The Movement Gaining More Popularity Than Meatless Monday
The nonalcoholic movement reserves 37% of the days in a calendar year, nearly three times as many as Meatless Monday
The first time Americans were asked to reduce their meat consumption was during World War I. With the help of soon-to-be president Herbert Hoover, the U.S. Food Administration coined a slogan: Food will win the war. It was an effort to care for struggling Allies and nourish U.S. soldiers overseas that included asking Americans to cut back on their fat, sugar, wheat, and meat consumption through Meatless Tuesdays and Wheatless Wednesdays.
The campaign returned during World War II when Presidents Roosevelt and Truman were called upon to help feed a war-torn Europe. This time, though, Monday was the day of choice to abstain from meat, and 12 million Americans signed the pledge.
In 2003, Sid Lerner, a former advertising executive revisited Meatless Mondays with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Not in response to food scarcity though, but rather a food surplus. They found that the average American was consuming 15% more meat than was recommended. Lerner argued that the average American eats three meals per day, 21 meals per week, so abstaining from meat or a full day, or three meals, would address the 15% overconsumption.
Enter the modern Meatless Monday of today, a global movement that encourages people to reduce meat in their diet for their health and the health of the planet. Also driving today’s Meatless Monday movement are animal and climate activists, and vegan or alternative meat and dairy brands. Each Monday, people around the world join in abstaining from eating meat, 52 times a year, or 14% of the days in a year.
Seated at the table next to Meatless Monday participants is a fast-growing movement that reserves 123 days, or 37% of the days in a year—and no, it’s not CrossFit or Peloton.
The rise of the alcohol-free movement
Four entire calendar months are now reserved for campaigns that challenge participants to abstain from alcohol: Dry January, Dry July, Sober September, and Sober October.
Dry January, or Drynuary, is the annual movement through which millions of people give up alcohol for the month of January. It is run by the charity Alcohol Change U.K., and the rules are simple: no alcohol from when you wake up on New Year’s Day until February 1. What started in 2013 with 4,000 people, has grown to more than 4 million participants who each January work to reset their relationship with alcohol.
Dry July is an annual fundraiser that encourages participants to go alcohol-free in July to raise funds for people affected by cancer. The funds raised provide invaluable services for cancer patients, their families, and carers. Started by three friends in 2008, it’s also aimed at challenging social drinkers to change their habits for a month and make some healthy lifestyle changes.
Sober September started as a monthlong Dryathon in 2013 by Cancer Research in the U.K., identifying that after a summer of holidays, festivals, and weddings, September is a perfect time to have a break and commit to a booze-free month.
Kicking off spooky season, Sober October, too, is a monthlong challenge to give up booze. Originating in Australia, Sober October is a fundraising initiative that encourages people to give up alcohol for the month of October and raises money for Life Education Australia, an organization teaching Australian children how to enjoy a healthy lifestyle by resisting participation in drug and alcohol abuse.
Like Meatless Monday, these campaigns weave civic responsibility, citizenship, and personal health into a monthlong challenge. Their philanthropic relationship is no coincidence either. A 2012 study found that 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide were estimated to be attributable to alcohol, and a 2016 study concluded that the more a person drinks, the greater their risk of developing cancer, especially head and neck cancers. In June 2020, for the first time in 20 years, the American Cancer Society updated its guidelines to remove alcohol consumption in any moderation.
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A beneficial outcome for the nonalcoholic beverage category
In line with how plant-based food brands grow in parallel to campaigns like Meatless Monday, the brands inside the nonalcoholic category are equally as opportunistic.
Over the past five years, nonalcoholic beer sales have grown by 3.9% on average while overall beer sales have remained mostly flat. This supports AB InBev’s ambition to generate at least one-fifth of its global beer sales from low-or-no booze brands by the end of 2025, a year that Global Market Insights predicts will see the nonalcoholic wine and beer market cross $30 billion. This is consistent with alcohol incumbent Bacardi’s forecasting that there will be a 400% growth in zero-to-low alcohol in the next four years.
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On the ground floor of the nonalcoholic category, brands are confirming this growth. Betera, a refreshingly bitter sparkling nonalcoholic beverage reported that year-to-date in 2021 they are already 10x on their 2020 sales, and through Q1 ’21 they were +48% on their already aggressive plan. Hoplark, a craft-brewed Hopped Tea and Water brand out of Boulder reported that six days into 2021 they had already passed their total eCommerce sales from all of 2019, while also announcing their launch into retail at Whole Foods, Target, and Publix.
Two Roots, an award-winning nonalcoholic brewer reported 300% year-over-year growth online. In Devon, England, nonalcoholic spirit Sea Arch reported a 200% increase in sales from last year to now. And earlier this year, category leader Athletic Brewing reported its sales are up 500% year-over-year. Sobah Beverages, Australia’s first nonalcoholic craft beer company, has likewise experienced a 500% increase in sales from 2020–2021.
This, all in a category few have yet to fully explore.
But the Big Alcohol industry is eyeing the opportunity and taking note.
