Anheuser-Busch InBev, which will soon make almost 30% of the world’s beer, wants to serve more low and alcohol-free brews to drinkers trying to live a healthier lifestyle.
The Belgium-based brewer, on the verge of buying its largest rival SABMiller, has forecast lower and zero strength beer will grow from a small base to make up 20% of its sales by the end of 2025.
That is a bold target. Industry monitor Plato Logic says beer of up to 2.8% alcohol by volume had only a modest 2.5% share in 2014, although annual growth was 4% to 6% versus just 1% for beer as a whole.
Brewers pioneered non-alcoholic beer in the 1980s and 1990s, with only limited success.
This time they believe they have two game-changers — sustainable consumer demand and a product that actually tastes like regular beer.
AB InBev, best known for its Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona brands, has committed $1bn (€900m) to reducing alcohol abuse, with pilot projects to start in six cities later this year.
It will spend far more than that on developing new low alcohol products of up to 3.5%, or “no-alcohol” products of 0.5% and lower.
Its latest, 0.0% Budweiser Prohibition Beer, launched in Canada in May as a possible prelude to its sale in larger markets.
Faced with the rising challenge from smaller craft brewers and limited growth of mature markets, major brewers hope weak beer is a sector where they can rapidly expand.
“The higher alcohol segment is largely covered by craft,” said Euromonitor senior drinks analyst Spiros Malandrakis.
“The mainstream boys have decided to go to a segment that is less saturated.”
The attraction is clear, with potentially stronger growth and fatter margins as brewers sell non- alcoholic products at the same price or more than a regular beer, but pay far lower or no excise tax.
InBev is not alone. Carlsberg chief Cees ‘t Hart said in March the Danish company wanted to be a leader in non-alcoholic beverages, noting more rapid growth in that niche.
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