No- and low-alcohol drinks – a growing market that could change public health but challenges remain

John Holmes, Professor of Alcohol Policy, Sheffield Centre for Health and Related Research (SCHARR) | January 2024 | 9 minutes

As Dry January continues, many people are looking to no- and low-alcohol (no/lo) drinks as an alternative to their usual choice. There is no doubt these drinks are increasingly popular but reporting on the no/lo market is often characterised by hype and selective data releases. Anyone looking for clear and comprehensive information will often draw a blank.

We are looking to change that today by releasing the first of a series of monitoring reports. These reports, and the accompanying data sheets, will bring together comprehensive evidence from market research companies and academic surveys to provide a unique snapshot of no/lo drinks sales and consumption in Great Britain.

The first report confirms that the no/lo market is growing at a rapid pace. No/lo drinks accounted for 1.1% of the total volume of alcoholic drink sales in 2021, up from 0.9% in 2020. Our 2022 data does not cover the full year but suggests another rise to 1.2%. The share is bigger in the off-trade (i.e. shops) at 1.3%. For the largest category, off-trade beer, no/lo drinks accounted for 2.1% of alcoholic drinks sales in 2021.

That may not sound like a lot but we should be clear about its implications. There is no evidence yet that no/lo drinks have had a substantial impact on public health. However, the upward trend in sales is persisting and it is clear that producers and retailers are investing in this market for the long-term. All the indications suggest we should expect continuing market growth in the coming years and significant public health benefits remain a possibility.

Our report also provides indications on how that might happen. New data from the Alcohol Toolkit Study suggests no/lo drinks are consumed regularly by a small but significant section of the population. In 2022, one in three adults reported consuming a no/lo drink in the last year and one in ten had done so in the last week. Intriguingly, those consuming no/lo drinks are more likely to be risky drinkers than light drinkers or non-drinkers. They are also more likely to be from affluent rather than deprived backgrounds. So the public health implications currently point both ways; towards the possibility of reduced harm among risky drinkers but also towards widening health inequalities as the deprived groups who would benefit most from cutting down on alcohol adopt no/lo drinks more slowly, if at all.

One reason for this inequality might be the higher cost of no/lo drinks. People paid on average 7% more per litre for no/lo beer than they did for standard beer in the off-trade in 2022. In the on-trade, the gap was even greater at 24%. Again though, the story is not simple as the price gap between no/lo and standard alcoholic beers is closing. People also paid less in the off-trade for no/lo spirits than they did for standard ones.

A final area of interest is how much familiar brands dominate the no/lo market. For all the talk of trendy start-ups, alcohol-free bars and market disruption, new companies are not the ones driving the sales figures. Half of no/lo beer sales in the off-trade come from just four major alcohol brands and the top ten brands account for 76% of sales. Independent alcohol-free producers have made only a modest dent in the market. Just 2% of no/lo beer sales in the off-trade come from products that do not share their branding with a standard alcoholic beer. Things are a little different in the spirits market where 26% of sales are from products without a shared alcoholic brand. However, the no/lo spirits market is also highly concentrated, with 75% of off-trade sales coming from just three brands.

All of this poses difficult questions for those in public health who want the benefits of a thriving no/lo drinks market that is distinct from its alcoholic equivalent which causes so much harm. Do we need the familiarity of major alcohol brands to drive take-up and consumption of no/lo drinks? Is the surrogate marketing, where companies promote their standard alcoholic brands using no/lo products, a necessary compromise to secure public health benefits? Opinions will vary but our analyses suggest the answer is far from simple.

We will update our report later this year with data up to the end of 2023. In the meantime, there are wider questions about the public health benefits of no/lo drinks. Evidence to date suggests people are replacing their standard alcoholic drinks with no/lo alternatives (e.g. here and here), and this should lead to health benefits. However, the extent of this switching is unclear with studies relying only on older or qualitative data. We know little about whether and how key risk groups are engaging with no/lo drinks, including pregnant women, young people and those recovering from alcohol dependence. Some researchers and stakeholders also point to the problematic advertising practices mentioned above (e.g. here and here), but these tend to rely on small-scale studies or reports taken from social media. We need better evidence in all of these areas and beyond.

Our team from University of Sheffield, University of Stirling and University College London aims to fill this gap over the next few years as our NIHR-funded study of the public health impacts of no/lo drinks begins to produce and publish its findings. Follow our work at or @SARG_SCHARR on X to hear more.


Our research was funded by the NIHR Public Health Research programme (NIHR135310). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

We are grateful to IRI, CGA by NIQ and the Alcohol Toolkit Study research team for providing the data used in this report. All data on alcoholic drink sales, pricing and purchasing presented in the report and this blog post are copyrighted to IRI, CGA by NIQ and the Alcohol Toolkit Study.