As the plant-based category saw the largest incumbents of the meat industry, Tyson and Cargill, begin creating their own plant-based brands, so too has the nonalcoholic category.
In 2020, Budweiser, with the help of Dwayne Wade, introduced Budweiser Zero to the market. Several years before, Heineken launched Heineken 0.0. Domestically, historic craft brewer Sam Adams released a nonalcoholic IPA, Just The Haze, while Brooklyn Brewery—off the success of their first nonalcoholic release Special Effects Hoppy Amber—added a second offering with the release of their Special Effects IPA earlier this year. In the spirits world, Tanqueray introduced a 0.0% Gin and Pernod Ricard released a nonalcoholic dark spirit.
And though the young category has yet to see an IPO the likes of Beyond Meat, Oatly, or The Very Good Butchers, a significant amount of capital has been invested into the nonalcoholic space.
Partake Brewing, a leading nonalcoholic beer brand, raised $4 million in a Series A. Athletic Brewing announced the closing of $17.5 million Series B only to nearly triple it months later with the closing of a $50 million Series C. Lyre’s, a leading nonalcoholic spirit completed a seed-plus funding round that valued the brand at over $179 million, while Netherlands’ nonalcoholic spirits company, Fluère Drinks, was acquired by wellness company Next Frontier Brands. The consolidation continued with activity from Diageo’s Distill Ventures who took the majority shareholding in Seedlip, the world’s first distilled nonalcoholic spirit, and announced a minority investment in Ritual Zero Proof. In the equity crowdfunding arena, Drink Monday raised 3,594% of their goal with a sum of $898,528, and TÖST Beverages, a currently active campaign, is outperforming their goal by 326%, having raised $81,745 with 120+ days remaining in the round.
To feed the growing volume of appetites participating in Meatless Monday, came the arrival of plant-based restaurants. A sign of cemented growth. The nonalcoholic category’s equivalent is that of the sober bar. And the list is growing: Sans Bar in Austin, Getaway in New York City, Awake in Denver, and Syndicate in Miami are leading the way.
But, the nonalcoholic beverage category is now taking it a step further with the introduction of exclusively nonalcoholic bottle shops. First came Spirited Away, a New York City booze-free bottle shop dedicated to zero-proof spirits, bitters, wines, and beers, followed by this spring’s opening of Boisson, a nonalcoholic spirits, beer, and wine shop in New York City’s West Village. Openings are likely in response to the above statistics, or that zero-proof drinks were a top 10 food trend for Whole Foods in 2020.
What’s clear is that campaigns, which may seem like surface-based fun challenges, truly do turn participants into value-add investors, and are the catalysts for category growth.
But, there’s a lesson to be learned.
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The nonalcoholic beverage category’s opportunity
The plant-based food market is expected to reach $74.2 billion by 2027. This will likely be 2–2.5% larger than that of the nonalcoholic category. With 2.3x as many days dedicated to abstaining from alcohol than meat, one would expect these figures to be the opposite. What’s the explanation?
Age of category could be the answer but consider that maybe it’s not the number of total days, but the consistency of them.
Each day, tens of thousands of nonalcoholics log into Facebook groups, engage on Instagram profiles, and follow their favorite brands across social media, expressing their daily interest in the category, impatiently waiting for the next “month” to celebrate their participation in the alcohol-free revolution.
What if they didn’t need to wait that long?
Taking a page from Meatless Monday, the nonalcoholic category, anchored in improving the public’s health, not just sales, could introduce a campaign for a weekly day of abstinence. This could be Sober Saturday, Sober Thursday, Dry Friday, or DryDay, although Friday would make the most sense as it’s often a heavy drinking day merging celebrations, escapism, and social meetups. Employers could quickly get behind the campaign offering alternative beverages or events to their employees, and participants would feel an immediate impact waking up Saturday, well-rested, and hangover free. It also wouldn’t inhibit participants’ Saturday social plans.
Learning from Meatless Monday’s global success, offering a weekly opportunity to improve one’s personal health might be the olive branch this category needs to extend.
Like Meatless Monday, a campaign of this consistency would create a learning hub, full of resources for all levels of curiosity. But, unlike Meatless Monday, for all other days of the week that a person chooses not to participate, they can take solace in knowing that their lack of participation isn’t killing innocent animals nor destroying our planet, they’re just inviting potential health consequences onto themselves. Quite noble if you ask me.
An adjustment of this nature might position the nonalcoholic category up for a century of success, similar to what Meatless Monday and Sid did, and that’s something I would personally love to contribute to with leading brands, investors, thought leaders, and fellow nonalcoholics.
Why share those publicly and not move in the shadows until launch?
Well, I believe in building things in the driveway, out-in-the-open, and in plain sight. I believe the minds of this category together are stronger, smarter, and faster than a few behind closed doors.
My inbox is open.
Author’s Note: Each year on or around my soberversary I publish a reflection on what I’ve learned and my experience, thus far. Going sober at 26, there weren't many resources out there, and I sure didn’t know anyone else my age who was sober. My third soberversary piece is coming out in a few weeks and if you’d like to check out my first two, they’re linked below:
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