4 min read

Sober Is The New Cool: Will Wellness Overtake Alcohol?

“Let’s grab drinks!” It’s the go-to refrain of friends, colleagues, and singles everywhere. But nowadays, those drinks just might be lower in or free from alcohol altogether.

From hard kombucha and functional beer to alt-drinks and the rise of teetotalism, Big Alcohol is under siege from health-conscious consumers and upstart brands alike. What’s driving this shift and what does it all mean? Let’s take a look.

Totaling $250B in the US alone, alcohol is a massive business. But recent developments have signaled disruption:

  • 70% of millennials would rather brag about not consuming alcohol than being drunk.
  • Between 2015 and 2018, US alcohol consumption declined three straight years, with beer consumption down five consecutive years.
  • The global market for nonalcoholic wine and beer is estimated to reach $30B by 2025.

These developments are being driven by a few key factors, including health, wealth, weed, and the acceptance of being sober-ish.

Health. Younger generations are leading the mindful drinking movement. In fact, Nielsen data found that 66% of US Millennials are trying to reduce their alcohol consumption — well above the 47% of all US adults. And their motivation was clear: 41% cited health as the primary rationale with 27% abstaining to lose weight.

Far from an anomaly, Millennials might be the canaries in the coal mine — Gen Z is drinking at lower rates than previous generations.

Wealth. For a generation whose net worth and earnings are less than their parents, running up a pricey bar tab isn’t ideal. And the aforementioned Nielsen data reflects this — 31% of Millennials are drinking less to save money.

Weed. Both the legalization of cannabis and its place in wellness culture could be contributing to a decline in alcohol consumption as more people self-medicate with weed. As evidence, a 2017 study found a 12% drop in alcohol sales in counties with legalized medicinal cannabis (when compared with similar counties without).

Acceptance. From short-lived stints like Dry January or Sober October to lengthier periods of not drinking or drinking less, sober-ish has become the new cool. Less of a definitive choice between drinking and not drinking—or the dichotomy between water and wine—”mindful drinking” is a hashtag-able reason to abstain from alcohol.

In response to these developments, upstart alcohol brands have moved in, providing consumers with more options than ever before. Similarly, bars, restaurants, festivals, and other predictably boozing settings now cater to the sober curious crowd. Likewise, social media, apps, and in-person communities are forming around shared sobriety.

Drink. Newcomers to the beer scene, Sufferfest Beer Company (acquired by Sierra Nevada) and Athletic Brewing Company are red hot. Meanwhile, mainstays like Dogfish Head, Heineken, Sam Adams, and Brooklyn Brewery have released low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beers.

In the same sphere, hard kombuchas like JuneShine, Flying Embers, and KYLA are gaining steam. Haus and Underwood are innovating in the wine space. Meanwhile, Seedlip (acquired by Diageo), Three Spirit, and MeMento are putting non-alcoholic liquor on the map.

Demand for options outside of alcohol has also given us booze-free cocktails from Curious Elixirs, CBD-infused seltzers like Recess, Higher Mind’s nootropic drink, and an entirely new category in “euphorics” thanks to Kin.

Hang. Sober bars like Getaway, Ambrosia Elixirs, and Listen Bar are now a thing. Daybreaker’s early-morning sober dance parties have popped up in cities around the world. And sober social communities like Club SÖDA NYC create opportunities for people to connect without the pressure to drink.

Recover. Startups like Tempest and Loosid are creating new tools to help people get sober. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, a non-profit free to anyone willing to admit they have a drinking problem, new age apps aren’t altruistic detox programs.

Tempest has raised $14M in venture funding for its tech-infused approach to recovery, one that’s not limited to addiction. Seeking to make “sober the new black”, Tempest also welcomes users who might just want to drink less. Similarly, Loosid is a sober community for individuals in recovery and health enthusiasts seeking to socialize without alcohol.

Bottom line. It’s safe to say that alcohol isn’t going anywhere. But, with low- and no-alcohol bottled beverages set to grow 32% in the US between 2018 and 2022—triple the growth seen by this category over the previous five years–alcohol alternatives aren’t going anywhere either.

With consumers craving more wellness than ever before, what we drink, how much, how often, and in what context or setting will remain open-ended questions. As a result, expect to see more beverage brands and alcohol-adjacent companies attempting to dictate those answers.

Get the latest health and fitness industry news

Keep up with industry news, trends, investment activity, and job openings — in one weekly newsletter.

    No thanks.