Why Zero-Alcohol Drinks Aren't Cheap Like Lemonade. 

Feb 06, 2022

A popular misconception about alcohol-free drinks, whether they’re spirits, wine or beer, is that they should be low-priced. Not just cheaper than the alcoholic equivalent, but much, much cheaper. Cheap like lemonade. 

Lemonade stand at a park with a sign at the font which says lemonade 10 cents

Given this misconception, some people are surprised when they start looking at the Sans Drinks website and see that our prices aren’t substantially different from a regular bottle shop There are several reasons why non-alcoholic drinks are priced the way they are. 

Investing in the trend 

The non-alcoholic drinks market has grown a staggering amount in the last few years. This is evident from the number of products available (I started Sans Drinks with a handful of products and now stock over 500) and the size of the market.

Two bottles of 1920 Wines Alcohol Removed Pinot Grigio and one glass of wine filled with non-alcoholic white wine

Data from Nielsen shows that the no and low-ABV sector has grown a whopping 506 per cent since 2015 and sales of non-alcoholic wine (0.5% ABV and below) have increased 40 per cent in the last 12 months. 

All this goes to show that non-alcoholic drinks are a serious business. Getting new businesses off the ground is a costly process. 

The cost of producing non-alcoholic drinks 

Next comes the production cost. The reality is that in most cases, it is actually more expensive to make non-alcoholic drinks. For example, non-alcoholic wine is made in the same way as traditional alcoholic wine, with alcohol removal an extra step before bottling. 

This process means that the new wave of alcohol free wines that are on the market are vastly superior to the grape juice that was on offer a decade ago. To create a non-alcoholic wine, brands need to use the best grapes available. They can't use standard grapes, because there is no alcohol to hind behind. 

Three bottles of NON is a wine alternative on a table next to a plate of cheese and blueberries

In addition to this, a lot of liquid is lost during the de-alcoholisation process, which means wine makers need to begin with more premium wine than they end up with. All of these factors are reflected in the cost of non-alcoholic wine. 

Wine is not the only non-alcoholic drink that is costly to produce. NON, a wine alternative, is made with large volumes of premium ingredients. "NON uses real ingredients and turns them into drinks. Think of how much a punnet of cherries costs or chamomile tea. On top of this, the base for NON is verjus (unfermented grapes) which is expensive in itself," says Rish Ravalia, general manager at NON.  

Non-alcoholic drinks are complex 

It’s a similar story when it comes to many other types of non-alcoholic drinks. Sam Manning, the founder of Monday Distillery, tells me that the creation and production of non-alcoholic drinks is a complex process that requires a lot of work. 

"We really focus on the overall drinking experience. It’s not just about flavour. It’s the colour, the smell, the taste, the mouth-feel - every element of the alcohol drinking process is explored," she says. 

A woman pouring a bottle of Monday Distillery non-alcoholic drink into a mocktail garnished with an orange wheel

In order to achieve this, Monday uses cutting edge technology and a lot of trial and error. "Our ‘gin’, for example, is steeped in a wide range of botanicals and has the overarching flavour profile of juniper. These are flavours that can be replicated in a way to give a flavour that is similar to the real thing. It costs more to do than adding a mix of sugar and artificial flavours, but the result is well worth the extra effort." 

The scale of the issue 

Another factor to consider is the scale. A product that is mass-produced, such as a global gin brand, is always going to be cheaper at the checkout. "You can't adequately compare the production cost base of mainstream spirits, produced globally at an industrial scale with the small scale production of a new emerging category," explains Marc Romanin from Lyres Spirits

Although non-alcoholic spirits are growing in popularity, it's likely to be some time before we see brands like Lyre's moving into the mass-production. "Due to the production process, Lyre’s cannot be produced by just anyone. There is only one flavour house globally that sources all the right natural ingredients that go into our bottles" adds Marc. 

Three bottles of Lyre's non-alcoholic spirits next to a mocktail

Sam Manning echos this when she notes that larger drinks companies can enjoy economies of scale and discounts for buying in bulk. "Smaller independent makers will always retail at a higher price when compared to the big drinks companies because we pay more for things like ingredients and shipping," she explains. 

But what about tax? 

It's true that the cost of alcoholic drinks includes excise. However, as Sam Manning points out, excise isn't as clear cut as it appears. "While some producers do pay alcohol excise, there are numerous excise rebates and subsidy schemes in place to help support the alcohol industry as a whole," she explains. 

"This in turn helps them keep overall costs down - a luxury that non-alcoholic producers don’t have, especially smaller, family-run business like Monday Distillery."

Grown-up drinks Vs Lemonade 

On top of all this, when considering the cost of alcohol-free drinks, I also like to think about the value I place on having a grown-up drink. I wonder, why are many of us so willing to spend more money on alcoholic drinks? Why are we placing so much value on the alcoholic element of the drink and not the overall experience? 

Three bottles of Ms Sans non-alcoholic drinks next to a mocktail served in a martini glass

People tell me that since Sans Drinks opened they have been blown away by the options that are on offer now. It means that whether you’re cutting down on alcohol or breaking up with it long term, you can still enjoy a glass of wine, a G&T, a beer or a mocktail. It means that you don’t have to miss out. And, it means that you’re not stuck drinking lemonade! 

Which non-alcoholic drinks are most affordable?

Some of the best tasting non-alcoholic wines are less than $10 a bottle, these are my top 3:

1. Amalfi Spritz

The Lyre's Amalfi Spritz, ready to drink can is a dead ringer for an Aperitif Spritz  and cheaper. 

2. Edenvale Pinot Gris

This Edenvale Pinot Gris is an absolute winner on my wine tasting evenings, a unanimous wow and thumbs up for this wine from entire tables before I even tell them the price. From Aussie brand Edenvale, this is a new addition to their range that you won't find in the juice section of supermarkets. 

3. Carl Jung Rose

The Carl Jung Rose is a very dry, easy to drink rose that's a real sleeper-hit in the non-alcoholic wine world. It often gets overlooked because it is so cheaply priced but it's also a huge winner at the tasting table. 

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