Why Gen Zers are growing up sober curious

Of course, Gen Z missed out on a series of rites of passage into adulthood during the pandemic, and it’s still not clear how the two-year shutdown will change young people’s approach to socialising in the future. Overall though, Pennay doesn’t forecast a big post-pandemic swing back to boozing – if it’s normal now not to drink at age 17, it’s going to be even more normal at 18, 19 and so forth.

With Gen Z now accounting for one-third of the global population, the alcohol industry is adapting to young people’s new preferences. Emma Hutchison, founder of the global drinks agency Sweet & Chilli and the owner of three bars in London, has noted a shift towards quality over quantity among young people. Instead of constantly sipping sugary alcopops, now they might order a cocktail – or mocktail – to last the night. Indeed, a late 2021 study found that over 21-year-olds in the US prefer hard beverages like spirits or hard seltzers, champagne, and drinks with little or no alcohol, over wine and beer.

“They’re looking for quality experiences that enrich their lives,” Hutchison says. “Gen Z wants brands that align with their own mindsets and they’re making more conscious decisions about how they consume.”

Equally, the rapid expansion of the non-alcoholic drink sector and the innovation within it has sent a message to sober and sober-curious consumers that bars have something for everyone.

“In the past, you might feel excluded within the food and drink space if you didn’t want to drink,” says Hutchison. “But it’s so exciting to see non-alcoholic drinks being given as much airtime, consideration and quality of ingredients as is in the alcoholic versions.” A more diverse range of options is paying off too – alcohol, the no and low-alcohol category has grown unlike consistently and the leading drinks market analysis firm IWSR predicts that, by 2024, the total volume consumption will grow by over 31% across Australia , Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Spain, the UK and the US.

Post-pandemic, bars and restaurants have also been elevating their experiential offering – for example, adding in ping-pong and shuffleboard tables – to appeal to all generations, but especially for Gen Zers. “There’s a huge desire to socialise in spaces which have been and still are associated with ‘going out drinking’,” says Hutchison. “But with the industry championing alternative options, it’s going to become more of a safe space for Gen Z to socialise, connect and indulge in rich food and drinking experiences.”

Like most other 24-year-olds, Jason’s social life is centerd on coffee shops, restaurants, sports games and nights in with friends. He likes trying random activities that don’t require drinking – the most recent being yoga with goats. “I go to sober parties and parties where people are drinking. I just like being active and hanging out,” he says. “It’s been eye-opening for me to realise you can be young and sober and have very full friendships.”

Lola and Jason’s surnames are being withheld for personal and professional privacy


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