Athletic Brewing – Another Beyond Meat?

The following is an excerpt from my January 26 piece for the Food Institute.

Non-alcoholic (NA) beer is American consumer culture’s oldest social responsibility segment. Commercial, branded NA beer made its way into tens of thousands of bars and taverns by the 1990s in part as a soft form of legal defense ‘support’ for their retail and on-premise partners and due to pressure from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the rise of the Designated Driver movement. Beer giants had zero intention of scaling this segment. As we all know, alcohol consumption impairs inhibition and often generates rapid repeat purchases. This is a sales advantage the alcohol industry has no interest in torpedoing. Consider that fact when you assess the widely ridiculed ‘poor taste equivalency’ of NA beer offerings from this era.

And so, the half-hearted NA beer segment has barely cracked 1% of the U.S. beer market share after a half-century of broad distribution. Yet, you’ll find an NA tap handle almost everywhere. When older Americans (50+) were in college, drinking NA beer at a bar likely led to jokes and ribbing (especially among men). There was no widely diffused set of reasons to stand out from your buddies in this way. Choosing NA beer in public conferred two forms of stigma – a) recovered alcoholic and b) social loser.

The challenge Athletic Brewing (AB) faces is to find a new positioning for NA beer that makes it a modern, unstigmatized choice and avoid the trap of Beyond Meat. What trap is that?

The trap of:

  • not being a delicious alternative
  • framing itself purely as an alt-X
  • shoving product into distribution before strong repeat and HH retention had been established
  • losing symbolic and category focus
  • bloating its SG&A (due to lack of product focus)
  • not finding a clear outcome that matters in people’s personal lives
  • not switching its marketing mix after it hits scale

    If you want to read my full case study of Athletic Brewing, head on over to my latest piece for the Food Institute.
    (Image courtesy of Food Institute)

Dr. James Richardson

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