Russians are among the biggest drinkers of alcohol in the world, yet are developing a new taste for alcohol-free beer. As Sonia Legg reports, it could help save a brewing industry that has stalled under government initiatives to discourage drinking.
Russians are among the biggest drinkers of alcohol in the world. Only these beers aren't actually alcoholic. It seems health trends are catching on here too. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) HEAD OF AB INBEV'S RUSSIAN BUSINESS, DMITRY SHPAKOV, SAYING: "In Germany alcohol-free beer accounts for 5 per cent out of overall beer market, it's 13 per cent in Spain. Here in Russia it amounts to a little over 1 per cent, but that means there's huge potential." Sales of zero-alcohol beer jumped 12 percent last year, according to research firm Nielsen, while the overall market - reportedly worth $15 billion in 2016 - shrank by 2 percent. There's been a 40 percent drop since 2008 when the government decided to try and discourage excessive drinking (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) HEAD OF AB INBEV'S RUSSIAN BUSINESS, DMITRY SHPAKOV, SAYING: "It's a clear fact that people drink less beer. The market has been decreasing for the past 8-9 years and consumption of beer per capita reached absolutely critical point." Brewers have shut 12 plants since the new regulations were introduced - five of them were Anheuser Busch Inbev's. It has only five left and none is working at full capacity. That's why the brewing giant will be promoting a zero-strength Bud brand at next year's soccer World Cup (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) MOSCOW RESIDENT, KIRILL, SAYING: "As an amateur brewer, I think manufacturers should focus on quality light beverages. For me personally, alcohol-free beer is just a marketing ploy." (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) MOSCOW RESIDENT, YURIY, SAYING: "I think it's definitely in demand. It seems to me if you like the taste of beer but don't want to get drunk and be violent, then why not." But beer makers have another challenge in the birthplace of Vodka. Spirits still account for just over half the alcohol consumed.