Carlton & United Breweries’ no alcohol brands Carlton Zero and Great Northern Zero are celebrating major milestones in a changing landscape for the no-alcohol category.
When Carlton Zero launched at the end of August 2018, CUB brought one of the first zero alcohol beers of the new wave to the market and the first in its 180-year history.
It marked a juncture in the long term shift in Australian drinking habits towards moderation.
Three years down the line, Carlton Zero has helped CUB win the title of one of Australia’s most innovative companies, and has aided the growth of the low and no alcohol section of the business to 25 per cent. It has also led the way for the development of new options, including Great Northern Zero which was launched in Queensland in 2020 and has since been rolled out nationwide.
But since even Great Northern Zero launched, the no-alcohol landscape has evolved, with a huge range of new entrants, from craft breweries to standalone brands, to new retail outlets online and in bricks and mortar format for no-alcohol options.
When Carlton Zero launched, sales of non-alcoholic beers had grown 57 per cent in the previous five years, CUB said, although was from a tiny base. This has accelerated over recent years.
Carlton Zero has been on a steady growth trajectory, with CUB saying it grew more than 20 per cent in the 2020 June quarter, compared to the same year before, and another 18 per cent in 2021.
“We are very pleased with these figures, particularly as growth has been somewhat offset by the launch of Great Northern Zero and Peroni Libera,” a CUB spokesperson said.
“We are very pleased with the performance of Great Northern Zero. In many ways Carlton Zero laid the foundations for Great Northern Zero’s success. It’s early days but we couldn’t be happier with its performance so far,” they said.
According to CUB, since Carlton Zero launched three years ago, non-alcohol beer sales in bottle shops have increased by a multiple of 80.
“This is an incredible achievement. While it was coming off a small base, the growth in non-alcohol beer comes as consumption of regular beer is at 50-year lows in Australia. It is clear the moderation message is getting through.
“We think another reason for Carlton Zero’s success is it actually tastes like beer. It’s brewed with the same ingredients using the same methods as many of our other beers, the alcohol is just removed at the end using an innovative de-alcoholisation process.”
Marketing no alcohol
Of course, with marketing any alcohol-adjacent brand, there will be concerns about responsibilities and obligations.
From the beginning, CUB has been clear that Carlton Zero will be promoted only to adults, but that hasn’t stopped anti-alcohol groups such as the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education critiquing it and other brands.
In 2019, the then-CEO of FARE Michael Thorn was quoted as saying that marketing no-alcohol versions of alcoholic brands was effectively an effort “to groom the next generation of drinkers”.
More recently, a literature review published in a public health journal declared that no-alcohol beers could be a “gateway” beverage to alcoholic options, however there has been little data or research provided on whether this is actually the case.
Carlton Zero, along with Lion’s Heineken 0.0 have also been on the receiving end of complaints to ABAC as brand extensions of alcoholic versions which mean that they are beholden to some of the same marketing restrictions as alcohol beverages, although these have tended to go in their favour.
“[But] marketing the brand has not been difficult. Despite being non-alcoholic, Carlton Zero, Great Northern Zero and Peroni Libera are marketed to adults in strict accordance with the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code,” CUB’s spokesperson said.
The future of zero alcohol
The use cases for zero alcohol options have been up for debate recently – whether they should be replacements for alcohol in settings where alcohol would at other times be consumed, or whether it’s responsible to market these options in settings where it would not.
It is difficult to determine at such an early stage in which of these settings zero alcohol drinkers are and will be consuming no-alcohol beers as zero alcohol options become more ‘normalised, but CUB has said that there are use cases on a variety of occasions and for many different reasons.
“Our non-alcohol beers give beer lovers the freedom to enjoy their favourite drink in places where beer is usually consumed and also in places where it’s not.
“We’re seeing people pick up our non-alcohol beers for a variety of reasons such as when the occasion isn’t appropriate for alcohol, when they don’t feel like alcohol, or when they have a functional need like driving. It’s being consumed at BBQs with mates, nights out, during workouts, on fishing trips, lunch breaks and pretty much everything in between.”
There are also different use cases between the brands themselves.
“We launched Carlton Zero to give beer lovers an opportunity to moderate their consumption with a non-alcohol beer that actually tastes like beer,” they said.
“For Great Northern, a non-alcohol beer is particularly important for a brand that is all about enjoyment of the great outdoors. For many drinkers, this means getting out in boats and four-wheel drives. Now there’s an option that provides that distinctively beer taste and refreshment in the middle of the day but doesn’t mean that the action has to end too.”
As to what the future holds for zero alcohol beer, CUB was confident in its continued growth.
“Our non-alcohol beers are responding to evolving consumer preferences for more moderate options while at the same time helping drive this trend.
“Although zero alcohol beer is booming, it only accounts for just under 1 per cent of the total Australian retail beer market.
“We’re confident growth will continue as Australians continue to realise more the great taste of our no-alcohol beer and the additional options it provides. We’re confident of significant growth.”