I stopped drinking to save money. So why does my Diet Coke cost almost as much as a pint?

No-alcohol beers and cocktails now cost almost as much as the real deal. Does going sober really save you money?

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young
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If Gen Z has a patient zero, I am it. I can’t write emails, I have bragged to colleagues about ‘discovering’ capri trousers, and I cannot pay attention to anything that lasts longer than seven seconds. Plus, I’m so narcissistic, I’ll use the word ‘I’ six times in one paragraph.

But perhaps my most Gen-Z trait is my aversion to alcohol. Like many in my sober-curious age bracket, I have taken the instruction of ‘go woke or go broke’ literally, and stopped buying pints during the weekly pub trip in order to save money. Pause here for applause.

Swapping liquor for lemonade has its rewards (a rest break for my liver, of course, being one of them). Sadly, though, these penny-pinching methods have given me a grand, teetoal profit of zero. The extra wad that I thought would materialise in my bank account hasn’t turned up.

To be honest, it’s not surprising, given the price of today’s soft drinks. Has anyone else noticed how expensive lime cordial has become? In the capital, we’re now routinely shelling out £4.60 for a glass of Diet Coke, just under the average cost of a UK pint.

It’s more grim up North. When they were finally allowed into the Co-op Live arena, just opened in Manchester, music fans were asked to hand over £4.80 for a pint of fizz.

Of course, spirits, wine, and beer prices are also rising. The alcohol duty increase, introduced last year, added 10% to production costs for independent breweries and wineries. But the price rises still seem to be causing the biggest headache for non-drinkers.

A friend of mine recently visited a gimmicky bar chain, which I won’t libel here. She bought a non-alcoholic cocktail with enough ice to sink the Titanic, and her companion ordered a tumbler with enough whisky to raise it back up again. Yet the boozy buyer paid just £2 more.

Perhaps we should have expected this result. According to a YouGov survey, 39% of 18-to-24 year olds now self-describe as sober. The loss of this student demographic, which used to be a reliable source of income for pubs and bars, has doubtless dealt a blow to the industry. It’s likely one reason why over 3,000 taprooms have closed in London since 2020.

Struggling hospitality businesses are already introducing service charges to make up for the decline in sales and rising staff wages. They’ll be dealt another financial blow this October, when necessary new laws on tipping will nonetheless tip many businesses into the red.

There is also food and drink inflation to consider. In place of lager, my preferred liquid crutch is coffee, which is becoming more expensive due to poor global crop yields. Not to mention, drip pricing means I may have to pay 50p for a dash of oat milk, or even to order at the till.

Clearly, the soft drink surcharge is just one of many ways that hospitality firms are trying to keep the taps and cash flow going strong, and deal with an escalating pay crisis.

So what’s the solution? Well, I think Wham! put it best. “If you’re gonna do it, do it right”. Rather than splurge a fiver on supermarket pop, I’ve started sampling the range of non-alcoholic drinks that are taking over my local area, to really get my money’s worth.

There are plenty to choose from. Startups such as Drop Bear Beer Co and IMPOSSIBREW are challenging the keg lineup with delicious, fruit-infused concoctions that still cost less than a pint of pig’s ear. Combined, these innovative brands are kickstarting the alco-alternative market and introducing competition which, as we all know, leads to lower prices.

In today’s economy, even a dry drinking trip feels like you’re being robbed. Still, we must remember that £4.60 funds not just a Diet Coke; but a trip out, time with friends, and a small business. If that is the price we must pay to protect our pubs, bars, and cafes, so be it.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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