Today, as consumers become increasingly conscious of their health and lifestyle choices, a shift in preferences has given rise to growing demand for better-for-you alternatives to traditional products, and the on-premise is no exception.

This behaviour is representative of a broader cultural phenomenon that leans into health and wellbeing, and publicans are embracing the trend by diversifying their offering with beverages that cater to dietary preferences and wellness goals.

A driving force for this trend is the recognition of diverse consumer needs, with better-for-you beverages encompassing a spectrum of products including gluten-free, low-sugar, low-carb and no- and low-alcohol.

The Global Data Top Trends in Alcoholic Beverages 2023 report cited health and wellness as an influential factor in alcohol purchasing decisions. It is this behaviour that has driven Lion to launch its new Ultra category comprising zero carb beers, with Hahn Ultra Zero Carb being the first release, explaining that a huge shift in preferences for lighter beer options can be attributed to two thirds of Australians feeling they’ve become fitter and more mindful in their lifestyle over the last 5-10 years.

But for many, these products offer more than a healthier alternative, they can sometimes be the only option that doesn’t exclude consumers with dietary requirements, allergies, or an intolerance.

According to the Australian Medical Journal, 25 per cent of Australians now avoid gluten (made up of 11 per cent total avoidance and 14 per cent opting in and out), and that number is closer to 40 per cent for millennial and Gen Z consumers.

TWØBAYS Brewing Co founder and CEO Richard Jeffares, who himself was diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2015, says: “Consumers are more in tune with their bodies than ever before. They are more aware of how certain foods or ingredients affect them, even if they’ve not had a medical diagnosis for an allergy or intolerance.”

Redefining drink menus

While beer has traditionally offered these alternatives, it isn’t always the right drink for the occasion or to the consumer’s taste, and as a result, consumers are seeking innovation.

From his own observations of the industry, James Russell, beverage manager for Virtical Group which owns the Republic Hotel in Sydney, says patrons have come to expect better-for-you beverage choices in every category.

The Republic Hotel, Sydney

“For a long time, there has been mid-strength and low-carb beer options readily available in Australia, it’s been a part of our drinking culture for over a decade on draught. You’ve got Hahn SuperDry, Great Northern Super Crisp and Pure Blonde, all of these products are low-carb or mid-strength variations and they’re huge sellers.

“Having low-alcohol and low-sugar cocktails on a menu readily available is pretty standard now, and there has also been a huge push for RTDs to be readily available on draught as well as in cans, and that includes non-alcoholic options,” he added.

And within those categories, Nathan Alfrey, marketing manager at TWØBAYS Brewing Co, says consumers are looking for variety.

“There’s no reason for any venue not to have at least one gluten-free beer in the fridge or on tap, but like barley beer drinkers, gluten-free consumers probably don’t want to sit on the same beer all night.

“Consumers expect a choice. You would struggle to find a venue these days that doesn’t have at least a few gluten-free food options on the menu, so publicans already understand there is a market there and consumers will come if you give them enticing options.”

As better-for-you beverages establish their share of space in the pub market, Fabrizio Culici, general manager of The Royal Leichhardt, explains that these beverages initially attracted a more health-conscious, higher income patron, but increased availability has driven a demographic shift.

“As societal health trends have become more dominant, and better quality and variety of better-for-you options become available, as well as being able to sell at a lower price, more patrons are starting to consume better-for-you beverages across the board. Not just those who value health, natural ingredients and sustainability aspects of the products.

“Over time, better-for-you beverages are transitioning from niche to mainstream,” added Culici.

Pubs are generally seeing a positive response to better-for-you beverages and a willingness among consumers to trial new products.

“There’s still a perception out there among the uninitiated that gluten-free beer doesn’t taste as good as barley beer, but the rate of sale says otherwise,” added Alfrey.

“We see it at tap points all across the country. When TWØBAYS goes on tap, it sells through at the same rate as any other craft beer keg.”

This piece was first published in the May issue of Australian Hotelier, which you can view below.

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