Concerns Carlton's Booze-Free Beer 'Could Recruit Young Drinkers'
'Carlton Zero' will be on supermarket shelves within coming days.
There's nothing Australians are equipped to love more than a cold beer or two.
But our nation of beer-lovers will soon have an alternative to the boozy product experts say has been thoroughly normalised in both our sport and drinking cultures from a young age.
Enter 'Carlton Zero' -- Carlton & United Breweries' new alcohol-free beer that smells, sounds and apparently tastes like the real deal.
"We've listened to customers who have told us they want more opportunities to drink responsibly but still want great-tasting beer," CUB Business Unit President Peter Filipovic said in a statement on Tuesday.
It's a first for the brewery that will use the same ingredients in Carlton Draught to produce an alcohol-free alternative set to be on major supermarket and liquor store shelves within coming days.
Michael Thorn, Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) that works to reduce alcohol-related harm, said the move was an "interesting development".
"It is quite extraordinary that we, seized as a beer-drinking nation, are now given an opportunity to purchase these products," he told ten daily.
"If people do move to these lower or no-alcohol alternatives, that is likely to reduce total consumption and alcohol-related harm, which is a good thing.
"But public health is always suspicious about the motivations. We would be concerned if these products were being used as a mechanism or means to recruit new beer drinkers."
A shift in drinking habits?
CUB said the move marks a "long-term shift in Australia's drinking habits", with low-to-mid strength beers now contributing to 20 percent of the company's sales.
Non-alcohol beer sales in Australia have jumped 57 percent to $35.5 million over the last five years, according to recent statistics from Euromonitor International's Alcoholic Drinks in Australia report, that predicts the market will quadruple from two million litres in 2003 to 12 million by 2022.
CEO of "safe drinking" group DrinkWise Australia Simon Strahan said he was seeing a shift towards moderate drinking.
"We're seeing more people consuming in a moderate fashion, whether that be on a regular basis or a one-off, and a shift towards these lower-strength alcohol products," he told ten daily.
"While we don't endorse particular products, we encourage non-alcoholic alternatives that can assist in reducing excessive drinking."
One only needs to look to the burgeoning market overseas where these products are in high demand. According to a recent Global Market Insights report, the global non-alcoholic wine and beer market will be worth over $25 billion by 2024.
Thorn, who was in Europe earlier this year, was "stunned" by the rate at which these products were being picked up.
"This has happened in a short amount of time, and with a significant amount of marketing," he said. "People are buying and consuming them, which is a good thing."
But let's go back to those numbers in Australia. Over the same period, the average alcohol consumption dropped from 157.5 litres per person to 153 litres last year.
"There's no question that there are changes going on in terms of drinking patterns and drinking culture, but I think we have to realise that total alcoholic consumption hasn't changed that much.
"These are all marginal changes that are happening in the marketplace that haven't actually resulted in an average per capitor reduction," Thorn said.
Marketing could 'recruit new drinkers'
Thorn's main concern lies with how CUB could market 'Carlton Zero' to normalise drinking among children and young Aussies.
While the company says the product will be "promoted to adults", Thorn believes its place on supermarket shelves, next to the juice and soft drink, is problematic.
"Certainly, there is evidence showing us that kids recognise brands that are heavily marketed or are normalised in our community," he said.
"While kids may not have a preference to beer at the young age of 12 or 13, the evidence is clear that ultimately they choose these products, and that could lead to early onset of drinking."
He referred to the company's use of leading AFL footballer Nathan Jones as a marketing ploy.
"Children respond to their sporting heroes positively, and when they are associated with these products, I think that's concerning. I think parents need to be wary and alert."
So, will the Australian market grab onto an alternative that looks, smells and apparently tastes like a cold beer, minus the booze?
Only time will tell.