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People are paying top dollar for cocktails with no alcohol in them — here’s why

Jacob Scott

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The non-alcoholic beverage industry skyrocketed this past year as consumers shift from booze-filled nights to prioritizing their health and wellness.

While some people are cutting back entirely, others are switching to beverages that taste like their favorite tipples, but without the alcohol. Once thought to be a passing — even mockable — trend, non-alcoholic wine, beer and more recently spirts — are now found in bars, restaurants and grocery stores around the world.

Most consumers of these drinks aren’t giving up alcohol for good though. Alcohol analysis firm IWSR said 58% of no- and low-alcohol consumers still drink but in moderation.

“Coming through the pandemic, there’s even more of a need… to socialize and connect with friends and family, and drinking is… a core element of that,” said Jeff Menashe, founder and CEO of the beverage company Demeter & Co.

The difference is now people want to “drink healthier,” he said.

Consumers are willing to pay

Whether it’s gin, tequila, vodka or rum, non-alcoholic spirits startup CleanCo claims its line of beverages taste like the real thing.

Their price points aren’t too different either.

A 700-mL bottle of Hendrick’s gin costs around $40, while CleanCo’s non-alcoholic version sells for about $25.

But this isn’t stopping consumers from footing the bill. According to the data analytics firm NielsenIQ, sales of non-alcoholic beverages rose 33.2% in the past year, with $331 million in total sales.

Non-alcoholic beer and cider sales grew by 31.7%, but more notably sales of non-alcoholic spirits grew 113.4% during the same period.

CleanCo’s non-alcoholic apple vodka and spiced rum.

Courtesy of CleanCo

The cost is justified by the time and effort needed to create non-alcoholic drinks that have the same taste, aroma and mouthfeel as traditional spirits, said CleanCo’s Chairman Justin Hicklin.

“We use eight, or nine different… distillation techniques to be able to extract flavors,” he said. “That’s an enormously complex thing to do — and quite costly.”

Hicklin said the juniper used in the company’s non-alcoholic gin is from a single source supplier in Bulgaria — the “very best juniper you can buy.”

CleanCo entered the U.K. market in 2018 after founder Spencer Matthews saw significant upside in the once vastly underrepresented industry. The brand partnered with Demeter & Co, which brought the company’s non-alcoholic beverages to the U.S. market in October.

Menashe estimates there are between seven to 10 million potential consumers in the United Kingdom and another 12 to 15 million in the United States.

“We’re focused on those two markets for the next two years,” he said.

Pricing doesn’t seem to be an issue for consumers at the moment.

Mark Livings

CEO of Lyre’s

Bottles of non-alcoholic spirits made by Lyre’s are even pricier. Founded in 2019, the company completed a £20 million ($26 million) funding round in November, with the business now valued at £270 million ($357 million).

“The products have ingredients that are procured from 39 different countries of origin in order to deliver the exact flavor profile,” said Lyre’s CEO Mark Livings. “Some of them are so complex that they have more than 36 different flavor notes.”

Livings said the brand is in “hyper growth” mode with a bottle selling every 30 seconds.

“Pricing doesn’t seem to be an issue for consumers at the moment,” he said.

Interest up in Asia and the Middle East

The rise in demand for no- and low-alcoholic beverages is rapidly gaining momentum in Asia and the Middle East too.

Available in 60 countries, Lyre’s three biggest markets in Asia are Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China. The company expanded into Malaysia and eight countries across the Middle East, which have stringent regulations against alcoholic drinks.

“We’re taking a very different tack [there] to how we’re taking the rest of the world,” said Livings. “We’re doing it respectfully… making sure that we comply with all of the local laws and all… sensitivities.”

Lyre’s non-alcoholic gin, called “Dry London Spirit,” is the company’s most popular product in the United Kingdom.

Courtesy of Lyre’s

Livings said it’s an exciting time for the global spirits industry, which stands to add “a couple of extra billion people to it.”

“You’d see the highest income earners or the very wealthy prioritize their health, but now it’s starting to trickle down into all groups of consumers,” he said.

Age is another factor. Younger people, who grew of age during wellness movements touting plant-based and organic food, are drinking less alcohol than the generations before them, according to research published by the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Non-alcoholic spirits aren’t being used by everyone, however. Hong Kong’s Darkside, named the 49th best bar in the world in 2021, relies on ingredients like coconut water, Sichuan peppercorns and kombucha rather than alcohol substitutes.

“We work with kombucha because not only does it create the flavor, but we have also noticed that much of the reason why people don’t drink alcohol during social gatherings is because they are on a detox, alcohol-free diet plan or pregnant,” said Arcadius Rybak, director of bars at Rosewood Hong Kong where Darkside is located.

“These categories of guests tend to never turn away a gut-beneficial kombucha,” he said.

Not for everyone

Even though non-alcoholic drinks are becoming “more of a norm than an anomaly,” not everyone is inclined to try them, said Singaporean Eunice Tan.

Tan said she doesn’t like the taste of alcohol, so products that mimic the taste of gin or bourbon wouldn’t appeal to her.

