Being “sober curious” isn’t just for Dry January anymore

Interest in brands like Surely and Ghia—which imitate alcoholic drinks, but don’t actually include the stuff—continues to grow.
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· 5 min read

In 2018, writer Ruby Warrington wrote about being “sober curious,” encouraging people to reevaluate their relationship with alcohol. Granted, that was before a global pandemic hit that kept lots of people inside and in need of a vice. But even as we head into the third calendar year of Covid, interest in alcohol-free drinks continues to grow:

  • New Morning Consult data shows that 19% of adults plan to participate in Dry January, up from 13% last year. Half plan to abstain completely, while the other half plans to scale back their drinking habits.
  • In New York City, stores like Boisson and Spirited Away are dedicated entirely to selling alcohol-free beverages.
  • Social media accounts like @sobergirlsociety and @sobernation have hundreds of thousands of followers.
  • Alcohol-free bars are even popping up in places like Wisconsin, the state that, at least as of 2014, had three bars for every grocery store.

With Dry January in full swing, brands like Surely, which began selling non-alcoholic wine in 2020, want people to know that sober curiosity is for everyone (even those who don’t want to go completely dry). “It’s all about giving people options,” co-founder Ryan Hanson told Marketing Brew.

Hanson describes Surely as a health and wellness brand, allowing people to cut alcohol the same way they cut carbs or sugar without sacrificing the experience. He also wants to eliminate any weird looks or questions people might get when they choose not to drink, which is why he says it’s important for Surely to have the look and flavor of a traditional glass of wine.

“Somebody could pour you a bottle of Surely, and unless you asked, you would have no idea if there was alcohol in it,” he said.

Ghia, a non-alcoholic aperitif brand, launched in 2020 with a similar idea: to provide a low-sugar alcohol alternative that people actually wanted to drink—and looked like a real aperitif. “As someone who loves to host, I was constantly questioned for not drinking, and I really wanted to change the way we thought about eating and drinking,” founder Mélanie Masarin told us.

The moderation movement

Masarin, who previously held marketing roles at Dig Inn and Glossier, said the increase in openness to not drinking, as well as more options becoming available, can only help destigmatize going dry—even if just for a night.

“Enjoying a non-alcoholic beverage doesn’t mean you’re never allowed to drink an alcoholic beverage again,” Masarin said. “But non-alcoholic options give the consumer the ability to choose how they want their night to go, for whatever reason that might be.” According to Masarin, about 80% of Ghia’s customers are people who drink in moderation.

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Similarly, Hanson said approximately 70% of Surely consumers identify as drinkers. One of the most common reasons for choosing their drinks, he said, was that people wanted to enjoy wine with dinner but weren’t necessarily looking to get drunk.

Beyond the 100% sober crowd, both Ghia and Surely identified pregnant women as a key demographic. Hanson said he’s also heard of people switching to non-alcoholic drinks after a drink or two at the bar to avoid driving drunk.

The new, sober normal

Marcos Salazar, CEO of the Adult Non-Alcoholic Beverage Association (ANBA), said the growth of non-alcoholic beverage brands has been “explosive” in the last year. Gone are the days of O’Doul’s or nothing.

The pandemic brought success to a handful of non-alcoholic brands by encouraging them to pursue an online, DTC sales model as people social distanced and shopped online, explained Salazar.

He told us purchasing directly from producers “provides an ease of being able to access these beverages, but also have a relationship with the brand.” Beyond relationship building, Salazar said DTC also provides an advantage over traditional alcohol brands, which often struggle to sell their products directly online because of legal barriers.

Brands like Ghia and Surely sell DTC, but they can also be found in stores and bars. Last Dry January, Masarin said Ghia saw a 40% increase in customers with a 35% return rate. The brand’s YoY revenue increased 1875% between Q3 2020 and Q3 2021, from $10k to $180k; Surely told us it made $3m+ in year one, after launching in November 2020.

But don’t think alcohol brands aren’t up for the competition. Heineken and Corona are among those joining the Dry January craze by promoting their non-alcoholic beers. (Other brands have chosen a…different path.)

Salazar said ANBA plans to expand in 2022 in the US and abroad as the number of alcohol-free brands continues to grow. Who knows, maybe Katy Perry will get involved.

Salazar added that he doesn’t expect consumer enthusiasm to slow down, even beyond Dry January. “There’s just going to be opportunities, whether it’s a month or a week, for people to take a pause and take a step back to reevaluate,” he said. “Where do they want alcohol to fit into their life?”

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