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The Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals

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Alcohol Awareness Month in April, Sober October and Dry January have become noteworthy periods in the calendar, not just for the general public, but also for health and wellness professionals who observe and interact with the effects of these initiatives on consumer behavior and alcohol consumption patterns. These campaigns aim to encourage people to reflect on their drinking habits, understand the health implications of excessive alcohol consumption and possibly embark on a journey toward reduced alcohol intake or sobriety. The impact has been remarkable and in 2023 more than 27% of adults aged 21+ surveyed by CivicScience said they were highly likely to participate in Dry January and that equates to over 56 million Americans. According to the Central Intelligence Agency (yes, the CIA measures alcohol consumption as well as catching spies!) the United States, with an average of 8.93 liters of pure alcohol per capita, actually comes in 35th in alcoholic beverage consumption globally.

The purpose and impact

The primary objective of these awareness months is to shed light on the dangers of alcohol misuse and encourage individuals to reassess their relationship with alcohol and how it affects their relationships and health. This introspection can lead to a significant shift in consumption patterns, with some participants choosing to reduce their intake permanently or become more mindful of their drinking habits. According to Nielsen IQ, non-alcohol products saw a 19% increase in sales while total alcohol sales were down 6.7% during Dry January in 2022.

Retail dietitians and all health professionals should play a crucial role during these “dry” periods. You not only provide necessary support and resources, but should also use this time to educate your shoppers on the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, such as liver disease, cardiovascular problems and mental health issues. This education is not limited to the dangers, but also includes discussing the potential benefits of reducing alcohol intake, such as improved sleep, better weight management and lower risk of chronic diseases.

Behavioral insights

One of the fascinating aspects of these campaigns is their insight into consumer behavior. The temporary commitment to sobriety or reduced intake seems less daunting to many, making it an accessible starting point for reevaluating one’s drinking habits. This approachability can lead to lasting change for some participants. CivicScience reported that 33% of adults who participated in Dry January this year are very likely to change their drinking habits based on the recent research that found consuming even small amounts of alcohol can harm their health. You can leverage this willingness to engage with sobriety on a short-term basis to introduce strategies to your shoppers for long-term behavioral change.

Most important, the communal aspect of these initiatives — where groups of friends, coworkers, or online communities undertake these challenges together — can significantly enhance motivation and adherence; and offer your store the opportunity to publicize and lead these communities. This collective participation fosters a supportive environment, making the journey less isolating and more achievable. You can encourage shoppers to join your “sober sensitive” community, or if you don’t have one, to seek out such communities or form their own support groups to maintain their motivation beyond these designated months.

Observations

During and after these awareness months, retail dietitians and health professionals might observe a range of physical and psychological effects in participants and notice improved overall well-being. These observations should be noted and publicized through your social media, website and other media channels emphasizing the importance of a personalized approach to each shopper’s journey towards healthier alcohol consumption patterns.

Challenges and considerations

Despite the positive intentions and outcomes of these initiatives, there are challenges and criticisms to consider, including internal push back from those responsible for merchandising and selling alcohol. It’s important for you to point out the temporary nature of these campaigns implies that sobriety or reduced intake is only beneficial for a short period, rather than promoting a sustained lifestyle change.

Retail dietitians must navigate these challenges carefully, ensuring that their support and messaging are inclusive and respectful of all experiences with alcohol. This might include acknowledging the limitations of these campaigns and offering resources for those who need more comprehensive support.

What’s next

April Alcohol Awareness Month, Sober October and Dry January serve as catalysts for change, prompting individuals to reevaluate their drinking habits and consider the health benefits of reduced alcohol consumption. For dietitians and all health professionals, these periods offer a unique opportunity to engage with shoppers, clients and patients on this topic, provide education and support and potentially initiate long-lasting changes in behavior.

By understanding the influence of these campaigns on consumer behavior, you can tailor your media and in-store program approaches to meet the diverse needs of your shoppers. Your goal and that of your store or organization is to leverage the momentum of these awareness months to foster a broader cultural shift towards healthier relationships with alcohol and embracing the opportunities for positive change.

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