The impending Oktoberfest will soon draw all eyes towards German beer, with the beer tents opening across the world over the next month. But as consumer interest and priorities shift, it might be lighter beer that’s filling the Steins this year.

New research from global market intelligence agency Mintel reveals that over a quarter of consumers in France (28 percent) and Germany (27 percent) agree that low or no alcohol beer tastes just as good as full-strength beer. And while younger consumers may have been the most enthusiastic drinkers in previous generations, this group are among the most likely to see the merits of low or no alcohol beer. As many as 37 percent of French consumers aged 18-24 and 31 percent of German consumers of the same age agree that low or no alcohol beer tastes just as good as ‘regular’ beer (4-6 percent ABV).

While many consumers seem to enjoy the taste of the drink, the stigma of drinking non-alcoholic beer may also be disappearing. Mintel research highlights that just one in 10 (9 percent) German consumers say they would be embarrassed to be seen drinking low or no alcohol beer, followed by 14 percent of consumers in France.

“As health and wellness trends influence alcohol consumption more and more, consumers are being drawn towards moderate beer options and the stigma of drinking low or no alcohol beer is being challenged,” said Mintel global drinks analyst Jonny Forsyth. “Looking to the future, the global beer market will see even more moderate innovation as Millennials in particular seek healthier and less calorific beer options. This goes hand in hand with a number of brands working to raise the quality of the product, especially non-alcoholic beers. Germany in particular is now making high quality non-alcoholic beers and, as a result, non-alcoholic beer has now become a mainstream option. German beer drinkers may not have a history of moderation, but this is changing.”

What’s more, this Oktoberfest it seems many will be opting for a low or no alcohol beer in order to forgo the hangover. Among German consumers, over half (53 percent) agree there is “less chance of getting a hangover if you drink low or no alcohol beer, rather than full strength (4-6 percent ABV)”. This rises to six in 10 French (61 percent) consumers.

But it’s not just the hangover that consumers are keen to steer clear of; over half of consumers in France (56 percent) agree that low or no alcohol beer allows you to stay in control when drinking.

“Control has become a key watchword for today’s younger drinkers. Unlike previous cohorts, they have their nights out documented visually on social media where it is likely to remain for the rest of their lives. Over-drinking is therefore something many seek to avoid,” Forsyth added.

Consumption of non-alcoholic beer is growing fast, with as many as 33 percent of Spanish, 23 percent of German and 9 percent of French consumers drinking this variety.

However, while European interest is high, China is the most prolific global innovator of low or no alcohol beer product launches, according to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD). Over one in four (29 percent) beers launched in China in 2016 contained low or no alcohol beer (below 3.5 percent ABV), compared with around one in 10 beers launched in Spain (12 percent), Germany (11 percent) and Poland (9 percent). Falling behind in terms of launch activity, just 6 percent of launches in France in 2016 were low or no alcohol beer, compared to a global average of 8 percent.

“The amount of global low or no alcohol beer innovation remains very limited, despite plenty of activity in Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East and Africa. While China leads in low and no alcohol beer innovation, Mintel research indicates that Chinese consumers, in general, prefer less strong beer in terms of ABV, compared to the global market.”

Furthermore, when it comes to future product innovation it seems the majority of consumers have full faith in tried and trusted brands to produce a tasty low or no alcohol beer. According to Mintel research, over half of German consumers (56 percent) say they would trust their favourite brand to produce a good tasting low or no alcohol version, with half of consumers in Spain (50 percent) agreeing with this statement.

“Our European consumer research confirms the importance of brand trust in helping consumers to overcome the significant taste barrier. The success of non-alcoholic beer innovation in Germany offers other lessons for what can work elsewhere. German non-alcoholic beer producers have vastly improved production techniques, resulting in the fact that over half of German non-alcoholic beer drinkers think that non-alcoholic beer tastes as good as a standard alcoholic beer.” Jonny adds.

Finally, Mintel research highlights that the Middle East and Africa may be a hotbed for low or no alcohol beer product launch activity in the coming years. According to Mintel GNPD, almost a third (30 percent) of beer launches in the Middle East and Africa contained low or no alcohol in 2016, up from 22 percent in 2015.

“There is a strong case for further non-alcoholic beer growth potential in the Middle Eastern and Asian markets, especially those with a big Muslim population, such as Indonesia.” Jonny concludes.

*Low or no alcohol is defined as ABV below 3.5 percent