Sam Adams joins crowded nonalcoholic beer space with planned 2021 launch

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Dive Brief:

  • Boston Beer plans to launch a craft nonalcoholic brew in early 2021 with Samuel Adams Just the Haze. The company said in a statement it spent two years researching and brewing to create its hazy IPA.
  • Just the Haze will be sold in 12-ounce cans, six packs and single cans. Boston Beer said the brew has an upfront citrus aroma with hints of grapefruit, tangerine and lime, as well as tropical and stone fruit notes including pineapple, guava, melon and peach. 
  • The nonalcoholic beer space has been rapidly growing, with Boston Beer being the latest company to introduce a product. Earlier this year, Anheuser-Busch released its first zero-proof beer under the Budweiser brand called Budweiser Zero.

Dive Insight:

While some brewers may have been reluctant to enter the nonalcoholic beer space, its rapid growth in recent years has prompted some to take the plunge anyway.

“I may have once said that we would never brew a non-alcoholic (NA) beer, but I’ve learned over the years never to say never,” Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams, said in a statement. 

While nonalcoholic offerings represent a small slice of the American beer market — just 0.37% of dollar sales in grocery, convenience, liquor and other chain stores, according to IRI data cited by Goodbeerhunting — more companies are making sure they have a product in the space. AB InBev plans to have 20% of its global beer volumes coming from no- and low-alcohol beers by 2025. 

It’s no surprise, considering major beer companies have seen a multi-year slide in sales of their large brands. Efforts to expand into hard seltzers, ciders and even coffees haven’t been enough to offset the decline. Overall, according to IWSR, beer volume slipped 2.3% in 2019, its fourth straight year of declines. This was led by a 3.6% drop in domestic brews. At the same time, Global Market Insights estimated the nonalcoholic beer market would top $25 billion by 2024. 

In many cases, beer companies are mirroring what plant-based meat companies are doing when they introduce a product that simulates hamburger, chicken or another animal product It’s not enough to just to eschew meat; the substitute needs to have the same taste, look and texture as the real thing. Boston Beer and other companies introducing nonalcoholic brews are going to great lengths to tout how similar they are to real beer. 

Global Market Insights noted more than 25% of the European people prefer the taste of nonalcoholic beer over the conventional version. This underscores the need for “launching products with enhanced taste [that] will stimulate product adoption,” the firm said.

Boston Beer noted it has been keeping a watch on the international nonalcoholic beer space for years, “recognizing its significant growth as a wellness option.” Rather than rushing ahead with an offering, Boston Beer visited nonalcoholic breweries to learn about the technology, and reviewed hundreds of yeast strains to create an offering that had the flavors of a craft beer.

As more companies enter the space to satisfy growing consumer demand, the pressure will be on to create different styles of beer with unique flavors and names, much like what craft players have done during the last decade. So far, most of the nonalcoholic beers have come from large companies. Boston Beer’s Just the Haze could be just the beginning of more products coming on tap from craft and smaller-sized beer companies.

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