Business ideas for 2020: Non-alcoholic fun

From alcohol-free drinks to competitive socialising, discover why 2020 could be the year you launch a business dedicated to non-alcoholic fun

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What do you think of when you think about British culture? Fish and chips, the Royal Family, and a pint down the pub may all spring to mind.

But we’ve identified a trend that could change that last part: non-alcoholic fun. Going alcohol-free for dedicated months are well-established campaigns in the UK, but the decision to ditch drinking on a longer term basis is growing. This means there’s a potential business opportunity to cater to this market, offering sober alternatives to traditional pub culture and other (often heavily drinking-oriented) leisure activities.

There are a number of factors that can mean people don’t drink alcohol – whether it’s a decision to lead a teetotal lifestyle, religious, ethical, or medical reasons, or as part of the ‘sober curious’ movement who abstain from alcohol for a period of time.

And, in turn, this abstinence calls for ways to have fun without alcohol. While there have always been people who don’t drink, and the concept itself isn’t new (we identified starting a low or no alcohol beer brand as an emerging business idea back in 2017), the idea to focus on non-alcoholic fun more widely offers a fresh perspective on this trend.

From alcohol-free beverages to non-alcohol based experiences, let’s explore why 2020 could be the ideal year to join this industry…

Is it Coronavirus-proof?

While toilet paper made the headlines, booze has surely been near the top of the nation’s stockpiling essentials list. But what about non-alcoholic options?

It’s impossible to find specific data, but supermarket sales are up an astonishing £467m on the same period last year, with alcohol sales alone jumping by 11%. Even off-licences have been deemed “essential businesses” by the government.

Although many people are probably on a quest to drink their way through the crisis (61% of Brits claim to have increased their alcohol intake since lockdown measures were introduced), it’s not unlikely that some may want the taste, but not the tipple. The emergency services could certainly do without the extra strain caused by a nationwide piss-up. Perhaps you could pitch your alcohol-free product as the socially responsible option during these times?

Why is non-alcoholic fun a good business idea?

With initiatives like Dry January and Go Sober for October now commonplace in the UK, alcohol-free alternatives are becoming increasingly popular. But leading a non-alcoholic lifestyle doesn’t have to be limited to certain months of the year.

According to Mintel’s 2019 UK British Lifestyles Report, 20% of UK adults say they don’t drink alcohol, while 47% of people who buy or drink alcohol have reduced or limited their alcohol consumption in the past year.

And in July 2019, Sainsbury’s opened a pop-up pub with a twist: it only served no and low alcohol drinks, making it the first-of-its-kind in the UK.

In fact, the amount of revenue in the UK non-alcoholic drinks market in 2019 amounts to £424.75 per person, according to data published by Statista.

Yet the industry extends beyond the bar: there is the potential for experiences to offer fun activities where the focus isn’t on drinking. For example, the rise of competitive socialising, whereby venues offer group-based social and leisure activities like darts, mini golf, or escape rooms, shows that there’s strong interest in experience-based entertainment.

non alcoholic lifestyle

Is it Brexit-proof?

According to Mintel, people are reducing their alcohol intake partly because of monetary factors. This suggests that there’s potential for non-alcoholic products that can offer a cheaper alternative to be successful post-Brexit.

Plus, as changes to exporting alcohol and other excise goods (e.g. tobacco, certain oils) are set to be enforced should a no-deal Brexit occur, alcohol-free drinks could offer a way to help avoid, or at least lessen, the potential stresses of dealing with international import and export processes.

Non-alcoholic fun: Business opportunities

It’s almost impossible to discuss the non-alcoholic drinks sector in the UK without mentioning Seedlip, a small British business that broke onto the scene in 2015 as the first in the world to offer a distilled, non-alcoholic spirit.

But coming up for five years later (and with Seedlip stocked in 20 cities around the world and more than 250 restaurants), it’s no longer the new kid on the block – and the time is ripe for challengers to emerge.

Examples of non-alcoholic drinks startups in the UK include Jump Ship Brewing (the first alcohol-free brewing company in Scotland), while both Kolibri and Sipling offer alcohol-free cocktails.

However, when searching for these types of drinks, it’s apparent that they are often sparkling or fizzy drinks – so entrepreneurs looking to enter the industry could shake things up by offering non-alcoholic drinks without the bubbles.

