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Gen Z and the ‘sober curious’ lifestyle: Growth opportunities for industry

Article-Gen Z and the ‘sober curious’ lifestyle: Growth opportunities for industry

© iStock/skynesher Gen Z and the ‘sober curious’ lifestyle: Growth opportunities for the nutraceutical industry
More Gen Z consumers are embracing a ‘sober curious’ lifestyle. This shift in consumption habits is creating opportunities for beverage brands to carve out a meaningful space in the growing market.

The term “sober curious” was coined by Ruby Warrington in her 2019 book of the same name. The premise behind the book lies in questioning our intentions behind drinking, urging readers to consider their personal and societal motivations beyond mindless sipping, and to think about minimising or cutting back their alcohol consumption.

Dr Susan Kleiner, founder and owner of the US-based consultancy High Performance Nutrition, said: “I don’t ever expect alcohol to go away, but I do expect that with a growing body of evidence regarding the harm to health, [alcohol] will occupy a smaller place in the diet over time.”

The sober curious movement is not confined to Gen Z. However, given that these consumers currently make up approximately one-third of the global population, according to Zurich Insurance, it comes as no surprise that the beverage industry is keeping a close eye on the growing trend.

Gen Z’s focus on holistic health may be driving reduced alcohol consumption

Compared with previous generations, Gen Z consumes less alcohol, and while there are multiple theories behind this shift, a few things are clear about this demographic: they are more health-conscious and more interested in new experiences and products.

In Britain, around one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds do not drink alcohol at all, and those who do drink primarily as a treat, to relax, or to mark special occasions. In the US, 27% of 21- to 24-year-olds were also abstaining from alcoholic beverages in 2023, and more than one-quarter were “very concerned” about the potential health effects of consuming alcohol.

Consumer research from Mintel shows that mental health is a priority for this generation and reducing alcohol is used to manage emotional wellbeing and mindfulness.

Interest in nutrition also plays a central role, with low- and no-alcohol drinks presenting an appealing option due to their low-calorie counts and added functional benefits.

Functional beverages as a potential alternative to alcoholic drinks

In response to the growing number of people adopting a sober curious lifestyle, the market for functional drinks is expanding.

Infused with natural compounds like adaptogens (active ingredients in certain plants and mushrooms that help the body respond to stress) and nootropics (natural and synthetic substances that claim to boost brain performance and cognitive function), as well as vitamins and herbal extracts, these beverages resonate with the proactive health mindset of younger consumers, who perceive them as beneficial for nutrition and health.

According to Mintel, brands aiming to meet the needs of this growing consumer base can take note of aspects that appeal to Gen Z, such as enhanced fruit juices, energy-boosting beverages, and fizzy drinks with sophisticated flavours.

One such example is FUNQ, a Germany-based company offering hand-made superfruit and functional syrups designed to be mixed with water. Its syrups feature ingredients like B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, ashwagandha, sea buckthorn, and ginkgo, aiming to shift consumer habits away from pre-packaged beverages toward home mixing.  

Another brand, Trip Drinks UK, has blended CBD with sparkling water and adaptogens to create a variety of beverages. Its Boost Up drink, infused with ginseng, chamomile, L-theanine, magnesium, and CBD, offers an option for consumers seeking both nourishment and flavour in their beverage choices.

Simplicity may be a key consideration for brands looking to make their mark

Kleiner believes several factors will distinguish brands in the market and help them stand out, such as the efficacy of claims and research on finished products. Functionality is also important.

© iStock/RossHelen Growth opportunities for the nutraceutical industry

She said: “Many of these products try to do too much and appeal to everyone at all times. I think honing the brand to one or perhaps two efficacious functions (rather than a bathtub of ingredients) and targeting an audience as a lifestyle brand will be important.”

With opportunities, there come challenges. Kleiner outlined that taste is a hurdle for brands, and striking a balance between something that delivers nutritionally and is tasty is sometimes difficult, especially when health-seekers also desire low or no sugar and minimally processed ingredients.

Additionally, the context in which the product is consumed plays a crucial role. Kleiner noted that cost is often a barrier with functional beverages but is less so when it is served in place of an alcoholic beverage, due to the already accepted cost of alcoholic beverages.