Dry January: A Challenge or Opportunity?

Dry January TrendNew Year resolutions go in and out of style; in the UK these days, “Dry January” is one of the latest trends, with loads of promotional websites and coverage in the media about the dos and don’ts of not drinking for a month.

Of course, the UK has a harder drinking culture, based around younger people massing in city centers, in many cases brought in by special buses for weekend evenings, making for fewer worries about drinking and driving on such occasions and a tendency to overdo it. But general health trends among younger consumers suggest that the dry January phenomenon is heading our way as well.

What can an operator do about it? Lemons and lemonade comes to mind, but more importantly, dry Januarys should be a reminder to beverage folks that for whatever reason, a significant portion of the population at any one time isn’t drink alcohol, yet are still willing to pay a premium for fine, well-crafted non-alcohol beverages with an adult flavor profile.

Now that such ingredients as Sicilian blood orange juice, sparkling pink lemonade, yuzu juice, coconut water, fermented teas and dozens of other creative thirst-quenching items are routinely available in health food and convenience stores, not offering something other than fountain drinks to customers is seen as lazy and insulting by many non-tipplers.

The longtime argument is between enthusiastic creative beverage types and deal-makers who tie operations to high-profit, mass market, commodity soft drink deals. But repeatedly, researchers are being told by younger Millennial consumers, those whose loyalty has been proving hard for chain restaurants to garner, that the same old same old stuff they can drink at home or while at work doesn’t cut it when they go out. They want something new, unusual, thought-provoking, special or at least showing some creativity.

What they don’t want is larger servings of sweetened carbonation - they want different, whether it’s a dry January evening or a very wet March afternoon. Not catering to their needs, as well as those of the thriving Gen Xer or Boomer who isn’t currently drinking but has the cash and the interest to spend a little extra for something handmade and refreshing, well, that’s just bad business. Maybe you can make 85 percent profit on that schooner filled with ubiquitous soda, but to paraphrase something I have often been told by the smartest people in this business, 85 percent of nothing is still nothing.

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