Why Retailers Card You When Buying Non-Alcoholic Drinks

Non-alcoholic beverages can be found at several major retailers, including Target and Walmart. But even with the non-alcoholic label, some stores may still require customers to present a valid ID in order to purchase the drinks. But if the drinks specifically advertise a lack of alcohol, why is proof of legal drinking age even required?

One important factor to note is that alcohol-free and non-alcoholic don't mean the same thing for drinks. Alcohol-free beverages are, as the name suggests, totally absent of any alcohol content. Non-alcoholic drinks, on the other hand, can still contain up to 0.5% ABV. While this amount is low enough that consumers likely won't feel the impact of the alcohol at all, it is still present in the liquid.

Carding customers for all alcohol-adjacent drinks may help cut out the risk of accidental alcohol sales to minors. Since some brands — like Heineken and Budweiser — produce and sell both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, checking IDs can ensure that anyone buying the beverages is of legal drinking age. Stores may also be concerned that the association could promote alcohol consumption to minors, even if they're attempting to purchase non-alcoholic versions.

Social media users added some insight into the practice

Social media user Deven Machette shared her experience with this situation in a TikTok video. She stated that she was "holding up the entire line" by waiting for an ID check when purchasing non-alcoholic beer at a Target self-checkout lane. Some commenters sympathized with the situation, with one writing, "I got carded for cooking wine. Cooking wine!" A few users noted that they had been asked to show IDs when purchasing root beer, perhaps due to the soft drink's name, despite it being totally alcohol-free.


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Some Target employees offered additional insight in the comments (per TikTok). "Because it's in the 'alcohol' section of the computer it cards you even if it's non-alcoholic," wrote one TikTok user. "They can't sell alcohol-adjacent items to minors."

British supermarket chain Tesco even clarified its stance on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter. "They are products aimed at adults rather than children," the Tweet reads. "They are meant as a substitute for alcohol." So while the drinks may not contain very much alcohol themselves, the association and intended usage could dictate that some sales restrictions are necessary.

What if you're under the legal drinking age?

Even though an ID may be required to purchase non-alcoholic beverages, can minors still consume them at home? It depends on the state. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 states that alcohol containing over 0.5% ABV is included in the age restriction. So if the drinks are below this threshold, consumers may not necessarily need to be 21. Some states do have their own laws regarding this, however, and place further restrictions on sales and consumption.

Some foods even contain more ABV than non-alcoholic drinks. Thanks to the yeast fermentation during the baking process, hot dog and hamburger buns usually contain around 1.28% ABV. Fermentation also comes into play with soy sauce, which may have between 1.5-2% ABV. So, it seems that the carding practice is simply an extra measure to prevent the promotion of underage drinking.

If you are under the legal drinking age — or just want to avoid getting carded at the store — there are also plenty of bar cart essentials to create low or non-alcoholic cocktails at home. Sparkling water, fruit purees, and flavored syrups can help create quite a few different fun-tasting drinks. Even espresso and tonic water can make a mocktail that'll taste both refreshing and energizing.