When Nicole, a retired executive assistant, began preparing New Year’s get-togethers with family and friends, her first purchase was a handcrafted bottle of non-alcoholic French gin.
“Something is in the air right now,” said the 71-year-old. “Young people in their 20s and 30s drank a lot less wine than we did. My generation was rock and roll, we drank a lot and smoked a lot. Times have changed. Young people find alternatives – which benefits us old too as we try to fall back on bad habits.” .
France is one of the fastest growing markets in the global boom in non-alcoholic beverages. The rush of startups making non-alcoholic spirits, wines, cocktails and beers is a departure in a country with a vast alcohol industry and its president, Emmanuel Macron, who is so supportive of wine that he was named Person of the Year by the nation. Reviewing the wine, he was praised for saying, “I drink wine every day, at lunchtime and in the evening.” A growing number of major vineyards are producing alcohol-free options alongside their standard production, young French developers are creating new forms of non-alcoholic rum and gin, while big companies like Pernod Ricard are investing in the sector.
At Le Paon qui Boit in northern Paris, France’s first specialized wine cellar for 100% alcohol-free drinks, which opened this year, trade is brisk in the run-up to the New Year. A large number of young customers in their 20s and 30s were browsing through 400 different types of drinks, including up to 50 non-alcoholic sparkling wines that could be served as an alternative to champagne.
Augustin Laborde founded the shop after a career in international human rights. He has given up on alcohol during the Covid lockdowns, but he said the alcohol-free French market was more about people wanting to stay sober. “It’s about a new kind of flexibility in thinking,” he said. “About 80% of our customers still drink alcohol, but are interested in alternating with non-alcoholic drinks. At first, people thought our customers would be mainly Muslims or pregnant women, and although these customers come and are welcomed, they are only 20 % Just “.
“I often drink alcohol for a month, just to take a break,” said Anna, 29, a digital project manager, browsing the store. “It used to be considered a really weird thing to do, but that’s starting to change. Drinking water all night has never been so fun. And it’s good not to be a child by having the option to drink cola.”
Felix Bogniard, the sommelier who runs a restaurant in central Paris, had already created a tasting menu with homemade non-alcoholic drinks paired with dishes, including vintages and rare types of juices. “It’s a huge advance to be able to offer the pleasure of a particular drink paired with a dish, even to people who don’t drink,” he said. “We’re at a really important moment, there’s a trend that’s starting. People are interested in alcohol-free drinks, even if they drink alcohol.”
Susie Goldspink of IWSR Drinks Market Analysis said France was one of the fastest growing alcohol-free markets and was characterized by a high level of new consumers, especially young people. Last year, 14% of consumers said they abstained, while this year it was as high as 20%. Abstainers in France are more likely to be in the younger age group, Generation Z, than in other markets.
She said the alcohol-free innovation came amidst a well-established wine-drinking culture. “This new generation of mediums still want to feel like they’re having an adult drink to match the occasion but don’t necessarily want to have alcohol with it.”
Calixte Payan, one of France’s newest young producers, was the first to create non-alcoholic spirits using real French gin and rum. Experts in Grasse, France’s perfume capital, extract the alcohol and then his team at a historic distillery near Lyon reformulates the beverage with a number of complex distillation techniques. A Bayan-branded drink, Sober Spirits, was voted the best non-alcoholic beverage in the world in London last year, and in San Francisco this year. “We are at an early stage in France, but the opportunities are huge because there is a huge demand for these drinks. Before, people didn’t want to say publicly that they don’t drink, and now they go to stores to ask for alcohol-free products… France is famous all over the world. It is associated with alcohol – fine wines and champagnes – and can also be recognized for its non-alcoholic drinks. There is still work to be done, but people like us are trying to give consumers the best possible experience.”
Lonis cream handles sales of the French alcohol-free brand JNPR, made in Normandy from juniper berries, and runs tasting operations across France. She said France’s alcohol-free campaign was also a sugar-free campaign. “People don’t want sugar in their drinks, and they’re amazed when they learn we can make these drinks without sugar,” she said. “I was surprised at the end of the year to taste so many young people, between the ages of 19 and 30, who want to stop drinking alcohol.”