Off-licence and c-store group Bargain Booze is predicting a boom in fruit-flavoured beers after seeing sales of low-alcohol drinks soar this year.

The retailer has reported a 28% hike in like-for-like sales of drinks below 2.8% abv in the first quarter of 2013 - and said low or no-alcohol products now accounted for 3% of its total beer and cider sales.

“Underlying consumer demand is growing and this sub-category represents a good commercial opportunity,” said Bargain Booze senior beer buyer Matt Cain.

He said he expected to see further lower-abv fruit-flavoured lagers over the next 12 months following the success of 2.8% Carling Zest. Other big brewers have already moved into the category, with 2.8% abv Carlsberg Citrus launching in February, followed by the rollout of Heineken’s 2% abv lemon-flavoured beer Foster’s Radler in March.

While predicting NPD in fruit-flavoured ales, Cain warned there might be a limit to how far brewers could stretch flavours. “Carling Zest Orange didn’t perform as well as original Citrus, which could be an indication that there is a limit to the amount of different fruit flavours that will be successful with lager.”

Mintel senior drinks analyst Chris Wisson said consumers had become more receptive to low-alcohol drinks. “The perception that they tasted inferior is changing,” he added.

Beers at or below 2.8% abv are taxed at a much lower rate than standard beers, and Wisson said the success of lower-abv products would hinge on whether some of these savings were passed on.