way people are incorporating alcohol-free drinks in their lives, and the emergence of zebra striping.”

The full report is available here.