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Forget ‘Dry January’ – more Gulf drinkers ditching booze all year

Drink Dry Drink Dry
Drink Dry launched non-alcoholic spirit brand Sea Arch following success of its non-alcoholic beer and wine in the Middle East
  • UAE non-alcoholic drinks marketplace Drink Dry growing across region
  • Non-alcoholic beers and wines in demand with potential for 0% spirits 
  • Lyre’s poll says 58% of UAE expats interested in reducing alcohol use 

Dry January, the initiative of abstaining from alcohol for the first month of the year, has become a yearly fixture in many people’s lives since it was launched by Alcohol Change UK in 2013, and the Middle East is no exception. 

“We definitely see sales increase in the UAE,” Erika Doyle, founder and managing director of Drink Dry, the UAE’s first and only non-alcoholic drinks marketplace, told AGBI.

“Our sales in January are likely to be up 20 percent from December. And for perspective, December was our biggest month in 2022.”

Recognising a growing desire to reduce, or cut, their alcohol intake, Dubai-based David Golding, founder of Sober Lifestyle Coaching, last year launched a 13-week recovery plan aimed at Dubai residents wanting help to address their alcohol habit.

Golding said the number of clients he works with grows at approximately 20 percent per month.

“It does appear that populations are moving away from alcohol, which can be seen in the growth of the non-alcoholic beverage industry,” he said. 

The Middle East, a region where traditionally less alcohol is consumed compared with other parts of the world, is fast embracing the non-alcoholic trend. 

Two new non-alcoholic beverage companies, French Bloom and Wild Idol, launched in the UAE this month. 

In addition, the Australian premium non-alcoholic beverages company Lyre’s launched in eight countries across the Middle East last April offering seven alcohol-free spirits.

“Consumer preferences in food and beverages are evolving to become more sophisticated and adventurous in the region,” said Karl Fielding, Lyre’s vice president for the Middle East and Africa. 

“High-end independent restaurants are at the forefront of catering to these preferences, and here is where we see the most significant demand for Lyre’s products.” 

Lyre’s beverages are now being sold in hundreds of restaurants and hotels across the Gulf.

Many of its top outlets sell more than 1,000 Lyre’s cocktails a month, Fielding said. “Today, we are the most widely distributed non-alcoholic spirits brand in the region, with over 300 outlets in the UAE and Saudi Arabia alone.” 

According to Lyre’s most recent poll, 58 percent of expats living in the UAE were interested in reducing their alcohol use, while 52 percent of respondents said they had cut it out entirely. Ten percent said they had consumed significantly less alcohol than they had five years prior.

Cognisant of the region’s growing thirst for non-alcoholic beverages, Doyle launched Drink Dry in 2019 and today it distributes to over 300 venues across the UAE. 

The company also runs an e-commerce platform in the UAE, which currently generates around one third of its revenue. 

According to Doyle, Drink Dry has a high customer return rate which, depending on the time of year, sits at around 60 percent. It onboarded 253 new customers in December. 

The company is looking to double its revenue this year after having tripled it in 2022 when it exported close to AED4 million ($1.09 million) of stock to Dubai from the UK alone.

Some of this stock was re-exported to other Gulf states, with supplies also being sourced from Spain, Belgium, Germany and France.

In total, Drink Dry supplied AED1.2 million of stock from Dubai to Kuwait in the second half of 2022 and AED1.45 million to Saudi Arabia in the fourth quarter of 2022. Bahrain received the smallest share of exports over 2022, at AED160,000.

The company is planning to start exporting directly from the UK to Kuwait, Saudi, Bahrain and Qatar in the coming months, with Kuwait and Saudi being the priority markets. 

“We launched our online store in Kuwait in July last year and are ready to press go on our Saudi e-store this month, so we are well on track with these two markets,” said Doyle. 

Drink Dry UAE
Erika Doyle, founder and managing director of Drink Dry, the UAE’s first and only non-alcoholic drinks marketplace

To serve these markets Drink Dry has also been recruiting new talent to join its existing team of 14 employees. 

“We have five new joiners coming on board in Q1 of 2023 in the UAE and three new employees joining us in Saudi and Kuwait,” said Doyle. “It is impossible to ignore the potential, especially with the Saudi market opening up to business,” said Doyle.

“We have many different conversations taking place right now with regards to expansion, including the Maldives, Egypt and Jordan.”

Non-alcoholic beers and wines rank as Drink Dry’s fastest growing sub-categories in terms of volume, but Doyle thinks that non-alcoholic spirits have the biggest potential for growth.

Revenue in the UAE’s non-alcoholic drinks market is forecast to reach $1.6 billion in 2023 and record a compound annual growth rate of 2.90 percent between 2023 and 2027, according to data published by Statista in December 2022.

It noted that by 2027, 23 percent of that spend will be in bars and restaurants.

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