By Michelle Slater
Local artisanal non-alcohol drink producers are riding a wave of support as more consumers, bars, restaurants and global markets are turning towards no-grog options.
The latest state government figures reveal that Victorian-made non-alcohol beverage exports increased by 17 per cent to $67 million in 2020-21 from the previous year.
It also found that exports in this category almost doubled in value in the last four years.
Mornington Peninsula-based alcohol-free drinks makers Jason and Andy Quin started up their Etch Sparkling label two years ago, using native plant extracts including Gippsland-grown ingredients.
Mr Quin said demand for their product had been doubling each year, driven by the pandemic as more people are looking at options for their own health and wellbeing.
The business sells its produce at Gippsland farmers markets, independent supermarkets, high-end restaurants and through social media, with exports into Asia and New Zealand.
“The past two years had driven this movement that it’s okay to say no (to alcohol), but maybe not necessarily become a tea-totaller,” Mr Quin said.
“People are reassessing the role alcohol is playing in their life and are mindful about what they are consuming.”
Mr Quin had a background in the wine industry, but decided to look at grog-free drinks after he developed a dependency on alcohol.
It was then they began examining manufacturing a sophisticated, adult beverage that matched to food with “table proud” packaging” that did not look like, or smell like, alcohol.
The new line of drinks included extracts from native plants such as quandong, finger linger limes, Kakadu plums, or Gippsland mountain pepper berries.
“We were looking into the health benefits and flavours of native plants, so we put the two together. Consumers are looking at what is grown locally and what is good for them,” he said.
“Provenance is a key, knowing what you are consuming and where it comes from. We know Victoria produces good quality.”
Meanwhile, the state government is supporting a $1.5 million Drink Victorian program to get more locally produced drinks into 100 venues and retailers, which also which features 18 low and no alcohol producers.
Mr Quin said he believes the future is bright for the sector as they look to expand their new business.
“The health and wellbeing trend is not stopping, it’s an embedded lifestyle choice, and it means the future is rosy for us and we will continue to grow,” he said.