Pub customers drunk on virtue. Alcohol-free pub pop-up, Clean Vic, by Sainsbury’s, pulls in the crowds.

Katy Moses, MD & Founder

This week I paid a visit to the Clean Vic, the Holborn-located alcohol-free pub created by Sainsbury’s. Yes, Sainsbury’s the supermarket.

Usually The Old Crown, The Clean Vic has what you would expect from a pub. An extensive cocktail list, a large selection of beers and wines and a narrow but inclusive choice of bar snacks. The only difference from it’s normal incarnation is that all drinks are alcohol-free (or, at least less that 0.5%).

The alcohol-free pub was launched after Sainsbury’s logged an increase in low/no purchases of 32% in the last 3 months.  Customers need to book online in advance and entry includes two drinks and two snacks. Which is quite a bargain at £5 per person.

Obviously this initiative is (partly) a PR exercise for Sainsbury’s and also allows them to showcase their growing range of low and no. But what could it mean for the wider industry?

Clean Vic, Sainsbury's alcohol free pubWe already know from KAM research, including Ontrade Outlookand Plan to Platethat the trend for health and wellness is having a knock-on affect of alcohol reduction and therefore behaviours in the on trade.

The most recent ONS figures revealed that around 1 in 5 UK adults are now teetotal, rising to 2 in 5 of Generation Z. With many more looking to cut down their intake. The penetration of low and no alcohol drinks will continue only to grow, not least because the products out there in the market actually taste good now!

In fact, 63% of those we questioned told us that they would like to see healthier or no/low alcohol options for drinks in pubs (this rises to 77% for 25-34 year olds and drops to 57% for 55+)

According to Mintel’s Alcoholic Drinks Review, 27% of Britons are drinking more low/no alcohol drinks compared to a few years ago. This figure is 42% of those aged 18-24 and 45% of those aged 25-34

We also know that-

  • 30% of customers in a pub or bar won’t be drinking alcohol, so the market is there.
  • 66% of pub and bar customers want to see lower-sugar drinks options.
  • Almost two thirds of Brits are also on a diet ‘most of the time’.

The last point is very important- alcohol free beer especially is low in calories. My colleague Blake enjoyed a pale ale that was just 39 calories! Low/no products aren’t just about cutting down on alcohol, they suit an all-round healthier lifestyle.

The Clean Vic is the ideal player in this new health-conscious market. A place where people can gather as a community but without the pressure from society to drink alcohol. This alcohol-free pub was packed with customers whilst I was there. Most of whom would slot nicely into either the Gen Z or Millennial category, and all of whom, despite the 34 degree heat, were in high spirits.

Every on trade outlet, whether a bowling alley or a community pub needs to think carefully about the low/no trend. Getting your offering right in this category will only increase in importance. Gone are the days when customers would accept a sub-standard product. They want taste, value and interesting options. Low/no is no longer a substitute, it’s a valid and respected choice.

Clean Vic, Sainsbury's alcohol free pubKAM work in both grocery retail and hospitality, and murmurs of the grocery retailers dipping their toe into the hospitality retail pool are nothing new. Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if initiatives like this continue to pop up. Many of the properties that the grocers are buying on the high street are ex-pubs. The licensing situation isn’t as complex as usual, it’s giving them the ‘cool’ factor and works brilliantly as a branding piece. I’d suggest watching this space closely…

A weekend of BBQs and friends beckons (like the rest of the country, I assume) for me. If you live anywhere near London and fancy a good day out, I went to the Queen Victoria exhibitionat Kensington Palace last weekend, it was fascinating and the gardens are the perfect place in the sun.