Trend Watch: The Sober Curious Generation

Trend Watch: The Sober Curious Generation

February 19, 2020
Annette Maggi

By RDBA Executive Director, Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Dry January, Sober Spring, Dry July Sober September – these seasonal holidays are gaining popularity with younger generations that now abstain from alcohol on a short-term or longer term basis as reported here in Phil Lempert’s review of key trends for 2020.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 86 percent of adults over 18 report having had an alcoholic drink at some point in their lifetime, and 56 percent say they've had alcohol in the past month. And while not too long ago, a group of twentysomethings in a bar who were not drinking alcohol would have seemed kind of strange, this trend is changing. In fact, a 2018 Berenberg Research report found that respondents in their teens and early 20s were drinking over 20% less per capita than Millennials, who drank less than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers did at the same age. The sober curious or sober sometimes movement started as a challenge for those who felt they'd partied a little too hard over New Year's weekend. The movement has spread across the U.S., with people challenging each other to see what life is like without alcohol and share in that experience.

Generation Z members and younger Millennials indicate they just feel better without alcohol. They have demanding jobs, and don’t want to feel foggy and hungover. They want to have fun and make friends without alcohol. A 2016 British study of about 850 men and women who volunteered to abstain from alcohol during Dry January found that 82 percent of participants felt a sense of achievement, 62 percent cited better sleep, and 49 percent said they lost some weight. Mintel data indicates younger people choose less alcohol as they’re seeking control in the face of constant social-media surveillance.

This movement is also being fueled by social media. Instagram accounts like Sober Girl Society and Sober Nation have tens of thousands of followers, as does Ruby Warrington, author of the book Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol.

This trend creates an opportunity for retailers to build health-focused promotions in the beverage aisle. Retail dietitians can offer classes, messaging and demos of mocktails with functional benefits that speak to the reasons twentysomethings are choosing an alcohol-free lifestyle. In-store “Sober Saturday” evening or happy hour events can showcase how to combine healthier beverages and party food resulting in shopper loyalty, increased trip frequency, and higher sales.