- By Charlotte McDonald
- Business correspondent, BBC News
A survey by the British Beer and Pub Association found a record one in five drinkers gave up alcohol in Dry January.
Charity Alcohol Change UK says people who use its app to track a month without alcohol save an average of £118.
However, pubs have reported falling drinks sales, while prices for non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks are rising faster than for alcoholic drinks.
Jasmine Hoole tried Dry January for the first time and said it helped boost her bank balance and energy levels.
She said: “I saved £200 for my holiday fund, which makes me extremely happy as I usually find it quite difficult to save for things like this.”
According to Alcohol Change UK, the 23-year-old is one of around 8.5 million people planning to quit drinking in January.
She is also one of more than 100,000 people who have downloaded the charity’s official Try Dry app to track alcohol-free days and money saved in a month without alcohol.
Alcohol Change UK said UK app users saved an average of £118 this dry January, compared with £117 last year.
Impact on pubs
However, all this extra money in punters’ pockets is hitting the hospitality industry hard. Consultancy firm CGA, which works with the alcohol industry, said drinks sales in UK bars fell 7% in January.
Sasha Lord, chair of the Association of Night Time Industries, told the BBC that pubs and breakfast bars in the UK had seen “a slight decline due to the cost of living”.
He said: “I think now we need to start moving away from this stereotype that to go to the pub you have to have a beer.
“We know times are tough but if you’re lucky enough to be able to go out, maybe go out to eat or go to the pub and have a non-alcoholic beer, do it.”
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “Over the past 15 years, alcohol consumption in the UK has fallen by 15% and this January was the driest month yet with a fifth of people giving up drinking .”
Meanwhile, the market for non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks is growing, she said.
“85% of pubs now serve non-alcoholic beer, up from 78% in 2020, and our survey also shows that 30% of consumers do not like low or no alcohol products in pubs over the past month while participating in Dry January – half plan to integrate these drinks into their lives in the future,” she added.
As the popularity of alcohol alternatives grows – so do prices. According to Associa data and analysis by The Grocer, the cost of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beer and cider has risen faster than alcoholic versions.
Research shows prices of non-alcoholic alternatives have increased 13.3% since the beginning of last year. Meanwhile, beer and strong cider had a smaller increase of 10.4%.
Associa compared display prices on 1 January 2024 with prices in the same week in 2023 at major UK supermarkets Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s, Tesco’s, Asda and Waitrose.
One of the biggest price changes was found at Waitrose, where a 500ml bottle of Erdinger Alkoholfrei wheat beer has increased by 75% from £1 to £1.75.
Waitrose said the price increase was due to drinks returning to normal prices in January 2024, as previously provided.
Meanwhile, 12 packs of Sainsbury’s Heineken 0.0 alcohol-free beer have increased from £7 to £11.50.
Sainsbury’s said the report’s conclusions were “misleading” because it compared most promotional prices in 2023 with base prices in 2024.
“Prices may increase or decrease for a variety of reasons, but we are committed to providing customers with great value,” a spokesperson said.
James Beeson, drinks editor at The Grocer, said: “Even when we reduce the impact of our advertising, we still see price increases for beer and cider on the low and non-alcoholic side.”
The British Retail Consortium said one reason for this could be that many non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks still do not benefit from the same economies of scale in production as traditional alcoholic drinks.
A spokesperson said: “However, retailers focus on value for everything they sell, including low-alcohol drinks, and will continue to offer choice and good prices best for their customers”.
One of the UK’s first alcohol-free bars opened in London in January. It’s called Torstig, which means “thirsty” in Danish.
The idea was launched by husband-and-wife duo Luke and Emmi Cousins, who were inspired by the burgeoning non-alcoholic drinks scene in Denmark.
With the bar’s cocktails costing up to £9 a shot, many cocktails are as expensive or more expensive than their alcoholic counterparts.
“We say you’re paying to not have a hangover but you’re also paying to appreciate what went into making that drink,” Ms. Cousins said.
“Most drinks start the process at 40% alcohol, then the alcohol is removed and the drink is rebalanced with more flavors, botanicals, minerals and herbs,” she explains.
Mr. Cousins said their mocktail ingredients are expensive and it would be cheaper to mix them with alcohol.
Included in the price are the mood-altering effects customers can achieve with some drinks making you more relaxed while others can give you a feeling of euphoria or help you feel more focused and sociable.
We first met Miss Hoole in Dry January at an event in Torstig organized by The Sober Girls Society, a community for women who want to change their relationship with alcohol.
She said: “I had two drinks so I guess I spent £15 or £16 but if I had a drink [alcohol] It probably would have turned into an afternoon of drinking so I’d have definitely saved money.”
Ms Hoole said the benefits of Dry January were not just financial.
“[Alcohol] gives you a little more courage in society so I’m learning to embrace that myself, which I think is great for my own mental health and the confidence to improve my skills. there.
“For me, this is truly a game changer and is probably something I will stick with past January,” she said.
Tips to save money when drinking alcohol
- Before going out, set limits on how much you’ll drink and your alcohol budget.
- Tell friends and family that you’re trying to cut back.
- Be persistent – try cutting back a little more each time you drink.
- Change your habits, order a small glass or pint instead and replace alcoholic drinks with soft drinks.