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Why France’s alcohol-free cocktail boom is ‘not just a trend’

We talk to industry professionals about the growing demand for fancy mocktails 

The non-alcohol drinks sector is expected to double in size by 2026, according to professionals Pic: Shebeko / Shutterstock

More and more French drinkers are enjoying non-alcoholic cocktails, several industry professionals told The Connexion, in a phenomenon explained by societal change and general decline in alcohol consumption.

But the option is also popular because it carries less social pressure when consuming non-alcoholic beverages, clients and consumers having regularly reported feeling like the ugly duck in the room or forced to give reasons for not drinking alcohol. 

Non-alcoholic sector to double by 2026

Alcohol-free cocktails are part of a broader phenomenon of a decline in alcohol consumption, however, and forms part of a trend for ‘slow-drinking’, a campaign initially designed by Bacardi Martini. 

Read more: French still love to apéro but with no- or low-alcohol wine and beer

From 200.7 litres of alcohol per person being consumed in 1960 (wine, beer, champagne, cider and spirits), French people drank just 79.6 litres in 2018, most of the decline having been observed from the 1960s and the 1990s after repeated public health campaigns, according to figures from l’Insee.

The non-alcohol drinks sector is expected to double in size by 2026, according to professionals.

Bars say quarter of drinks are alcohol-free

“Customers are more picky with their cocktails now. There is less binge,” said Gabriel Pons, barman manager at Bordeaux restaurant Frida.

Mr Pons arrived behind the bar four months ago and took all four zero-alcohol cocktails off the menu, replacing them by a single signature ‘Surprise Me’ cocktail. 

‘Surprise Me’ asks customers for their personal choice in ingredients and tastes and changes every day depending on the latest stock delivery. 

On November 25, when we spoke, Mr Pons said he will use mostly carrots.

The day before, around 200 Surprise Me were served, of which 20 to 30 were alcohol-free, Mr Pons said. 

Other bars have reported serving as much as one alcohol-free drink out of every four. 

Read more: Dry January in France: how our readers are changing drinking habits

‘We were mocked 30 years ago’

Mister Cocktail, a non-alcoholic cordial from France’s second biggest spirits group La Martiniquaise - Bardinet (LMB), was the first group to position itself on the market more than 30 years ago. 

It is known to French people for its catchy commercial hook that goes: ‘Sans alcool, la fête est plus folle (Without alcohol, the party goes wilder.”) 

“Of course, we were the subject of mockeries back then. But it shows we were a bit avant-garde,” said Donatien Ferrari, communication manager at LMB.

The reality is more complex as 80% of consumers drinking alcoholic beverages also drink non-alcoholic beverages, said Mr Ferrari, often to keep drinking but lower overall alcohol consumption.

“It shows, contrary to cliches, that the drink is not only reserved for Muslims, pregnant women, athletes and recovered alcoholics,” he said, listing groups that do not drink alcohol for religious, health or professional reasons. 

Same ‘apéro’ pleasure

While Mister Cocktail positioned early on the market, its main competitor Pernod Richard has since expanded its brands to include non-alcoholic beverages such as Suze Tonic 0% or Cinzano Spritz 0%.

But smaller or newcomer, wannabe competitors have positioned themselves with alcohol-free cocktails such as Immersive drinks, an initiative from three students selling non-alcoholic cocktails in pods in an effort to safeguard the planet by lowering plastic bottles.

Other companies in France include Optimae or United Kingdom’s Lyre’s, the industry leader. 

Convinced of the potential new market brewing, Augustin Laborde opened ‘Le Paon qui boit’, the first ever “bottle shop” offering only non-alcoholic beverages including 70 references of cocktails, in the 19th district of Paris in April 2022.

“We want to give drinkers the same pleasure under the same ‘apéro’ social codes. 

Read more: ‘Tchin tchin’, ‘santé’, eye contact: The rituals of French apéros

“At the end of the day, they are drinks open to everyone,” said Mr Laborde.

‘Le Paon qui boit’ offers two types of cocktails: products imitating alcohol but without the compound and new products with no association with alcoholic products.

This means that cocktails including gin contain juniper and bay but distilled in water or spritz with sour orange but without prosecco. 

Most brands, however, do not use terms such as ‘gin’ or ‘whisky’ because of commercial compliances with registered trademark brands, preferring terms such as ‘American malt’ instead of whisky or ‘Dry London Spirit’ as is the case at Lyre’s. 

Mr Laborde said the response from customers is overwhelmingly positive so far. 

“This really is more than a trend. It’s a long term behavioural change I think,” he said.

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