Lost in the shuffle, perhaps, of our latest coronavirus-related woes is the fact that one segment of what is technically the “alcohol” market is seeing some serious growth, even during a pandemic that has cut the legs out from the rest of the industry. Despite everything arrayed against it, non-alcoholic beer is continuing to have a moment.
As quarantines related to the pandemic began, those analyzing the market theorized on whether or not we might see a boom of alcohol consumption, as bored Americans sat at home with relatively little to do. The quarantines did indeed lead to increased home consumption of alcohol, in turn leading to increased sales from supermarkets and package stores, but this is only part of the story. Overall, alcohol consumption is still down, because the increase in sales from package stores fails to offset the loss of consumption at bars, restaurants and everywhere else alcohol is typically sold. According to data from
IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, this puts us on track for a year where the entire alcohol market shrinks by 1.8%, after it had grown by .3% in 2019.
The numbers for various types of alcohol are particularly scary for the health of specific industries. The overall beer market, for instance, is projected to be down 3.7% in 2020, it’s fifth straight annual drop. In 2019, the beer market declined by 2.0%. Wine, meanwhile, is expected to be down 2.1%, while cider would be down 5.7%. Spirits would just barely stay on the positive side, growing .3%, but that’s well down from 2019’s overall growth of 3.1%.
The areas that are growing? They include the “ready-to-drink” category, which contains hard seltzers such as White Claw and Truly, which is expected to climb 21.9% in 2020, after a 43.1% surge in 2019. But also putting up some impressive numbers? Non-alcoholic beer, projected to grow 32.5% in 2020, after shooting up an incredible 71.6% in 2019.
The recovery of the alcohol market is expected to take years, but non-alcoholic beer is now marking its territory, staking a claim to a more robust share of the pie (and accompanying shelf space) than it’s ever possessed before. The overall N/A beer market is still quite tiny—less than 2% of the overall beer market—but craft beer was in a similar space not all that long ago, and it’s now 14% of the beer market by volume, and almost a quarter of the market in terms of dollars. It’s no wonder that retailers such as Total Wine have reportedly doubled the shelf space given to N/A brands this year, as they seek to take advantage of the same health-conscious market that has enabled the massive rise of hard seltzer. N/A beer, however, takes things a step farther, by concerning itself with alcohol content in addition to calories and carbs.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the N/A beer scene has developed more noteworthy products in recent years, either, supplanting the tired old non-alcoholic beers of yore. On the mass-market side, Heineken 0.0 legitimately impressed us, being for all intents and purposes a better-tasting version of the original Euro lager. But major craft breweries have gotten into the game as well, expanding the variety of the category with entries like Brooklyn Brewery’s tasty, non-alcoholic amber lager Special Effects. At the same time, breweries focusing entirely on non-alcoholic beer have also been making names for themselves, including Athletic Brewing Co. and WellBeing Brewing. A day has finally come when palatable, N/A versions of styles such as IPA and stout are no longer a pipe dream, and more and more drinkers seem to be finding ways to work those N/A beers into their regular drinking habits.
As far as we’re concerned, this is all good news. N/A beer is a valuable option that has long been underserved, and it’s exciting to see more products in this sphere finally start living up to expectations.