In the 1970s hit “Everything Old is New Again,” Peter Allen sings “Dreams can come true again, when everything old is new again.” Thanks to innovators in the non-alcohol beer space, entrepreneurs are showing how dedication and creativity have helped make this segment “new again.” Among those driving interest in alcohol-free beer is Stratford, Conn.-based Athletic Brewing Co. Bill Shufelt, Athletic Brewing co-founder and CEO, notes that as new players and veteran brands have expanded their non-alcohol (NA) offerings, the beer segment has experienced massive growth. Growth that Shufelt prognosticates will only continue to disrupt the market ― in a good way.
“The tailwinds are enormous for the category and they’re just getting going ― health, mindfulness, being in control, better sleep, improved interpersonal communications ― these are all things that should be wind in the sails of this category for decades to come,” he says. “We think non-alcoholic beer will be 10% of the overall beer market in five years and 20% in 10 years. Non-alcoholic beer is the first credible occasion growth driver for the beer category (and adult beverages) in 25 years. Athletic Brewing is opening beer drinking occasions up from very specific hours of the day on Friday and Saturday to an any day, any time beverage.”
As Shufelt notes, the conscious choices by consumers to embrace mindful drinking has fueled the alcohol-free beer market. However, the resurgence of craft beer also is playing a role in this burgeoning segment.
“Over the past 12 months, we have seen significant growth and interest in the NA industry, with more millennials actively reducing their alcohol intake, and those numbers are expected to rise again in 2022, as health and wellness remains top of mind for millions of Americans,” Shufelt explains. “And with craft non-alcoholic beer sales continuing to rise ― up 100% [year-to-date] ― Athletic Brewing leads the market with over 50% share (51%), far outweighing their competitors, as well as about 11% share of the overall U.S. non-alcoholic beer category.”
Living a healthier lifestyle
Perhaps what has fueled Athletic Brewing’s success is the personal significance that stems from its creation.
“Athletic brewing emerged from an authentic need in my life,” Shufelt says. “I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle and decided that alcohol wasn’t a part of it anymore. I started looking for better NA alternatives but couldn’t find anything on the market that held up to the standards of a good craft beer. It was actually my wife who saw the potential in my off-handed comment about how someone should make a great non-alcoholic beer.
“I had no inclination whatsoever that the ‘someone’ would be me,” he continues. “A ton of research later, I found that nobody was really doing it well worldwide, and there was an enormous opportunity both economically and in impact to start from scratch and build something truly special.”
That something special begins with Athletic Brewing being a U.S. brewery solely dedicated to non-alcohol beers. Beyond this distinction, the company’s quality and taste is what keeps consumers coming back for more.
“Our NA beers stack up against the full-strength alcoholic beers and continuously beat them in national beer tasting competitions,” Shufelt says. “Notable recent awards include the back-to-back wins at the U.S. Open Beer Awards where our Run Wild IPA took home the gold medal recently, and two of the three category medals at the Great American Beer Festival.”
That award-winning brew is “leading the charge” among Athletic Brewing’s portfolio of flagship offerings, Shufelt notes. But true to the craft beer ethos, the alcohol-free brewer is active in releasing seasonal offerings and even expanded with a sessionable light alcohol-free beer.
“We also have a number of seasonal and limited addition brews that our loyal customers look forward to,” he says. “And we just launched our newest flagship, Athletic Lite, in March as a need we saw in the market as well as from listening to our customers and distributors that they were looking for a refreshing, easy-drinking light beer.”
Highlighting that Athletic Brewing truly is driven by what its customers want, Shufelt elaborates how that motivator inspired the Athletic Lite creation.
“We take their feedback seriously and implement it in any way we can,” he says. “Athletic Lite stemmed from customer and distributor surveys that pointed to a lighter brew, every day, any time beverage, set to compete with the other light, easy-to-drink pilsners on the market, but with an NA twist.”
Athletic Brewing isn’t just focused on alcohol-free beers. Shufelt highlights that the company also is active in adjacent categories with its Daypack brand.
“We also have our Daypack hopped sparkling water, which has been a smash hit in its first year on the market, and we’ve already begun expanding distribution this year,” he says. “It’s a zero-calorie beverage that people can seek for refreshment anytime, anywhere to replace more mass and boring sparkling water options.”
The craft brewer also shows no signs of slowing down adding to its innovative lineup.
“We released over 45 limited release offerings on our website athleticbrewing.com last year, and released about four new beers per month there,” Shufelt says. “The most popular will make it to retail shelves. As for adjacent categories like our Daypack Sparkling Water, our 10-year product plan has a few potential huge launches.”
Reaching new heights
As Athletic Brewing looks to support consumers’ mindful drinking occasions, the brand has targeted important sports moments to get the word out.
“During our launch of Athletic Lite this past March, we had the honor of working with ESPN’s iconic broadcaster, Scott Van Pelt, as the voice over talent for our TV and radio commercials,” Shufelt says. “With such a recognizable voice, we saw great success in that entire campaign throughout March Madness, which is where the commercial played to drive home the messaging around Athletic Lite being the best light, easy drinking brew for the everyday athlete.”
Athletic Brewing also directed marketing capital in a winter Olympics commercial earlier this year as well as in major markets, he adds.
These directives come as the company has ramped up its distribution footprint in the past year with more opportunities on the horizon.
“In short order, we will be distributed in all 50 states,” Shufelt says. “In 2021, Athletic expanded distribution to Australia, Canada, the UK, France, Ireland and Spain. We intend to fill out Europe, and launch in Japan and Brazil this next year.
“As for U.S. distribution, we can be found in the following major retailers: Whole Foods, Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, Safeway, Total Wine, BevMo, GoPuff, Harris Teeter, HEB, Sprouts and Trader Joes, and many more,” he continues. “We have a store finder on our website.”
These efforts come as Athletic Brewing foresees more occasions where non-alcohol beer will align with modern lifestyles. This will help alcohol-free expand beyond its current 1% beer market share, and Athletic Brewing plans to play a vital role in that upcoming journey.
“For Athletic Brewing, we aim to make incredible beers that fit in a healthy adult lifestyle anytime and anywhere, constantly surprising and delighting our customers, and having a positive impact on their health and community,” Shufelt concludes.