The FoodNavigator Podcast: How innovation hopes to bring fun, sociability and indulgence to low/no drinks

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

The FoodNavigator Podcast: How innovation hopes to bring fun, sociability and indulgence to low/no drinks

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What innovations are occurring that can elevate low/no alcohol beverages from simply being premium soft drinks into something that remains a pleasurable experience for consumers?

The category is on the up. Low/no alcohol consumption globally will rise a third by 2026, predicts the data provider IWSR. 58% of adults worldwide are looking to moderate their drinking, it says. Much of this is down to health. High levels of drinking during the pandemic exposed many to the negative effects of alcohol. Younger consumers are also driving the trend. Millennials born from 1981 to 1996 make up the largest age group buying these drinks.

As demand has grown, so has the quality and breadth of options now available. But alcohol is traditionally associated with unwinding; with meeting friends; with having fun. What innovations are occurring that can elevate low/no beverages from simply being premium soft drinks into something that remains a pleasurable experience for consumers?

First is the push from this category into food pairings. Take non-alcoholic beer and food pairings. Beer pairs just as well as wine with food, says beer sommelier Annabel Smith. She’s worked in the UK beer and pub industry for almost 30 years. People however have been conditioned – partly because of snobbery – to think otherwise.

Rapid improvements in the low/no beer category meanwhile mean that these drinks now taste just as good, and can therefore pair just as well with food as their alcoholic equivalents.

For a great example of exciting innovation in this area, the Ingredient company Synergy Flavours has just brought out a range of flavour pairings for premium soft drinks and alcohol-free beverages that aim to ‘optimise dining experiences’ for some of the UK’s favourite cuisines, including Indian, Italian, Greek, British, Chinese, and Thai.

The new flavour combinations include a mango, lime, and mint blend, which complements the flavours typically found in Indian cuisine, and pineapple, coconut, and lemongrass, to work in harmony with the tastes of Thai dishes. Other paired creations include; Sicilian lemon and bergamot to pair with Italian food; salted cherry and ginger to complement Chinese dishes; plum, orange and chilli which works in harmony with the British roast dinner and finally green tea, lemon and mint which can accompany Greek fare.

The beverage market is primed for innovation, to diversify and enhance options for consumers who are looking for an alternative to alcohol, says Synergy’s Senior European Business Development Manager Vicky Berry.

Meanwhile, a new category of alcohol-free drinks is rapidly emerging. UK brands like Three Spirit and Gaba Labs have been designing functional, non-alcoholic spirit and wine alternatives designed to lift your mood and enhance social interactions. Essentially, these promise to make you feel drunk but without the hangover. 

Gaba Labs’s first product is called Sentia Red. This is an alcohol-free, functional botanical spirit that mimics the pleasurable, relaxing effects of alcohol. Tasting like a kind of herbal tonic, it’s a mix of natural ingredients including magnolia bark, sage, orange peel, liquorice, ginkgo, Nigerian ginger and angelica root. According to Gaba Labs Managing Director David Orren, these powerful plant ingredients, created by a team of botanists and scientists including the renowned neuropsychopharmacologist Professor David Nutt, have been shown to stimulate the brain's Gaba neurotransmitter. This is responsible for feelings of sociability.

Gaba’s innovations go beyond exploring botanical blends. Its flagship product is called Alcarelle, a synthetic ingredient that’s transparent, tasteless and odourless and designed to stimulate the brain's Gaba neurotransmitter and mimic those positive effects of alcohol. Gaba Labs is currently seeking registration for Alcarelle as a novel food in the UK and EU and GRAS in the US. After that the plan is that Alcarelle will be licensed to Drinks Companies, enabling them to create a whole new generation of functional adult beverages. Alcarelle is It can be diluted to make any type of drink that you want.

According to Gaba Labs, it’s targeting “sophisticated hedonists” seeking indulgence in a healthy way. 

Keen to hear more about better-for-beverages and how functional ingredients can boost mental and physical wellbeing? Come join us at our upcoming face-to-face event in London Positive Nutrition 2023: Healthy Food for the Mass Market​.

Over the course of three days (29-31 March), FoodNavigator journalists will be joined by a host of experts​ from dieticians and nutritional scientists to food entrepreneurs and big brands to examine how the latest nutritional science and technology can meet evolving consumer demands.

For more information or to register, click HERE​.


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