Non-alcoholic beer thrives in MENA region

By Noel Ebdon

- Last updated on GMT

Many companies market non-alcoholic beers as 'malt-based soft drinks' to avoid any association with alcohol
Many companies market non-alcoholic beers as 'malt-based soft drinks' to avoid any association with alcohol

Related tags Middle east Alcoholic beverage North africa

Low/non-alcoholic beer is the fastest growing beer category of the past five years, with a 7% volume CAGR, although off a low base, according to a Euromonitor International analysis.

Key markets in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region drive this category, with a 35% volume share. While growth rates declined in 2013, the potential of the category remains strong, says a Euromonitor blog post​.

Amin Alkhatib, alcoholic drinks analyst for the market research organisation, suggests a possible explanation for the growing popularity of non-alcoholic drinks within the region.

He said: “The reasons vary with the type of market you look at, because of the varied economic and cultural situation of each country. But a general argument would be that the non-alcoholic sector, mostly in emerging markets, is slowly shifting toward positioning the product as a soft drink for adults.

“In the Middle East this is necessary due to cultural reasons, but in a non-Muslim mature market the case is because brands are pushed up by the marketing strength of the big global players like AB InBev.”

Playing up ‘soft’, playing down ‘non-alcoholic’

The way in which such beverages are marketed also has a strong effect on their popularity. Many drinks manufacturers – particularly within the MENA region – will focus on the product as a ‘malt-based soft drink’, rather than push the ‘non-alcoholic’ angle.

Alkhatib’s recent analysis explains this further, by suggesting that, in predominately Muslim countries, non-alcoholic beverages are not always positioned as such, in order to avoid the connotations that may arise from simply including reference to alcohol. His analysis suggests that this may not only put the consumer off buying such products, but that it may even discourage retailers from stocking them.

This is where brand loyalty comes into play. Non-alcoholic versions of popular alcoholic beers may not appeal to consumers who already enjoy the alcohol version of the product. This could then perhaps suggest that the market is wider, allowing new brands to enter their product into the marketplace and tempt customers.

Alkhatib explains: “Malta-Guinness is somewhat pushed by the halo effect of Guinness’s popularity in Nigeria. But in Egypt, Fayrouz is a unique product and has no affiliation to any other type of product. In fact, in the Middle East non-alcoholic beers are somewhat product specific brands. In the case of mature markets the flavour of an alcoholised beer will influence consumer taste of the non-alcoholic variety.”

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