UK drinking laws can sometimes seem contradictory, particularly when it comes to selling non-alcoholic products to minors. From a selling point of view, it can be difficult to determine when the ‘challenge 25’ rule is appropriate and to know what can and cannot be legally sold to someone under the age of 18.
In this article, we’ll examine the legality of selling alcohol-free beers to minors and highlight when it is and isn’t permitted.
Is It Legal For Minors to Buy Non-Alcoholic Beer?
As you cannot get drunk on non-alcoholic beer, there is no legal reason preventing a minor from buying a non-alcoholic beer in the UK.
However, depending on the retailer, they may still be prohibited.
Minors cannot purchase alcohol-free beer from supermarkets or drinks retailers because they are products made for and marketed toward adults. They often carry the same branding as the product they are made to imitate, and selling this product to a minor could be seen as a way of promoting alcohol to those who are underage.
Although supermarkets have no legal reason to take this approach to non-alcoholic beer, the initiative is inspired by the Responsible Marketing and Communications Code.
This code of ethics was created by the Belgian drink and brewing company AB InBev and suggests that selling non-alcoholic beers to minors should be prohibited. This is because, since the product shares the same branding and packaging as the real thing, it could encourage minors to want to drink.
This differs from the U.S., where non-alcoholic drinks are classed as alcoholic under U.S. law and therefore cannot be legally sold to anyone under 21. This rule is also carried over to restaurants and bars throughout the U.S.
Restaurants and bars
In terms of legality in the U.K., nothing prevents the sale of non-alcoholic beverages in restaurants and bars to those under the age of 18. According to the Licensing Act 2003, anything below the 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) is not classed as an alcoholic beverage.
However, the drink being ordered in a bar or restaurant must be below 0.5% to be classed as a non-alcoholic beer. Anything between 0.5 and 1.2% is classed as a ‘low alcohol’ beer, which minors cannot legally purchase in the U.K.
Each bar and restaurant may enforce different policies, which could prohibit the sale of a non-alcoholic beer to someone under the age of 18.
Why Would You Need ID to Buy Non-alcoholic Beer?
Regardless of your age, you will find yourself getting ID’d for the purchase of non-alcoholic drinks in a wide range of major supermarkets in the U.K., including Tesco, Waitrose, and Asda.
Major supermarkets enforce the challenge 25 rule and require ID for non-alcoholic beer because they believe it to be unethical to allow a minor to purchase any alcohol-related product. This may be the supermarket’s policy, or it could be to do with the policy of the alcohol producers they sell for.
As already mentioned, AB InBev has its own code that many supermarkets adhere to. AB InBev is responsible for such major beers as Budweiser, Stella Artois, Corona, and Beck’s.
The U.K. alcohol promotion company Portman Group also have their own Code of Practice on the naming, packaging, and promotion of alcoholic drinks, which suggests that if a low-alcoholic beer has the same branding as the beer it imitates, it should come under the same code of practice regarding the buying and selling of the product.
Many supermarkets have been inspired by these policies and practices and decided to ID all customers buying alcohol-free beer.
Why Do Retailers Restrict the Sale of Non-alcoholic Beer?
To convey further why supermarkets and some restaurants and bars take the initiative to challenge 25, there are three main reasons why a minor may not be able to buy alcohol-free beer.
Rather than having one rule for alcoholic beer and another for non-alcoholic beer, it is far more practical for supermarkets to have the same rule for all alcoholic beverages. Plus, it can be a hassle for staff to constantly have to check the ABV to decide whether or not they can sell it to a customer.
Avoid promoting alcohol to children
Non-alcoholic beverages aren’t made for minors – they’re made primarily for designated drivers or adults looking to stay sober for the night. There’s no real reason for a minor to drink non-alcoholic beer, so permitting the sale of the product to those who are underage could look bad on the company.
To enforce alcoholic drink rules
Taking a fully restrictive approach to selling alcohol is a good way for a business to enforce alcoholic drink rules.
Having vague policies in place could leave too much room for error. For example, a staff member may accidentally sell a ‘low alcohol’ beer to a minor, thinking it’s a ‘non-alcoholic’ beer. For this reason, it’s better for businesses to fully restrict the sale of alcohol-related products.
In the U.K., although it doesn’t legally state anywhere that those under the age of 18 cannot buy non-alcoholic beverages, many major supermarkets across the country prohibit the sale of non-alcoholic beer for ethical and practical reasons.
A minor may be permitted to buy alcohol from one establishment but be prohibited from doing so by the next. It is up to the retail owner’s discretion whether or not this type of sale should be allowed.