Lyre’s non-alcoholic “Spiced Cane Spirit” is one of its bestsellers.

Courtesy of Lyre’s

“Because I’ve never been drunk, I don’t know what the ‘original’ tastes like or the ‘buzz’ it gives,” she said. “So no, I wouldn’t go for an alcohol-free alternative… unless I was throwing a house party, and I wanted to cater to my guests.”

Some non-alcoholic drinks aren’t completely alcohol-free either. Non-alcoholic beverages are defined as containing less than 0.5% alcohol by volume, according to the IWSR. This is one reason addiction counselors recommend people with a history of alcohol abuse avoid these beverages, though opinions on the matter are mixed, according to Alcoholics Anonymous’ website.

More choices

Until recently, teetotalers could choose from mocktails, soft drinks, juice or water in bars and restaurants, which wasn’t good enough for some.

“Mocktails have always been overly sweet and kiddy… I could mix OJ and 7 Up myself,” said Tan. “When I’m dining out or at a bar, I’d appreciate creativity and thoughtfulness from the establishment in catering to adult tastes.”

Cloudstreet’s “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Red Wine!” is made from cherry juice, pink peppercorns and a mushroom syrup.

Courtesy of Cloudstreet

Dan Durkin, the food and beverage director at The American Club Singapore, said response was positive after the social club introduced non-alcoholic spirits from the U.K.-brand Seedlip.

“If you have a gin and tonic made with Seedlip gin, you would feel like you were drinking the real deal,” he said.

In addition to health and religious reasons, he said people request these drinks because they don’t want to “appear out of place while out with friends or colleagues.” Others want options other than “just a plain old soft drink, but something more interesting and crafted,” he said.

Cloudstreet’s “I Really Mead You Right Now” is made with Portugese honey and flowers.

Courtesy of Cloudstreet

Some restaurants, such as Cloudstreet in Singapore, are even pairing non-alcoholic drinks with the food.

“We did not want to exclude our non-drinking guests from a complete experience,” said Vinodhan Veloo, Cloudstreet’s group beverage manager. “We even serve… the pairing in the same wine glasses for consistency.”

The cost? An additional $128 Singapore dollars ($94) per person.

Customers pay top dollar because drinks contain ingredients such as Portuguese honey, lapsang souchong (a type of black tea), pink peppercorns and mushroom syrup, said Veloo.

Hong Kong’s DarkSide has three non-alcoholic drinks on its menu.

Courtesy of DarkSide

According to the IWSR, the trend in non-alcoholic beverages shows no signs of slowing down. The beverage analysis firm forecasts the industry will grow by 31% by 2024 as more bars and restaurants bring in non-alcoholic beverages.

“I remember going into a restaurant 20 years ago that didn’t offer a vegetarian option,” said CleanCo’s Hicklin. Similarly, “bars today would not survive if they only pushed alcoholic drinks.”

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‘Moon Knight’ Took Marvel in a Different Orbit, but It Didn’t Rise to the Occasion

Jacob Scott

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Before anyone writes that off as an anomaly, “Eternals” tackled a similar introduction of a dense mythology on the bigger screen, with equally mixed results. It’s a reminder that while film-goers have had more than a decade to get to know characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, introducing some of these lesser-known heroes can pose a more formidable challenge beyond catering to the most ardent fans.
For Marvel, there are warning signs in that, since “Moon Knight” will be followed by several series based on second-tier characters, although the next two on the horizon, “Ms. Marvel” (which is due in June) and “She-Hulk,” at least have the benefit of sharing franchises and name recognition with existing Avengers.
Ultimately, “Moon Knight’s” murky storytelling appeared to squander its principal assets, which included the cool look of the character — a costume that was too seldom used — and the presence of Isaac, who possesses additional genre credentials via the “Star Wars” sequels.

Taking its time in peeling back the layers of the character’s complicated backstory, “Moon Knight” took a weird plunge into the Egyptian mythology behind it, in ways that became increasingly confounding and surreal.

By the time the protagonist’s two halves, Steven Grant and Marc Spector, wound up in a psychiatric hospital talking to an anthropomorphic hippo in the penultimate chapter, the question wasn’t so much being able to keep up with the story as whether bothering to do so was worth the effort.

The sixth and final episode brought the plot to a messy close, seeking to stop the goddess Ammit from proceeding to “purify the souls of Cairo, and then the world.” In the customary credit sequence, the producers capped that off by introducing a third personality, Jake Lockley, also rooted in the comics. While that seemingly spelled the end for the show’s villain (Ethan Hawke), the finish — giving the god Khonshu the protégé he sought — paved the way for further adventures should Marvel so choose.

That last twist might be cause for celebration in narrower confines of the Marvel fan universe, but “Moon Knight” too often felt like it was one long Easter-egg sequence, conspicuously preaching to that choir.

Granted, Marvel has made clear that Disney+ offers the chance to explore different kinds of stories, but “Moon Knight” feels at best like a quirky showcase for Isaac and at worst a failed experiment in terms of execution and tone.