But there are other areas of the industry to explore, outside of actually creating drinks. With an increasing focus on alcohol-free beverages and activities at work events, as highlighted in this Financial Times article, running a corporate events company that specialises in non-alcoholic fun could be a way of tapping into this trend.

Yet, people are interested in alcohol-free socialising outside of working hours too. Club Soda ran the first Mindful Drinking Festival in 2017, with the next festival scheduled for January 2020 in London. But what about outside of the capital? Launching alcohol-free festivals in other locations around the country could be a potential business opportunity.

While the competitive socialising sector is growing, it’s worth noting that many of the major players in this area, such as Bounce (ping pong) and Flight Club (social darts), do serve alcohol at their venues. This could be an opportunity for potential startup founders to launch a completely alcohol-free competitive leisure business.

But would-be entrepreneurs should be aware that such businesses may not be able to compete with the more established brands in this sector, in terms of offering drinks packages and other related add-ons, like food and catering.

Instead, non-alcoholic fun experiences would need to focus on activities which traditionally forbid drinking, like driving or go-karting, for example.

Non-alcoholic fun: Business opportunities

  • Alcohol-free drinks
  • Non-alcoholic drinking/leisure festival
  • Non-alcoholic distillery
  • Competitive socialising company
  • Alcohol-free corporate events company
Is it sustainable?

The creation of alcohol requires certain products, like grains, wheat, and other ingredients, which often have to be transported across the world if they’re only produced in certain regions (further contributing to the emissions problem). So, by working with non-alcoholic alternatives (especially if they’re produced locally), you can help to lessen the environmental impact of alcohol.

There is also a connection between alcohol consumption and your personal carbon footprint: that is, the indirect impact between drinking alcohol and damage to the environment. This includes factors like taking a taxi home, or getting food delivered after a boozy night out.

Instead, non-alcoholic fun allows people to use more green transit options such as public transport, and lets them cycle or even walk home. It can even encourage revellers to cook at home after they get in. In turn, people can end a night out with a clear head and a clear conscience, knowing they’ve done their bit to help protect our planet.

Non-alcoholic fun: Insider opinion

Bill Read, co-founder of Genie Living Drinks, comments: “More people are turning away from alcohol, drinking less, or stopping drinking altogether. This is the case across generations, although Gen Y’s drinking habits get the most publicity.

“The hospitality industry is catching up with this idea, and it’s actually very exciting if you embrace it. What works for a room full of people who will be blind drunk by the end of the night doesn’t work if they’re not drinking. So you need to be creative and deliver products that these consumers deserve.

“Although people are drinking less (or not at all), they still want to go out, have fun, and be treated like a grown-up when they drink. Forward-thinking venues are putting on some creative and exciting events, like experiential dinners. People are seeing that a night out can actually be more fun and exciting if you’re not drinking – at least you are guaranteed to remember it!

“The landscape of non-alcohol fun will be a successful one, but it’s very early days. Supply side is strong: alcohol-free drinks have come a long way in a short time, and there are some great products out there. But the landscape will be completely different in five years time. The on trade is catching up, and you see the more forward-thinking venues seeking to be more than just a place to come and drink alcohol. The successful ones will be the ones that can adapt to cater across the occasion.”

Lisa Desforges, strategy director at B&B studio, advises: “From kombuchas and craft sodas to zero-proof spirits and aperitifs, the growing market for sophisticated, yet alcohol-free drinks is changing the shape of both the soft drinks and alcohol categories.

“While early entrants to the market have relied on a frame of reference – it’s like gin, but not alcoholic; it’s like tea, but fermented; it’s like pop, but not as sweet – consumers are now ready for brands to focus on what they are, not what they’re not.

“As alcohol alternatives becomes a category in its own right, brands need to focus on the positive, offering a point of difference that goes beyond alcohol-free. This is a clear opportunity for startups over established drinks businesses, as they’re not tied to the conventions of the industry and have free rein to be innovative and disruptive in this fast-moving and as yet undefined space.”

Written by:
Scarlett writes for the energy and HR sections of the site, as well as managing the Just Started profiles. Scarlett is passionate about championing equality and sustainability in business.
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