The pandemic was like an oversized, commercial mower that traveled an erratic and unpredictable path through the craft beer landscape. Even the best analysts could not have predicted the impacts that would be felt because of this era’s essential plague. While people all over the world fled the streets and locked up in their homes, brewery owners, like so many other entrepreneurs, were left slack-jawed and overwhelmed. Fortunately, the forward-thinking, innovative spirits managed to keep the cogs of the industry turning when they threatened to seize. Many trends seemed to halt under the widespread blades of COVID-19, while other fads took root in the wreckage. Among the latter was an increased demand for alcohol-free (AF) craft beers.
The Notable Shift in Tastes
Lower alcohol by volume (low-ABV) brews were suddenly selling in greater numbers, and as new AF options took to the shelf, the American public was standing in wait, ready to grab them up and drink them down. So, why the shift in tastes? There was more than one factor at play.
Cause #1: COVID
The pandemic, of course, was keeping the partiers, hob-nobbers, and socialites at home. Instead of ordering their beers from the bar, they were buying them off their favorite grocery brands. Quenching thirsts and drowning worries, people were not shying away from craft beers, they were simply buying them in a different setting. In fact, the sales figures seemed to be on the rise, and much of this was blamed on the public’s loosening of societal rules surrounding drinking. Suddenly, people were open to drinking more and more often. The troubles, of course, were that hangovers didn’t look any better on camera than they did in person, and other pastimes were resulting in an onslaught of virtual gender reveals.
Cause #2: Better Brews
While boredom and stress pushed people to consume more of their favorite alcoholic beverages, craft brewers were riding a wave that had started to build prior to the coronavirus — creating non-alcoholic crafts that tasted more like the real deal and less like a water-downed imitation. Already, brewers were packing big flavor, and heady hops in low-ABV beers, so it wasn’t a far stretch to reach alcohol-free status.
Cause #3: Wanna-Be Wells
It wasn’t just the pregnant and the hungover that were wishing for a great AF option. The millennials didn’t let go of their fitness and health passion just because doors were closing. Low– and no calorie options are a great fit for a generation that values skinny waistlines. Those who were to survive the first and subsequent sweeps of the pandemic’s reach were the brewers that could shift their operations and their marketing to match the dizzying change of direction.
With so much at play, it’s not so surprising (in hindsight) that 2020 became the year of the AF craft beer. There was remarkable growth in the niche. Sales figures sored, and the year rounded out with a increase of 38% improvement on the bottom line. Yet, there is still plenty of room for continued expansion in 2021 and beyond. In this country, the AF niche holds less than 1% of the total beer market. Yet, in European markets, the share is more than five times greater.