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Jan 14, 2022

Axios What's Next

It's almost MLK Day. We hope you enjoy the break from work and can take the time to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy — here's a list of ways to honor the holiday at home.

  • Today's reader photo comes from Michael Monteleone, who took it near Solvang, California.
  • Do you see something that inspires you and screams "What's Next?" Email us a picture: whatsnext@axios.com.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,043 words ... 4 minutes.

1 big thing: Faux booze goes mainstream

Shopping on New York's Upper East Side at Boisson, a store that exclusively sells alcohol-free beer, wine and spirits (and accessories). Photo: Jennifer A. Kingson/Axios.

Interest in non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits has been soaring and is expected to far outlast "Dry January," the month when people typically swear off booze, Jennifer A. Kingson writes.

Why it matters: Companies big and small are doubling down on the mocktail market, which is being pitched as a healthful alternative for social drinkers who want to take a day off from their nightcap.

Driving the news: Sales of zero-alcohol drink substitutes used to be a blip on the radar screen, but now there are hundreds of brands — and even entire stores selling nothing but booze-free booze.

  • Katy Perry just came out with a new line of alcohol-free aperitifs called De Soi, telling People magazine, "I'm 37, so I definitely can't drink like I was in my 20s."
  • Dry January participation has grown to 19% of adults, driven by millennials, per Morning Consult.
  • Heineken has a pricey sponsorship with Formula 1 to promote Heineken 0.0 — and reinforce the message that you have to be sober if you want to drive.

A startup called Boisson has just opened five stores in upscale New York City neighborhoods that only sell high-end spirits, wines and beers without alcohol. Nick Bodkins, CEO and co-founder, tells Axios that store traffic and e-commerce sales are rising steadily and he'll expand into other markets this year.

  • Boisson sells 125 brands, including Thomson & Scott Noughty wines, Seedlip non-alcoholic spirits, Figlia aperitivos and Optimist non-alcoholic distilled spirits.
  • "This market is absolutely exploding," Bodkins says. "This is essentially a category that did not exist, but will exist going forward."
  • The pandemic prompted lots of people to examine their drinking habits and cut back, he said.
  • "Most of our customers are taking a night off or a drink off — they’re not saying 'I'm never going to drink again," Bodkins said.

By the numbers: NielsenIQ reported in October that sales of non-alcoholic beverages had increased 33%, to $331 million, in the last year.

  • Some products — like Katy Perry's and the line of booze substitutes from Curious Elixirs — boast that they contain "adaptogens," which are nontoxic plants said to help the body deal with stress.

What's next: Expect to see more high-end bars and restaurants — and prominent bartenders like Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero — proffering non-alcoholic drinks.

Read the full story

2. College enrollment plummets — again

Students on a mostly empty University of California-Irvine campus on Jan. 7. Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a 6.6% decline in undergraduate college enrollment— more than 1 million students — according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse's Research Center.

Why it matters: College enrollment has been on the decline for nearly a decade, but the pandemic is accelerating the trend, raising concerns about a possible generational shift in attitudes about higher education, Axios' Erin Doherty writes.

By the numbers: Undergraduate enrollment in fall 2021 fell 3.1% over the last year, or approximately 465,300 students, compared with the previous year, per the report.

  • Public two-year colleges remain the hardest hit sector, with a 13.2% drop since 2019.
  • Freshman enrollment stabilized in fall 2021 after a sharp decline in 2020. Still, enrollment among first-year students remains 9.2% lower than pre-pandemic levels.
  • Enrollment in each of the five largest majors — business, health, liberal arts, biology and engineering — fell sharply this year, with liberal arts declining the most, a 7.6% drop.
  • Graduate student enrollment dropped 0.4%, or 10,800 students.

The big picture: College enrollment has been on a downward trajectory since 2012.

What they're saying: "Our final look at fall 2021 enrollment shows undergraduates continuing to sit out in droves as colleges navigate yet another year of COVID-19," said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse's Research Center.

  • "Without a dramatic re-engagement in their education, the potential loss to these students’ earnings and futures is significant, which will greatly impact the nation as a whole in years to come."
3. Crypto jobs boom

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Here's an eye-popping stat: Cryptocurrency-related job postings in the U.S. surged 395% between 2020 and 2021, per a new LinkedIn report.

Why it matters: Job growth in crypto dramatically outpaced the wider tech industry, which saw a 98% jump in postings in the same period, Erica Pandey writes.

  • The most common crypto job postings were blockchain developer and engineer, LinkedIn notes.

The big picture: This jobs boom comes as investments are pouring into the industry. Venture capitalists invested a record $30 billion in crypto companies in 2021, according to PitchBook.

  • And in another sign of the times, Los Angeles has renamed its iconic Staples Center the Crypto.com Arena.
4. Park at your own risk

Fake QR codes in Austin, Texas, could divert drivers' parking fees. Photo courtesy of city of Austin.

New tech conveniences often bring new ways to rip you off, as we've seen recently in a few big Texas cities, Joann Muller writes.

What's happening: Scammers have been putting fake QR codes on parking meters to trick people into paying fraudulent vendors, Ars Technica writes, citing local news reports.

  • Stickers with fake QR codes first showed up on more than 100 parking pay stations in San Antonio, police said. Later, they were found in Austin and Houston too.

How it works: The QR codes intercepted people's parking fees by directing them to a "Quick Pay Parking" website at the domain passportlab.xyz, which is now offline.

  • It's not clear how many people fell victim by using their smartphone to scan the QR code rather than paying directly at the meter or with the city's mobile parking app.

What they're saying: "We don't use QR codes at all for this very reason, because they are easy to fake or place on the devices," Austin parking division manager Jason Redfern told KXAN.

The bottom line: This kind of scam can happen anywhere. Be cautious about scanning QR codes.

5. Reader photo of the day

Rivian's new R1T marks the start of a new era for electric pickup trucks. Photo: Michael Monteleone

What's Next: Eye-catching electric trucks

Michael Monteleone writes: "Gorgeous Rivian — spotted near Solvang, CA."

"I'm a retired teacher who was out walking with grandkids when we spotted this beauty. Didn't realize they were in production. This was a magnet for us.

"Although I admire Elon Musk, his [Tesla] cybertruck is a bit too cool. The Rivian has some classy lines but looks to be able to satisfy the truck population. I own a 2020 [Chevrolet] Bolt EV and — battery problems aside — it is the best car I have ever owned. All in on EVs!"

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