Cheers to changing the Aussie drinking culture

Dr Christina Delay and Alan Tse are the co-founders of Altina Drinks, a Canberra-born social enterprise on a mission to make alcohol-free drinking fun, delicious and accessible. They manufacture a range of healthy Zero Proof craft cocktails to help people find the special occasion in every day, without worrying about a hangover or sugar coma. Having experienced the Aussie drinking culture and its effects on their health, first hand, they’re passionate about helping others change their relationship with alcohol.

Aussies recognise the harm caused by alcohol – a 2019 survey by DrinkWise found that 69% of us think enjoying drinks with mates is a great Aussie tradition, yet 73%* believe Australia has a problem with drinking and alcohol abuse. Almost 50% drink three or more standard drinks per day, while the national guidelines recommend drinking no more than two to reduce the lifetime risk of harm. It’s clear that alcohol and socialising go hand in hand in Australia and countless reports show there’s real social pressure to partake in booze – even for those who want to reduce alcohol consumption or abstain altogether.

Unsurprisingly, avoiding social situations or chugging down endless lime-and-sodas are not appealing solutions to this problem. Advocacy and education organisations do a great job at bringing to light the harms caused by alcohol. But until there are socially acceptable, healthier alternatives to alcohol that are widely accessible, a large-scale cultural change will be hard to achieve.

The last five years has seen a new wave of alcohol-free drinks emerge overseas. With a focus on taste, experience and the craft, these alcohol-free drinks differ from traditional ‘soft drinks’ such as sodas, lemon-lime and bitters and juice. These drinks are complex, thoughtfully presented, and enhance the experience of the occasion.

The adoption of alcohol-free drinks overseas is being driven by more health-conscious consumers and a wave of publicity behind the ‘mindful drinking’ and ‘sober curious’ movements. At their core, these movements are about having a socially acceptable choice and moderating drinking habits – this might mean not drinking at all, drinking fewer drinks, choosing lower-alcohol options or having alcohol-free days or sprints. Alcohol-free bars, events and festivals are popping up from London to Los Angeles as people jump at the chance to have a different kind of experience.

The Mindful Drinking in Canberra City Research Project, run by Altina Drinks founders Christina and Alan, set out to understand what consumers and providers (hospitality and retailers) think of these new alcohol-free drinks, and the major barriers to increasing their availability and desirability.

We used a number of methods to engage with consumers and businesses, including an online survey, one-on-one interview and three field experiments.

Our key findings from the project were:

  • Consumers want better alcohol-free options, but they don’t specifically ask for them.

Of the ten businesses surveyed, only one stocked alcohol-free drinks (other than soft drinks, juice and water). While eight agreed that there is a trend towards alcohol-free drinks, all agreed that they were yet to see that demand in their venue (because customers weren’t asking for alcohol-free products).  To that end, all ten of the businesses agreed that the biggest barrier to providing alcohol-free drinks was this lack of demand.

  • Consumers don’t expect great alcohol-free options at venues (e.g. bars, restaurants) because they don’t know they’re there.

Having signage advertising alcohol-free options, offering free samples and having an enthusiastic recommendation from staff significantly impacted the number of alcohol-free drinks purchased during our experiments.

  • An increase in availability and desirability of alcohol-free drinks will lead to a reduction in alcohol consumption.

We found that if participants had a good experience previously with an alcohol-free option, 90% would likely or certainly purchase it next time they went out to a bar/restaurant/event that sells alcohol, with 75% indicating they would likely or certainly purchase it instead of an alcoholic drink. This finding has huge implications for the role that alcohol-free drinks can play in reducing alcohol consumption, and for the way that businesses, event organisers and the community can help promote alcohol-free drinks. Additionally, 75% of respondents would purchase them instead of a soft drink, having implications for the value proposition of alcohol-free drinks for bars, venues and event organisers.

Venues, consumers, event organisers and regulatory/funding bodies need to work together to increase the availability and desirability of alcohol-free drinks. While there are broad trends in the space, barriers to providing alcohol-free options remain.

Our research shows that an increase in availability and desirability of alcohol-free drinks will lead to a reduction in alcohol consumption. This in turn will lead to a reduction in harm from alcohol at the individual and community level.

So what actions can you take to help change the Aussie drinking culture for the better?

  1. Ask for quality alcohol-free options at bars, restaurants and retailers
  2. Tell your friends and family about great alcohol-free drinks you have tried
  3. Be adventurous about trying new ways of socialising and embrace alcohol-free events

On the back of this research, Altina Drinks is running Australia’s first Zero Proof Festival this July to help people discover new alcohol-free drinks and how to enjoy socialising without booze. They’ve partnered up with businesses, organisations and ‘sober’ champions from around the country to create memorable Zero Proof experiences that will help people eat better, drink better and live better. Events include Sober Truths: A live virtual chat with Sober in The Country’s Shanna Whan; A cooking Masterclass with the chefs at Pialligo Estate, and a conversation with The Healthy Eating Hub’s Kate Freeman on Weight, Alcohol and Sugar.

Check out the festival schedule of events and join in!

References:

Drink Wise – Australian Drinking Habits 2007 vs 2017

Altina Drinks, 2019, Mindful Drinking in Canberra City Research Report

Acknowledgements:

The Mindful Drinking in Canberra City Research Project was funded by the Canberra City Renewal Authority and Altina Drinks.

6 Comments

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  • Thank you so much Christina and Alan for doing this research. It frustrates me so much that there is such a lack of decent alcohol free alternatives in bars and restaurants. I have seen a slight improvement but really compared to Europe we are so behind in Australia. Even Tesco supermarkets have a alcohol free Drinks zone in their alcohol section, such a great idea. Dan Murphy’s in Australia has it’s alcohol free products hidden all over the shop. Makes me feel like the alcohol industry is conspiring to make it very difficult to be alcohol free, god forbid 😜
    Staff in bars and restaurants are often not aware of the alcohol feee drinks on their menus and in what AF beers are in their fridges. Drives me batty!!!
    Thank you, thank you!!
    Tara

    By Tara
    |
    July 2, 2020
  • Thanks for this article.
    I don’t even know what “quality AF choices” there are that I could ask for! What should/could I ask for? Besides lemon/lime soda, soft drinks, juice or kiddies mocktails. A Non-alcoholic cider perhaps?? Is there even AF cider out there in pubs? Too many questions lol

    By Jo
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    July 2, 2020
    • The Hills cider company in the adelaide hills do a virgin apple cider which is not far off the real thing, I highly recommend it.

      By Kylie Hood
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      July 2, 2020
  • It seems every time I get a non-alcoholic drink it’s sickly sweet and packed full of sugar. Please someone invent a whiskey sour minus the whiskey and I’ll be right there.

    By Rose
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    July 2, 2020
    • You could try Lyre’s American Malt – it has similar qualities to whiskey – possibly not dry enough though 😉

      By Caedz
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      July 2, 2020
  • Thank you so much for this research and for producing such a wonderful product! My sample size bottles arrived today and I was totally impressed, even down to the packaging and eco friendly ink! Will certainly be spreading the word! So glad that the AF options are increasing in Australia.

    By CINDY JOHNSTON
    |
    July 2, 2020
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