One of the world’s largest brewers raised some eyebrows recently when it traded its iconic green label for a blue one—the color often used as an indicator for nonalcohol beer.
Heineken’s 0.0, a nonalcohol lager, will be available in 14 markets this year. The company cited a 5% compound annual growth rate from 2010 to 2015 in the nonalcohol segments in Europe and Russia as one of the reasons behind the new product.
Though the company said it has no plans to introduce 0.0 stateside, the overseas rollout raises the question of whether the United States could see similar growth in the $11.2 million nonalcohol segment anytime soon.
Take the long view, and alcohol-free beer is not exactly flourishing. For the year ending Dec. 24, 2016, convenience-store dollar sales of nonalcohol beer were down 12.4% vs. the prior year, according to IRI data. Top brands such as O’Doul’s (down 15.9%) and Busch NA (down 11%) struggled.
"I don’t see any potential growth in a category that’s been dying for 25 years,” says Eric Schmidt, director of alcohol research for Beverage Marketing Corp., New York, comparing the prospect to “pushing a rock uphill.”
“There is a chance [for brewers in] stagnant segments to do well, but you really have to differentiate your product,” he said. However, a closer look at recent data reveals a sliver of growth in the very area a company such as Heineken might be primed to exploit. “There does appear to be an opportunity in convenience stores for imported nonalcohol beers,” says Dan Wandel, senior vice president of Chicago-based IRI’s Beverage Alcohol Market Insights Group.
IRI data for the year ending May 14, 2017, shows imported nonalcohol beers grew dollar and volume sales by 8.7% and 9%, respectively, in convenience stores. The overall category, meanwhile, was down 6.5% in dollar sales and 7.2% in volume sales during the same period.
Those numbers come with a caveat: Imported nonalcohol beers make up a little less than 5% of volume share in the already relatively small nonalcohol subcategory.
Wandel says he wasn’t aware of any new brands in particular that might be driving the increase in imports. Nonetheless, the uptick represents a potential step forward in nonalcohol beer’s steep climb.
Click through to see two additional new nonalcohol releases slated for release in the coming year.