WITH alcohol sales taking a hit lately after new liquor laws came into force, some retailers and coffee shops are selling non-alcoholic beer in a bid to woo customers back.
Convenience store chain 7-Eleven, for instance, is hoping these beers will help to mitigate a loss in sales after the ban on retail sales of alcohol after 10.30pm.
7-Eleven outlets stock Asahi Dry Zero, which has packaging similar to regular beers sold by the Japanese brand, but is actually a beer that contains no alcohol.
A few coffee shops in the drinking hot-spot Geylang - where the retail ban is stricter, like in Little India - have also introduced alcohol-free beer.
Meanwhile, Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Singapore, the distributor of Tiger Beer, has been testing a similar product, called Tiger Maxx 0.0%, since late last year.
These products are considered beer because they are usually made with the same basic ingredients - such as water, hops and malt - and go through a similar fermentation process before the alcohol is removed.
APB Singapore marketing head Rene de Monchy said the non-alcoholic beer category is growing faster than the beer category.
He said: "We are innovating in anticipation of shifts in consumer tastes and trends, delivering on our commitment to cater to different consumer palates and preferences.
"Tiger Maxx 0.0% is not a permanent addition to the company's portfolio yet, as the product trial is still ongoing and non-conclusive on consumer response."
Non-alcoholic beer has been sold here for at least two years before the new liquor rules took effect in April.
Even though these beers can be about 20 per cent cheaper than beer that contains alcohol, demand has been lukewarm.
Several FairPrice, FairPrice Finest and FairPrice Xtra supermarkets sell two brands of non-alcoholic beer: Bavaria and Krombacher. They sell for between 90 cents and $3.40. The alcoholic versions retail at between $2.50 and $4.20.
"The demand for non-alcoholic malt beverages has remained steady for the past two years. These beverages are still relatively new to the Singapore market compared with other markets around the world, for example, Europe," a FairPrice spokesman said.
7-Eleven introduced two kinds of beer with zero alcohol content, including Asahi Dry Zero, two years ago.
But demand was so poor that one was dropped last year, said 7-Eleven marketing director Michelle Lee.
She said: "The take-up rate has been very low, but we retained it as part of efforts to mitigate the sales lost as a result of new liquor laws."
In Geylang, The Straits Times found two out of more than 10 coffee shops selling alcohol-free beer.
Staff at the two coffee shops said their liquor licences were revoked about a year ago and they started selling alcohol-free Tiger Beer about two months ago. It sells for about $4, cheaper than a bottle of Tiger Beer of the same volume, which sells for about $6.
On average, they sell about one to four cartons of these beers during Saturday peak hours - not much, compared with hundreds of bottles of regular beer they used to sell on Saturdays, when they had their licences.
One reason for the sluggish sales of non-alcoholic beers could be the less-than-ideal taste.
Consumers said these beers have a smooth and bitter aftertaste like normal beers, but taste a little flat, with less full-bodied flavours.
Food and beverage consultant Delane Lim, 30, said: "Drinking a non-alcoholic beer defeats the point of having drinks and it is tasteless."