Thanks to the vast array of new non-alcoholic (NA) drinks and mocktails, enjoying a sober night out with friends has never been easier. There are non-alcoholic adult beverage options for everyone, from ice-cold beers to wine and other creative zero-proof spirits.
The issue most people have, however, is the price.
Why are NA drinks and mocktails so damn expensive?
The biggest misconception around non-alcoholic drinks and mocktails is that without the alcohol content, they should be exponentially cheaper. But that’s clearly not the case.
Let’s discover why we pay equal amounts or more for these sober-conscious drinks.
Why Are Non-Alcoholic Drinks and Mocktails So Expensive?
Non-alcoholic drinks and mocktails cost more because crafters often use greater quantities of high-quality ingredients and rely on complex formulas and production processes to match the aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel of traditional alcoholic drinks. Small-scale production and marketing are also costly.
It may seem like producers are simply charging high prices for non-alcoholic drinks to build brand value. However, there’s more than meets the eye to why manufacturers and bars charge prices that replicate, and often exceed, what traditional cocktails and spirits would cost.
Paying between $5 and $15 (sometimes more) for a mocktail seems a little overkill. However, once you gain insight into the complex processes and specialized ingredients, you won’t mind paying extra for a cocktail minus the hangover.
1. NA Drinks Contain More Raw Ingredients for Aroma and Flavor
It takes more raw ingredients to extract aroma and flavor compounds with water than alcohol.
Many of the flavors we experience aren’t because of flavor but scent. Our noses detect aromatic compounds – think juniper, lemon peel, and gentian root – and translate them as if we’re experiencing the flavors.
Ethanol, the chemical composition of alcohol, has the upper hand compared to water when capturing these aromatic and flavor compounds. Alcohol serves as an excellent base for extracting and retaining flavors of herbs, spices, and botanicals.
However, when infused in water, the aroma compounds don’t diffuse as well as in alcohol. To solve this issue, producers use four to ten times the amount of herbs, spices, and botanicals to match the flavor of alcoholic beverages.
Water distillates are incredibly challenging when creating citrus-forward drinks. Citrus flavors are primarily sourced from the oils found in the peels. While oils are soluble in alcohol, they do not dissolve in water.
2. NA Drinks Contain Expensive Flavoring
Alcohol is essentially the dominant flavor in most spirits and cocktails. It is sourced from relatively cheap ingredients like grains, hops, grapes, and sugar. However, non-alcoholic spirits rely on a rich blend of complex flavors derived from herbs, spices, woods, and botanicals.
Many producers use expensive ingredients to achieve the best flavor for their non-alcoholic drinks. For example, Everleaf producers use a blend of the best, sustainably sourced botanicals, including saffron and Madagascan vanilla – two of the most expensive spices globally.
3. The Manufacturing Process is More Complex
Some non-alcoholic drinks are made from water, extracts, sweeteners, flavor additives, and glycerin or cellulose gum for added body and a rich mouthfeel.
However, most non-alcoholic beverage producers use almost the exact same distillation process used to create normal alcoholic beverages to craft their NA drinks.
According to FDA regulations, beverages that contain less than 0.5% alcohol can be considered and labeled “non-alcoholic.”
Alcohol is used as a distillation base to achieve similar concentrated, complex flavors of their boozy counterparts. Manufacturers then remove the alcohol through a second distillation round, contributing to extra costs.
Some non-alcoholic drink companies use different extraction techniques – infusion, distillation, maceration, etc. – for botanicals, herbs, and spices, depending on what process works best for each ingredient.
Many ingredients are separately distilled to preserve and capture the pure, delicate flavors. These additional manufacturing steps cost time, effort, and money.
For example, CleanCo’s Chairman states that the company uses eight or nine different distillation techniques to extract the different flavor compounds. The brand expresses that the complexity, time, effort, and costly process needed to create a non-alcoholic drink with the same aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel as traditional spirits justify the high prices.
In addition, Seedlip mentions that their production process takes six weeks complete. They individually distill each ingredient through copper pot distillation before blending and bottling it. The extra time, effort, and unique equipment contribute to the higher price.
4. There is A Lot of Trial & Error
The creation of non-alcoholic drinks is a new and complex craft that requires a lot of trial and error.
Non-alcoholic drink manufacturers focus on perfecting the entire drinking experience, not just the flavor. To achieve this, traditional distillers must research and develop new processes to produce high-end products for the market.
Producers use a lot of trial and error to explore and match the aroma, taste, and overall mouthfeel of traditional cocktails and boozy drinks.
5. Small-Scale Production is More Expensive
Despite skyrocketing in popularity, non-alcoholic drinks are still considered small-scale compared to mass-produced alcoholic drinks and cocktails.
You can’t expect smaller independent producers to charge lower or equal prices than big drink companies. They often pay more for sourcing ingredients, production costs, and shipping. Furthermore, smaller NA businesses likely don’t have big partnerships or existing distributors to lean on.
6. Promotion is Costly
Zero-proof is still a new and growing market. Major marketing and education efforts are required to spark interest and redefine the concept of non-alcoholic drinks. Many consumers define the entire non-alcoholic sector by what used to be sugary mocktails or lower-quality drink options.
While global alcohol brands have huge marketing budgets, most new non-alcoholic spirit brands must fight to get their foot in the door. Many of these companies start from scratch, and building brand awareness is a costly undertaking. They don’t have the budget to compete on the same level as century-old alcohol companies.
A premium price is essential for non-alcoholic companies. It not only helps them compete with the “big boys” but shows they are serious about what they’re doing and are determined to provide high-quality, innovative products.
Putting It All Together
Non-alcoholic drinks and mocktails often cost a bit more because they are beguilingly complex.
They require high-quality ingredients, special expertise, and labor-intensive processes to mimic their traditional boozy counterparts’ aroma, taste, and texture.