Zero sugar cocktails have become increasingly popular as New Zealanders embrace global wellness trends but some experts are questioning the health value of “clean” alcohols.  

Marketed as zero sugar, zero gluten and zero carbs, the new wave of ready to drink cocktails, or RTDs, are advertised as being better for drinkers.

Hamilton woman Stacey Burmester said she drank the low sugar cocktails as a way to avoid gluten.

“I can’t drink wine, it doesn’t work well for me and I’m gluten intolerant so I can’t drink beer. If I do drink, I normally have a spirit with some sort of diet drink so these sorts of RTDs are a nice way to have it.”

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While most of her friends drink wine, Burmester has one friend who “is really into keto” and was always looking for new clean drinks to try, she said. 

Clean Collective and Rinse are marketed as a healthy option, with zero sugar, zero carbs and zero gluten.

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Clean Collective and Rinse are marketed as a healthy option, with zero sugar, zero carbs and zero gluten.

Clean Collective co-founders Holly McGrath and Dan Benoy came up with the idea for their zero sugar cocktails in 2016 to meet a need they had themselves. 

“We were becoming more nutritionally conscious and realised there wasn’t really anything in the alcohol space that offered a healthier option. It was all your typical cruisers and your lolly waters that were full of sugar,” she said. 

“It was at the same time that the supermarkets were trending towards that better for you, low sugar, no preservatives and that sort of stuff.”

Clean Collective, launched in 2017, promoting itself as a “top shelf RTD”.

“We’re trying to destroy the stereotypical image of what an RTD used to be.”

McGrath said a huge number of people who were on keto or who were diabetic drank the cocktails, as well as traditional RTD drinkers.

Since launching, the company has sold two million bottles and in December, launched Rinse vodka soda, targeted at male heavy drinkers.

“It’s targeting those men who go out with the guys and want a bigger night so it’s sold in 10-packs.”

The wellness market was definitely growing, she said. 

“We get stats from Liquorland and the better for you ranges have grown 80 per cent just in the last year. People’s awareness is only just going to grow,” McGrath said.

Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson says the healthy RTDs still carry a health risk.

STUART GRANGE/STUFF

Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson says the healthy RTDs still carry a health risk.

“Healthy living as a whole is booming at the moment.”

McGrath said customers understood that while the RTDs were being billed as a healthy option, they still had the standard levels of alcohol, 5 per cent for the Clean Collective cocktails and 6 per cent for the Rinse vodka sodas. 

But Alcohol Healthwatch director Nicki Jackson said so-called “clean” drinks missed the underlying issues with alcohol. 

“From an alcohol harm reduction perspective, these can be just as bad as your mainstream RTDs,” she said.

Clean Collective launched its ready to drink cocktails in 2017.

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Clean Collective launched its ready to drink cocktails in 2017.

Part of the problem was that New Zealanders’ knowledge around alcohol harm was limited.

“Alcohol is linked to more than 200 health conditions. People may pick up a product thinking this is great in terms of sugar and obesity not realising alcohol a carcinogen and causes cancer,” she said.

“When the drinks are promoted as low sugar, they are almost perceived as a healthy option but there is no safe level of alcohol when it comes to cancer.”

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