Alcohol-free beer on draught ‘helps people make healthy choices’

A man drinking a pint of beer Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Making alcohol-free beer more widely available on draught nudges people towards healthier choices, research suggests.

A new study led by the University of Bristol found that making the drinks more visible and easier to purchase in bars led to increases in sales of non-alcoholic beer.

Alcohol can lead to weight gain, addiction and has been linked to seven types of cancer, including mouth, upper throat, larynx, oesophagus, breast and bowel cancer.

Offering alcohol-free options is often seen as a good alternative for people who want to be healthier.

For the new study, researchers from the university’s Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, working with Bristol City Council, recruited 14 pubs and bars in Bristol.

None of the venues had previously offered alcohol-free beer on draught.

For the study, the pubs and bars completed two intervention periods and two “control” periods in a randomised order over eight weeks.

The intervention involved replacing one draught alcoholic beer with an alcohol-free beer. The control period of the study was business as usual.

The study found that, when an alcohol-free option was available, pubs and bars sold, on average, 29 fewer litres of alcoholic beer per week, equivalent to 51 fewer pints and a 5% reduction in sales.

However, this was replaced by an equivalent increase in sales of alcohol-free beer, suggesting customers were choosing the healthier option.

Furthermore, there was no impact on the money taken, suggesting the change did not leave pubs and bars worse off.

The team, writing in the journal Addiction, concluded: “Introducing a draught alcohol-free beer in bars and pubs in England reduced the volume of draught alcoholic beer sold by 4% to 5%, with no evidence of the intervention impacting net revenue.”

Dr Angela Attwood, associate professor in the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, said: “Although alcohol-free options have been available for a while in pubs and bars, they have not had the same visual prominence as alcoholic drinks and are rarely served on draught.

“Our study showed that providing front-of-bar draught non-alcoholic options could lead to some customers switching from alcoholic drinks.

“This does not restrict consumer choice; in fact, it increases the options available to the customer, and at the same time could reduce population levels of alcohol consumption and improve public health.”

Professor of behavioural science Ivo Vlaev, from Warwick Business School, said the “study underscores the power of nudges in shaping healthier societal choices”.

He added: “By simply making alcohol-free beer more visible and accessible – essentially altering the choice architecture in bars and pubs – the research leverages basic human biases towards easier, more prominent options.”

Matt Lambert, health information and promotion manager at the World Cancer Research Fund, said it was “encouraging to see that making alcohol-free beer more visible to consumers led them to make a healthier choice by choosing the alcohol-free option”.

However, he added: “Just like with alcoholic drinks, the sugar and calories in alcohol-free options can vary.

“That’s why it’s best for your health if you opt for smaller sizes – so, rather than a pint, choose a bottle or have a half-pint.”

Matt Lambert, chief executive of The Portman Group, said: “We welcome the findings of this study which highlight the importance of venues voluntarily increasing the availability of low and no alcohol alternatives and normalising these products.

“This also reinforces our own research which shows these products are a vital tool in helping people moderate their drinking and reducing wider alcohol harms such as binge drinking and drink driving.”

It comes as researchers at the University of York said there is not yet enough data on consumer behaviour around no- and low-alcohol drinks to state they are a healthy alternative to alcohol.

Professor Victoria Wells, from the university’s School of Business and Society, said: “Although the no- and low-alcohol industry is booming in terms of sales, we know very little about how, when, and in what ways it is chosen by and used by consumers.

“If we want to really push (it) as a product that could help reduce the number of serious diseases, such as alcoholism and obesity, and more generally improve healthy drinking habits, then we need the data that proves this, and a more formal strategy on how these drinks are marketed to consumers to make sure they are enjoyed in the right ways.”

Have you heard our podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…