What Consumers are Drinking for Sober October

Posted by
Jordan Breslauer on 10/21/19 12:56 PM

First came Dry January. Then Dry July. Now consumers are putting alcohol on pause for Sober October, the latest iteration in this abstinence-as-event lifestyle.

What can BevAl brands and bar owners expect this season? Read on for the latest info on how health and wellness trends are changing the Beverage Alcohol landscape and the products most at risk because of these market shifts.


Health & Wellness Is Up

Health and wellness is top of mind for consumers, and not just in terms of their diets. It’s also making waves in the way consumers think and talk about alcohol.

The overall number of health and wellness conversations is much larger in Food & Beverage than in BevAl. Not surprising, given the natural connection between diet and wellness.

Still, consumer conversations about Beverage Alcohol that mention health and wellness have grown 45% since 2017, which is more than twice the rate of growth in F&B. That suggests consumers are starting to reconsider their alcohol consumption in light of an overall search for wellbeing. 

We're not surprised. From the ascendance of hard seltzer and hard kombucha to increasing interest in keto-friendly BevAl options, over the past year we’ve reported a significant uptick in consumer desire for better-for-you indulgence, as well as a shift toward outright abstinence from alcohol. 

What's more, that’s not just a result of Dry January resolutions. In fact, our data shows that “sober curious” social media conversations are through the roof, outstripping even a seasonal spike in posts about “sober October”: 

 

A bar graph showing growth of topics related to abstinence from alcohol

References to sober October are up more than 500% this year, but that pales in comparison to the nearly 2,000% rise of sober curious topics. Data Source: Social Standards Trend Analysis - US, 4-mo rolling average, Jun-Sept 2018–Jun-Sept 2019.

 

From hangovers to physical and mental health concerns, multiple consumer concerns are driving interest in abstention from alcohol. For example, the idea of being healthy comes up in more than 8% of posts about alcohol-free lifestyle topics and mental health is referenced in nearly 2% of such posts.

When a concept captivates consumers over the long haul, that’s a good indication it’s a trend, not just trending. Repeat mentions month-over-month suggest that consumers aren’t just trying out the latest thing, they’re growing increasingly loyal to this new way of drinking.

 

A graph showing that month-over-month mentions of both non-alcoholic and alcohol-free topics are on the rise.

Month-over-month mentions of alcohol-free topics have more that doubled over the past two years, while repeat mentions of non-alcoholic topics have increased by roughly 25%. Data Source: Social Standards Consumer Analytics - Global, Aug 2017–Aug 2019.

 

Sustained (and growing) consumer interest in these topics suggests consumers are increasingly adopting lifestyles without alcohol, a situation that could spell trouble for BevAl brands that don’t evolve to meet consumer tastes.

 

Digging into Sober October

Consumer interest in non-alcoholic occasions is up, but how is that likely to impact the market? By analyzing how strongly a trend is connected to a product and looking at how much the connection has grown over time, we can get a sense of which categories are likely to benefit from the shift to non-alcoholic drinking. 

Along with Dry January and Dry July, Sober October is the latest month to see seasonal spikes in interest around abstinence from alcohol. The chart below offers a sense of what consumers are thirsty for:

 

Water is the only drink that has a strong—and growing—relationship to Sober October.

Mapping out the relationship between products and a top-of-mind trend can provide insight into how the market is likely to shift. Data Source: Social Standards Consumer Analytics - Global, Sept 2019.

 

The vertical axis (y-axis) shows how strong the relationship is between the product and Sober October. The results here are common sense: low alcohol beer is tightly linked to the term, while whiskey has only the barest connection. 

In contrast, the horizontal (x-axis) axis indicates the degree to which a relationship has grown over the past year. Whiskey’s (lack of) connection to Sober October has held steady, while low alcohol beer has actually become less related to the month. In contrast, water’s relationship to Sober October has grown by 76% since 2018. 

Again, pretty common sense, right? Yes and no. While water is an obvious choice for consumers who aren’t drinking, the fact that it’s growing in relation to this seasonal celebration of sobriety may spell trouble. After all, while BevAl brands and bar owners could theoretically expand their offerings to include low- or no-alcohol options, they’ll probably find it a lot more difficult to produce and/or monetize water.

While sparkling water (not shown) is strongly associated with Sober October, it hasn’t been growing alongside this occasion and therefore doesn’t have as much potential upside as infused or extracted waters. Adding non-alcoholic drink options like watermelon water or citrus-and-herb-infused water could quench teetotaling consumers’ thirst for something different and fun but that won’t make them tipsy.

 

Takeaways

It can be tempting to dismiss changing consumer tastes as momentary fads, after all attitudes toward alcohol can seem to change with the season. However, if the move toward moderation continues, BevAl brands will need to think strategically about how to cater to their customers’ changing tastes—while still turning a profit. 

 

Curious about other trends impacting BevAl? Get a deep dive into four top trends with detailed demographic profiles and critical insights into when, where, and how today’s consumers are drinking.

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Topics: social analytics, social data, consumer analytics, trends, healthy living, alcohol

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