That doesn’t mean this “Moon” won’t somehow rise again, if the closely held streaming data justifies it. But the promise that surrounded this property has faded, providing further evidence that even Marvel isn’t immune from setbacks as it moves into its next phase.

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Start-up Pony.ai says it’s the first self-driving company to get a taxi license in China

Jacob Scott

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Autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai can collect fares for robotaxi rides in parts of two major Chinese cities as of Sunday.

Pony.ai handout

BEIJING — Self-driving start-up Pony.ai announced Sunday it received a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.

The license allows Pony.ai to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in the Nansha district of the southern city of Guangzhou, the company said.

The Chinese start-up, which is backed by Toyota, received approval from Beijing city late last year to charge fees to operate a commercial robotaxi business in a suburban district of the city. It is not the same as a taxi licence.

Baidu’s Apollo Go also received approval in the same Beijing district last year.

Pony.ai was valued at $8.5 billion in early March. The company said its Nansha taxi license required 24 months of autonomous driving testing in China and/or other countries, and no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents, among other factors.

The start-up said it plans to launch commercial robotaxi businesses in two other large Chinese cities next year. The company is already testing self-driving cars in those cities and in California. 

Robotaxis in China currently have a human driver present for safety.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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How to watch Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies: TV channel, NBA live stream info, start time

Jacob Scott

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Who’s Playing

Memphis @ Minnesota

Current Records: Memphis 2-1; Minnesota 1-2

What to Know

The Memphis Grizzlies’ road trip will continue as they head to Target Center at 10 p.m. ET this past Saturday to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis will be strutting in after a win while Minnesota will be stumbling in from a loss.

The Grizzlies are hoping for another victory. They beat the Timberwolves 104-95 this past Thursday. The victory came about thanks to a strong surge after the first quarter to overcome a 39-21 deficit. Memphis’ success was spearheaded by the efforts of power forward Brandon Clarke, who had 20 points in addition to eight rebounds, and shooting guard Desmond Bane, who shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc and finished with 26 points and six boards.

Barring any buzzer beaters, Memphis is expected to win a tight contest. They might be worth taking a chance on against the spread as they are currently on a two-game streak of ATS wins.

Memphis’ win brought them up to 2-1 while the Timberwolves’ defeat pulled them down to a reciprocal 1-2. A couple offensive stats to keep in the back of your head while watching: The Grizzlies come into the game boasting the second most points per game in the league at 115.6. But Minnesota is even better: they rank first in the league when it comes to points per game, with 115.9 on average. Tune in for what’s sure to be a high-scoring contest.

How To Watch

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota TV: ESPN Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.) Follow: CBS Sports App Ticket Cost: $76.96

Odds

The Grizzlies are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Timberwolves, according to the latest NBA odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Grizzlies as a 3-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

See NBA picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Memphis have won 19 out of their last 28 games against Minnesota.

Apr 21, 2022 – Memphis 104 vs. Minnesota 95 Apr 19, 2022 – Memphis 124 vs. Minnesota 96 Apr 16, 2022 – Minnesota 130 vs. Memphis 117 Feb 24, 2022 – Minnesota 119 vs. Memphis 114 Jan 13, 2022 – Memphis 116 vs. Minnesota 108 Nov 20, 2021 – Minnesota 138 vs. Memphis 95 Nov 08, 2021 – Memphis 125 vs. Minnesota 118 May 05, 2021 – Memphis 139 vs. Minnesota 135 Apr 02, 2021 – Memphis 120 vs. Minnesota 108 Jan 13, 2021 – Memphis 118 vs. Minnesota 107 Jan 07, 2020 – Memphis 119 vs. Minnesota 112 Dec 01, 2019 – Memphis 115 vs. Minnesota 107 Nov 06, 2019 – Memphis 137 vs. Minnesota 121 Mar 23, 2019 – Minnesota 112 vs. Memphis 99 Feb 05, 2019 – Memphis 108 vs. Minnesota 106 Jan 30, 2019 – Minnesota 99 vs. Memphis 97 Nov 18, 2018 – Memphis 100 vs. Minnesota 87 Apr 09, 2018 – Minnesota 113 vs. Memphis 94 Mar 26, 2018 – Memphis 101 vs. Minnesota 93 Dec 04, 2017 – Memphis 95 vs. Minnesota 92 Feb 04, 2017 – Memphis 107 vs. Minnesota 99 Nov 19, 2016 – Memphis 93 vs. Minnesota 71 Nov 01, 2016 – Minnesota 116 vs. Memphis 80 Oct 26, 2016 – Memphis 102 vs. Minnesota 98 Mar 16, 2016 – Minnesota 114 vs. Memphis 108 Feb 19, 2016 – Memphis 109 vs. Minnesota 104 Jan 23, 2016 – Minnesota 106 vs. Memphis 101 Nov 15, 2015 – Memphis 114 vs. Minnesota 106

Injury Report for Minnesota

No Injury Information

Injury Report for Memphis

Dillon Brooks: Game-Time Decision (Foot) Santi Aldama: Out (Knee) Killian Tillie: Out (Knee)

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