Those drinks have the OrangeTheory logo on them but don't they look a little like shocked emojis? Getty Images
"This Is Uncomfortable" Newsletter

This is why mocktails cost so much

Janet Nguyen and Tony Wagner Mar 1, 2024
Those drinks have the OrangeTheory logo on them but don't they look a little like shocked emojis? Getty Images

Here’s something the “sober curious” can toast to: There’s a huge variety of nonalcoholic beverages on the market these days. But they’re often as expensive as their boozy counterparts. What gives? Marketplace looked into it. Plus: Interesting new data on Disney adults, and how to have a better 1:1 with your manager.

That sober curious movement is growing as people reevaluate their relationship with alcohol and either moderate their intake or forgo booze altogether.

NielsenIQ reported last year that off-premise sales of nonalcoholic beer, wine and spirits grew 31% over the prior 12 months, to $510 million. They’re bigger than Dry January, the report said, “a viable alternative for any occasion.” 

But if you sidle up to the bar and order a mocktail, you might pay almost as much as you would for the hard stuff. In stores, N/A alternatives might set you back even more than their boozy counterparts.

Why? Marketplace spoke to experts who explained the costly process of creating these concoctions.

What goes into a $12 fauxgroni? 

At The Edmon, in Los Angeles, cocktails cost $14 each, while mocktails go for $12. 

General manager Francois Houlard explained the ingredients in their mocktails are on the expensive side. Nonalcoholic spirits also have a relatively short shelf life, he added. 

Houlard’s negroni contains equal amounts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. Together the ingredients cost $1.93, or about 13.8% of the total cost. 

The $12 fauxgroni contains Dhos Gin Free, Lyre Rosso and Giffard aperitif syrup. The ingredients cost $2.14, 17.8% of the menu price. The rest of your bill covers labor and rent, with some profit left.

While the overall nonalcoholic beverage market seems to be booming, mocktails make up just a tiny fraction of food and beverage sales at The Edmon, Houlard said. Despite the limited orders, having mocktails on the menu helps the Edmon appeal to a wide variety of customers. 

Say a group of friends are figuring out where to go, and one person wants a nonalcoholic drink. If they turned down The Edmon because it lacked that option, the business would lose the whole group, Houlard said.

“I believe in regulars. I believe in people coming day in and day out. It’s like going to your diner down the street,” he said. 

What it takes to make alcohol-free spirits

Ritual Zero Proof, a company that sells alcohol-free spirits, has a line of rum, tequila, whiskey and gin alternatives that cost $29.99 for a 25.4-fluid ounce bottle. That amounts to about $1.18 an ounce. 

When it comes to alcohol — gin, for example — you’ll find some brands that charge similar prices or higher, while others might sell their drinks for as little as 50 cents an ounce.

Marcus Sakey, co-founder of Ritual Zero Proof, said the company’s drinks are expensive to produce. He said they sell a premium product that’s complicated to make and “uses only the finest flavors and ingredients.” 

Sakey said that alcoholic drinks, which are a $260 billion business in the U.S., benefit from economies of scale that are far out of reach for nonalcoholic drink companies. High output and efficient production and distribution mean the conventional spirits industry can lower its costs.

He added that ethanol (the type of alcohol that we imbibe) is “terrific in carrying flavor.”

“But you can’t use alcohol in a nonalcoholic product. So our base is purified water, and we have to use a lot more of the natural flavors to achieve the same rich taste, to make it taste right,” Sakey said.

“Then you’ve got the fact that alcohol is a preservative and a disinfectant. If you pour alcohol into a dirty bottle, you end up with a clean bottle. Whereas for our product, we have to maintain the highest standards of sanitation to make sure that Ritual is always premium and FDA-compliant.” 

Not all mocktails are created equal

Derick Santiago, a mixologist and author of the book “The Mocktail Club,” said he thinks it’s fair for mocktails sold at bars and restaurants to cost almost the same as cocktails if they use nonalcoholic spirits. 

But if it’s basically a cocktail without the alcohol — like a virgin mojito, which omits the rum — then that should cost $5 to $7, he said. 

Based on his observations, Santiago said sober-curious customers are willing to pay more if careful thought is put into their drinks. 

When he started out as a mixologist, he said restaurant patrons’ choices were limited — sodas, teas, juices, virgin cocktails. Now Santiago is noticing that restaurants are getting more inventive with their concoctions, using ingredients like over-steeped tea and aloe juices. 

“Some of them use spirit alternatives now, which is what I’m hoping to see more of. It is still not as common as I’d like it to be, but I’m seeing the change happen.”

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