Consorzio Collio 2024 (175x100)

Alcohol-free wines, growing market. And 36 % of Italians are interested in trying them

But producers in Italy are forced to produce them abroad because a national standard is lacking. Swg and Uiv-Vinitaly Wine Observatory data

For the government, alcohol-free wines should not be called wine, and even if a regulation to produce them in Italy, accepting the European regulation on the subject, will be found, there will certainly be no incentives to promote them, the Minister of Agriculture, Francesco Lollobrigida, has reiterated several times. But in the market, however, alcohol-free wines are growing in double digits. It is hard to tell whether they are a fad of the moment, also linked to growing healthiness and the effect of anti-alcohol campaigns coming from many quarters, or a long-term trend that is destined to remain. The fact is that Italian companies are asking for a change of pace, to be able to produce in Italy what they are now forced to do outside the national borders, leaving out of Italy a good part of the added value of products that, moreover, net of their organoleptic profile, are not so cheap. But that even in Italy a good portion of the market would be willing to experiment. “In Italy, 36% of consumers are interested in consuming alcohol-free drinks; in the United States, an incubator of trends especially among young people, the Nolo (no and low alcohol) market is already worth $1 billion. But Italy plays a residual role here, because - contrary to what has already been happening for two years among colleagues in the EU - it is not yet possible for companies to process the product in wine plants and no guidance has been given to operators on the tax regime. In a nutshell, the product can also circulate in Italy (as it does throughout the EU), but Italian producers cannot produce it”. Thus today at Vinitaly 2024, in Verona, the secretary general of Unione Italiana Vini (Uiv), Paolo Castelletti, opened the proceedings of the round table “Alcohol-free & Co - The New Frontiers of Wine”, held in collaboration with Vinitaly.
At the table, along with the testimonies of 7 wine companies that have invested in this channel (Argea, Doppio Passo, Hofstätter, Mionetto, Schenk, Varvaglione 1921, Zonin1821) forced to dealcolare abroad, were also analysts from Swg and the Uiv-Vinitaly Wine Observatory, to take stock of a segment considered complementary, even in Italy, to traditional wine consumption.
“These products, said Swg analyst Riccardo Grassi, “first and foremost interest a potential 1 million non-drinkers of alcohol, in addition to an audience of consumers of wine or other beverages (14 million) who see them as an alternative consumption option in specific situations, such as getting behind the wheel”. A type that could also be a new ally for the Italian vineyard: “We hear more and more often about financed explantations”, Castelletti added, “but companies, which in recent years have restructured half of their vineyards (310,000 hectares) with public disbursements of 2.6 billion euros, want to continue to do their work, perhaps reducing yields, focusing even more on quality and, why not, being able to count on a new market asset such as the Nolo, which would affect more distressed production areas”. According to Swg, the share of attention towards dealcoholic wines (21%) is highest in the younger age groups (28% from 18 to 34 years old), the target group with the greatest decline in wine consumption, which in 79% of cases declares it “important” if not “very important” or “essential” to be able to reduce problems related to alcohol abuse by making zero- or low-gravity products available to consumers. Strong interest also from UIV youth. According to Agivi president Marzia Varvaglione, who is also a producer in Puglia with her family's winery, “Generation Z is showing great interest in a type that can respond to an increasingly sober curious public in the United States and around the world. Italy must be able to understand first of all on a cultural level that one product does not replace the other and insist on an experimentation that can reserve very interesting results”.
According to the Uiv Observatory's focus, the decline in consumption of tricolor wine in the U.S. (-1 % imports by volume in 2023) is primarily dictated by the so-called health-conscious wave of the younger generations, as well as strong competition from new low-alcohol beverages and a demographic issue that sees the population of whites decreasing in favor of other ethnic groups, starting with Hispanics, who are culturally less oriented to traditional wine consumption. “Low alcohol wines”, said the head of the Uiv-Vinitaly Observatory, Carlo Flamini, “in recent years have been the protagonists of a ride that has led them to be a no longer secondary choice in the evolution of Americans' tastes, and today they are worth $1 billion. This will be increasingly joined by other types that are attentive to one's diet for a predominantly young target: low-sugar wines, for example, have registered astronomical growths within a five-year period: from $10 million in 2019 to $270 million in the year just ended”. No-alcohol wines are still a niche ($62 million value increased sevenfold in the last four years), but sales of alcohol-free wines from Italy outperformed the market in 2023, both in volume (+33% vs. +8%) and value (+39% vs. +24%). The average price of an alcohol-free wine is slightly higher than that of a traditional wine: $12.46 per liter versus $11.96 in 2023.
And that of dealcolated wine is an avenue that the cooperative world is also looking at with interest. “We know that regulatory measures are ready to facilitate and jumpstart this supply chain, and this sees our favor. Because at this time of difficult market, dealcolated wine”, said Legacoop Agroalimentare President Cristian Maretti, “can be an additional segment where there is demand that meets consumption needs, those of young people, who are attentive to certain wellness requirements. What we are stimulating in the institutional meetings is to get to port quickly instead of envisaging measures that perhaps retrace old grubbing-up schemes to balance supply and demand. Because as we know, the risk is that we fail to achieve the objective for which they were designed, and that leads to low producer satisfaction. If not, they even become incentives, good exits for those who had decided to stop producing anyway. What is needed, instead, is a market development approach on new products and in new ways, on new consumer segments and new markets. All this without ever forgetting that an alcohol-free wine can aspire to position itself as a drink, as a product even on those markets where for religious reasons alcohol is not allowed”.

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