Boston Beer Co. says it will start selling a nonalcoholic beer early next year, joining a growing list of brewers tapping into the market for beer without the buzz.
The alcohol-free Just the Haze comes after similar moves by industry giants Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Budweiser and Molson-Coors Beverage Co.
“I may have once said that we would never brew a nonalcoholic beer, but I’ve learned over the years never to say never,” said Jim Koch, the founder of Sam Adams, in a statement. “I’m extremely proud to enter the NA race, and we’re ready to take it to the top.”
Nonalcoholic beer volume in the United States grew by about 72 percent in 2019 while overall the total beer category fell by 2 percent, according to IWSR, a London firm that follows beverage markets worldwide.
Experimenting with beverages outside of beer is nothing new for Boston Beer. Its revenue has increased in recent years because of its Truly Hard Seltzer and Twisted Tea sales, while Samuel Adams and its Angry Orchard cider have declined in sales.
IWRS forecasts nonalcoholic beer volume in the United States will grow by 102.5 percent by 2024. The trend is being fueled by younger consumers who want to avoid the negative effects of alcohol without giving up the taste of beer, said Bill Shufelt, founder of Connecticut-based Athletic Brewing Co., which only sells nonalcoholic beer.
“The old perception of nonalcoholic beer is that it is for you when you can’t participate in the fun — if you are the designated driver, if you have a medical condition, if you are a recovering alcoholic,” he said. “We want to elevate that to a positive... there are a lot of modern, healthy consumers looking for great beer that they can fit into all different occasions of their life.”
Shufelt said Athletic Brewing’s sales are up over 500 percent from last year and the company distributes its products in about 30 states. He said the entry of brewers such Boston Beer to the market will help the category grow as a whole.
But in contrast to how quickly some Massachusetts craft brewers were able to successfully launch hard seltzer and hard cider lines, it won’t be as easy for small brewers to start selling nonalcoholic beer. Christian McMahan, president of Wachusett Brewing Co., said the “cost of entry is high for anyone not at massive scale, to even think about.”
“The technology needed, depending on your approach, could be close to $1 million,” he said. “If that is your core plan and your platform, that makes sense, but your average craft brewery can’t just do a side brand.”
“I still think it is early days for the category,” McMahan said. “But with someone like Boston Beer coming in, it is going to be interesting to see how [the market] responds.”