Alcohol-free beer's on the table now

Alcohol-free beer's on the table now

With alcohol sales taking a hit lately due to new liquor laws here, some retailers and coffee shops are selling non-alcoholic beer in a bid to woo back customers.

Convenience store chain 7-Eleven, for instance, has been selling Asahi Dry Zero to mitigate the loss in sales resulting from new rules banning retail sales of alcohol after 10.30pm. These took effect in April.

While Asahi Dry Zero has similar packaging to regular beers under the Japanese brand, it is a beer that contains no alcohol.

A few coffee shops at drinking hot spot Geylang - where the ban on retail sales of alcohol start from 7pm, like Little India - have also introduced alcohol-free beer.

Meanwhile, Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Singapore, the distributor of Tiger Beer here, has been testing a similar product here - Tiger Maxx - since late last year.

These products are considered beer because they are usually made with the same basic ingredients - water, hops and malt - which go through a similar fermentation process, before the alcohol is removed.

Rene de Monchy, head of marketing at APB Singapore, said the non-alcoholic beer category is growing faster than the beer category.

He said: "We are innovating in anticipation of shifts in consumer tastes and trends, delivering on our commitment to cater to different consumer palates and preferences.

"Tiger Maxx is not a permanent addition to the company's portfolio yet, as the product trial is still ongoing and non-conclusive on consumer response."

Non-alcoholic beer has been sold here for at least two years. But demand for it has been lukewarm so far, even though it can be about 20 to 25 per cent cheaper than beer which contains alcohol.

Several FairPrice, FairPrice Finest and FairPrice Xtra supermarkets sell two brands of non-alcoholic beer: Bavaria and Krombacher. They sell for between 90 cents and $3.40. The alcoholic versions retail at between $2.50 and $4.20.

"The demand for non-alcoholic malt beverages has remained steady for the past two years. Such beverages are still relatively new to the Singapore market compared with other markets around the world, for example, Europe," said a FairPrice spokesman.

Before Asahi Dry Zero, 7-Eleven introduced two kinds of beer with zero alcohol content in its outlets two years ago.

However, demand was so poor that one was discontinued last year, said Michelle Lee, marketing director at 7-Eleven.

She said: "The take-up rate has been very slow, but we retained it as efforts to mitigate the sales lost as a result of new liquor laws."

At Geylang, two out of more than 10 coffee shops sell alcohol-free beer.

Staff at the two coffee shops told The Straits Times that their liquor licenchad been revoked in the past year, and they started selling alcohol-free Tiger Beer about two months ago. It is $4, cheaper than a regular bottle of Tiger Beer of the same volume, which costs $6.

On average, they sell one to four cartons of such beer during peak hours on Saturday. Before they lost their licences, they sold tens of cartons of regular beer on the same day.

So, how does non-alcoholic beer taste?

Consumers said they have a similar smooth and bitter aftertaste as normal beers. However, the beers seem flat, with less full-bodied flavour.

Said food and beverage consultant Delane Lim, 30: "Drinking a non-alcoholic beer defeats the point of having drinks and it is tasteless."

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