Athletic Brewing launches light beer to compete with major macro-breweries

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Athletic Brewing, a leader in non-alcoholic beer, is launching a light beer – crisp and drinkable, free flavor but no proof. Athletic Lite is just 25 calories and 5 carbs (plus zero hangovers, as the brand claims).

The alcohol-free iteration is meant to compete with its tougher counterparts, namely the industry’s Michelob Ultra, Bud Light, Miller and Coors Light.

While the product seems like a natural progression for the brand’s portfolio, it’s an entirely new product in the alcohol-free space. There are no-proof IPAs and no-alcohol sours, but the NA space is devoid of low-calorie and low-carb options.

“The craft beer world – let alone the non-alcoholic craft beer world – is a relatively small part of the beer world,” says Athletic co-founder Bill Shufelt. “We want to reach the huge landscape of macro light beer drinkers with a very high quality product.”

But making a high-tasting, light-touch beer had its trials – the beer took 18 months to come to fruition. “We needed to capture the classic flavors, body, aroma and taste of a light beer in a non-alcoholic form,” says Shufelt co-founder John Walker.

The resulting beer is made with organic grains, rice, and classic German hops, “so we get those bright, floral, spicy characteristics of an American lager,” Walker continues. “It took probably 50, 60 iterations of the same mix before we were happy with it, and before we learned how to scale it.”

The launch of Athletic Lite will be bolstered by an omnichannel media campaign, thanks to a media agreement with CBS Sports in key markets. This is the first major non-alcoholic beer campaign of this type.

SportsCenter’s Scott Van Pelt will tout the appeal of light beer in ads, with March Madness players complementing the social media campaign.

“It’s going to introduce a lot of new people to the category in a really accessible format,” says Shufelt. “We are so excited about what this beer will do as a gateway into the category.”

The launch of the new product comes after three very successful funding rounds for the brewery. A recently closed Series C boosted the brewery’s output by $50 million, thanks to high-profile investors like TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, Momofuku’s David Chang and Lance Armstrong.

Capabilities like these have given the brewery the fuel to pursue new innovations. After Series C, Athletic opened a 150,000-barrel brewery in San Diego, the former home of Ballast Point. The facility will help the brand launch into the overseas market, while the brewery’s third location is only a few months away.

“Building manufacturing capacity is expensive,” says Shufelt. “That’s the big differentiator with Athletic. We make all of our own beers in our own facilities. Beyond every step of the production process, every touch point – from brewing to quality control to marketing – is carried out by our team in our buildings.

While Athletic’s beers are tasty regardless of the evidence, their success is rooted in a shift in consumer preferences.

“5 or 10 years ago,” says Shufelt, “the existing non-alcoholic beer category was largely made up of people who fell into this penalty zone of people who couldn’t drink for specific reasons; maybe they got old, or maybe they had medical reasons.

Now, non-alcoholic consumers fall under a realm of reasons, be it moderation, newly discovered mindfulness, or a jumble of other reasons. Nielsen data indicates that 66% of Gen Z and Millennials are actively reducing their alcohol consumption. “It shows in our data,” Shufelt says. 80% of Athletic customers are under 44, while half are under 35.

Consumers are aware of their habits; they’re not just abstaining – they’re people looking to switch between being alcoholic and not in a bar, or opting for a beer after work that won’t impact their night.

“It’s a light, crisp, clean, crushable beer,” says Shufelt. “There are so many times of the day when light beers like this make sense. As a brand, we are trying to expand who can drink these products and at what times of the day. »

The retail trade reflects this. “We’ve been able to say yes to so many retailers over the past few years,” says Shufelt. “We’re seeing amazing retail partners making big bets on their alcohol-free space.”

Down the road, the brand is chasing the hard seltzer market with its first beer-free carbonated version. While canned bubbles started out as a thirst quencher for brewery staff, demand soared. “There are so many parallels with the non-alcoholic beer category,” says Shufelt. “For the most part, this falls into a category of very massive, pretty boring, non-premium offerings. We wanted to offer something premium with subtle hop flavors.

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