Why are sales of non-alcoholic beer booming?

One chunk of the market is taking off for other reasons. The Middle East now accounts for almost a third of the worldwide sales by volume of non-alcoholic beer. In 2012 Iranians drank nearly four times as much of it as they did in 2007. It is popular in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where alcohol is either wholly or partially banned. Partly this is for religious reasons. After Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist movement, won a landslide election victory in Gaza in 2005, a local brewer launched an alcohol-free “halal” version of its beer. But it also taps into growing consumer aspirations. As a statement of a globalised lifestyle beer, even if non-alcoholic, may be more potent than Coca-Cola. Non-alcoholic lager is slowly being drunk more in bars and restaurants, rather than just being consumed at home. Prominent Saudi and Egyptian clerics have issued fatwas declaring it permissible to drink zero-alcohol beer.

Brewers of non-alcoholic beer are hopeful. Increased religiosity in the Middle East could boost demand; in the West it looks as if governments are not about to stop lecturing on the dangers of hooch any time soon. And consumers may gain from the increased demand. With more brands entering the market, the lighter stuff may start to taste even more like the real thing.

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