Club Soda began as an online health behaviour change and peer support platform for people who want to reduce their alcohol use. Our membership has always been open to anyone, regardless of their drinking habits or goals. Some are moderating their habits, some want to quit alcohol completely, some have never drank in their lives.

Recently we have started to describe ourselves as a mindful drinking movement, with a new mission: “a world where nobody has to feel out of place if they are not drinking.” It has become clear to us that individual behaviour change – important as it is – is not always enough. To make individual goals achievable, people’s environment may need to change too. That includes encouraging pubs, bars and restaurants to provide the choice of non-alcoholic drinks that many of their customers want.

In the last year we therefore developed Club Soda Guide of pubs, bars and restaurants – an online guide to great places for mindful drinkers. The Guide looks like a simple listings website, but under the hood has a set of behaviour change techniques nudging pubs and bars to improve their range of low and no alcohol drinks.

During the Club Soda Guide development, while visiting over 400 licensed venues, we realised that neither the venue managers nor their customers know about all the great new drinks that are coming to the market. Producers are busy creating new non-alcoholic beers and wines, lower-sugar sodas, and even entirely new kinds of drinks. But they are still difficult to find in most shops or bars.

We also think there is a psychological barrier on the part of the consumer, in swapping from an alcoholic drink to a healthier, lower-alcohol alternative. Most of us are probably happy to buy a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer we’ve never tried before, as long as it has alcohol in it. But it is only once we’ve tasted a non-alcoholic version, and know that we definitely like it, that we are willing to make the switch and buy it. In other words, people need to invest some time and effort for this change, which is where we can also help them.

Club Soda has therefore been organising non-alcoholic drinks tastings for several events, workplaces, and pub watch meetings. People usually have questions about calories, sugar content, and what “alcohol-free” means; this information is not always easy to find. These tastings have confirmed our view that people are curious about non-alcoholic drinks – and pleasantly surprised by the quality and taste of them.

This summer we decided to scale up our tasting events by organising the UK’s first “Mindful Drinking Festival” at Bermondsey Square on Sunday 13 August. We gathered together 30 drinks producers and retailers, representing over 50 brands altogether: non-alcoholic beers, wines, cider, and cocktails, as well as soft drinks and “adult non-alcoholic drinks” (this new category of drinks desperately needs a better name!). Festival attendees were given free tastings of the drinks, they could buy them to take home, there were tutored tasting sessions and talks, and food, games, live music and much more as well.

We were lucky with the weather, as the sun came out for the first time in several days, and the estimated 2,500 festival-goers got to enjoy a beautiful afternoon out. We already knew that the potential audience for this event was going to be big – not just people with alcohol misuse issues, but also anyone looking for a healthier diet or trying to lose weight, pregnant and breastfeeding women, people who don’t drink for religious reasons, foodies looking for new flavours, craft beer enthusiasts, people wanting to support their local small drinks producers, and many more. This variety was reflected in the festival audience, and was noted by many of the drinks trade people attending as well.

The feedback from both the trade and the consumers has been overwhelmingly positive. The festival demonstrated to the trade that there is demand for non-alcoholic drinks, and to the customers that there are great drinks already out there. What has perhaps been most encouraging for us (since we were not expecting it) has been the response by the trade press, many of which have covered the Festival in a positive and supportive fashion, including the pub trade’s main publication the Morning Advertiser.

We have developed a great bank of knowledge and data about behaviour on both sides of this market, about individual consumers and about retailers and licensed venues. We have experimented with interventions that are simple and appealing, but which also accept that for things to change both sides of the equation need confidence: Individuals on being alcohol-free in social spaces where alcohol is served, and businesses on creating social spaces that make it easier to drink less alcohol.

Written by Jussi Tolvi, Club Soda UK.

All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.