Product Development for the Sober Curious Mindful Consumer

The sober curious movement has been in existence, depending on who you ask, for the last five to ten years. It is a term coined by author, Ruby Warrington, that describes an individual’s active reflection of their alcohol consumption habits, and their mindful approach to how and when they choose to drink. The movement is not about complete abstention, but about weighing up each consumption occasion and the trade-off between that beer, versus the better night sleeps, clarity of mind and increased energy levels. 

A 2019 survey of British workers indicated that, whilst mindful drinking is on the increase across all age groups, sober curiosity is inversely proportional to age, so that Millennials (the youngest generation taking part in the survey), were more likely to engage in mindful abstention of alcohol than their older colleagues; Millennials 56%, Gen X 48%, Baby Boomers 37%. Explanations cited include physical health, mental-health and financial reasons. [1]

The 2018 Berenberg Report on drinking habits gleaned from a survey of 6000 people in the US aged 16 to 22 years old, found that Gen Z are drinking over 20% less than millennials did at the same age. Mental and physical health are given as some of the reasons, plus there is a fear about being judged by their friends and parents. Social media plays a part in this, from the (almost) indefinite record of ‘that’ night out, to the enablement of a paradigm, in this case, the idea is that alcohol is no longer very cool, and at the bottom of the barrel (pardon the pun), is beer and wine. [2]

A 2023 BMC Public Health paper goes some way to underpin these findings in its examination of interviews and surveys that included c650 12-19 years old UK young adults. They concluded that fall in youth alcohol consumption is related to changes in social habits, the relatively hight cost of alcohol, plus a change in attitude towards risk and self-governance. [3]

These changing behaviours potentially lead to better health outcomes for future generations, provided that alcohol is not replaced by other detrimental substances. These changing behaviours also provide a renewed backdrop for beverage innovation, product development, product engagement, and marketing activities.

Clarity and calmness of mind is one of the cited benefits of the sober curious movement, relevant for, and desired by, the socially curious of every generation. Many functional ingredients have appeared or been re-purposed in recent years that can deliver some combination of improved focus, reduced mental stimulation/anxiety, and, reduced fatigue; adaptogens are a good example of this – herbal ingredients that can help the body adapt to stress, such as ginseng or reishi mushrooms.

The game of developing healthier beverages may just be getting more difficult given the findings of a very recent WHO report. Newly released guidelines advise not to use non-sugar sweeteners for weight control. The systematic review suggests no long-term benefits in reducing body weight in adults or children, and in fact such long term use could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality in adults. [4]

Changes are afoot, and change make life interesting. Demand for pro-health and -wellbeing products amongst younger generations is increasing, as seen by the sober curious movement. Many ethical and sustainable options are available to encourage this movements, and this focus should not be confined to beverage consumption occasions. Snacks and partner-foods have the potential for a significant revitalization; think about the latest findings from a University of Tennessee experiment [5] that found that consuming acid, such as that found in some carbonated beverages, allowed the consumer to detect salt at lower concentrations, meaning that composite ingredients, or deliberately designed food-pairing offerings, could provide desirable ways to reduce dietary salt.  

The challenge is in finding the technologies to help bring new products to market, that can deliver social- and environmental- health and wellbeing, led by trends such as sober curiosity. As always…food for thought…. .