Can Functional Beer Bolster No & Low Alcohol?

The recent launch of Corona Sunbrew, a 0.0% alcohol beer with added vitamin D has made quite an impact with industry commentators, helping ‘functional beer’ gain visibility as a new no & low alcohol innovation trend. But is it the right move for a category that still needs to convince drinkers that it’s serious about beer? Andrew Wardlaw, MMR’s Chief Ideas Officer weighs the arguments.

Launching Corona Sunbrew in January was a sure-fire strategy. The brand’s associations with sunny beaches, social jollity, and zesty limes is exactly what everyone needs to be reminded of when it’s -3C outside. AB InBev says the launch ‘proudly showcases our ability to find solutions, gaps, and opportunities for growth as a brand’, and it could be said that this launch ushers in new a era for the no & low alcohol beer category.

The wider no & low sector is still finding its feet. It’s still less than 4% of the size of alcohol. That said, it certainly still punches above its weight in terms of creativity and product innovation. Industry analysts IWSR have just released forecasts that predict +8% CAGR to 2025 compared to regular alcohol at just +0.7%. In a world where health is becoming more important, it’s easy to spot the rationale behind this forecast.

In this moment, where a new consumer landscape is forming in response to a pandemic, could no & low beer, which is by far the biggest sector in ‘alt alcohol’, tip more drinkers into trial by jumping on the functional health bandwagon? It’s a move that changes the conversation away from what’s been removed to the perceived health credentials from what’s been added.

Corona’s new stablemate makes a statement that no & low beer is not just healthier, but healthful – and it could be popping up soon in a gym near you.

Conversely, could the addition of vitamins and minerals and the latest trendy ingredients railroad the integrity of the beer itself? One outspoken critic told that Corona’s move ‘seems to play to people’s gullibility and also the lie we tell ourselves that something is good for us. A bit like meatless burgers that bleed or milk that has never been in a cow.’

It’s a valid point but I believe that if a liquid experience truly delivers – where provenance, sustainability, and social purpose are woven into the fabric of the proposition – then there is every chance that functional alt beer will resonate with the new generation of drinkers and build momentum for the sector.

Anything that helps no & low distance itself from the notion that it’s a watered down substitute for the real thing is a good thing. Adding function adds permission to try and gives millennials one more reason to brag about being sober.

With Millennials more likely to brag about being sober than being drunk, and Gen Z famously drinking less, but better, here are a few functional beers that may strike accord. They really are the first of a new generation of no & low beers and have been selected because they’re all decent brews!

Corona Sunbrew (Canada, soon available globally)

Its makers, AB InBev believe that by 2025, 20% of its beer sales will come from no & low innovation. Promising ‘Sunshine, anytime’ the addition of vitamin D is a masterstroke. Not only does it reinforce the brand’s distinctive assets, but it’s a nod to scientific studies that show that vitamin D can be effective against upper respiratory infections from the pandemic of the same name.

Corona Sunbrew has been developed from Corona Extra by extracting the alcohol and then blending with Vitamin D and natural flavours to reach the final recipe.
Dry Run (Canada)

This hazy-gold pale ale is light and crisp with notes of mango and citrus. ‘All pop, no wobble’ claims the Rally Beer Company, who make it. ‘Post sweat, mid-sweat, or no sweat’ this beer is ‘crafted to be super crushable, packed with electrolytes, and perfectly primed for every occasion.’

The idea of fitness beers is not new, but it can be a hard thing to land. Another brand, FitBeer, which offered hoppy refreshment with only 66 calories has come and gone in the U.K.

Healthy beer creates perfect conditions for cognitive dissonance – the mental discomfort we experience by holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. It means that brands are best advised to hold back on making claims – even when they’re allowed.

Fungtn Chaga Lager (U.K)

Fighting to give no & low beer a good name, enter the Fungtn Brewing Company in London, which has chosen to add functional mushrooms to its beers. Launched in late 2020, this product features the chaga mushroom, which is considered to support immunity as well as lower cholesterol and blood sugar. A stablemate with lion’s mane is also available.

Without doubt, the addition of functional mushrooms adds edginess. And for taste delivery, says that ‘it doesn’t have the simple characteristics of a typical pale ale, but it’s a decent beer nonetheless.’
Lowdown Lager (U.K)

Instead of mushrooms, this beer from London based brewery Hop and Hemp taps into the world of CBD for its street cred. It’s an aromatic brew that delivers 8mg of CBD per 100ml.

Tasting notes include biscuit and cracker maltiness with a touch of caramel and dab of honey, the hops offer dried herbs and white pepper. It’s clean and simple to drink yet offers enough complexity to put it ahead of your average lager.
Kirin Karada Free (Japan)

Launched just before the world went into lockdown, the maker of Kirin makes the boldest claim yet: a beer that reduces your belly size. Cognitive dissonance overload.

The product contains an acid derived from fermented hop extract that has the remarkable effect of reducing abdominal fat. To test the claim, the company ran trials with 200 men and women with raised BMIs. They drank one can a day for 12 weeks and a control cell drank a placebo. Those who drank Kirin Karada Free achieved a reduction in their total abdominal fat between 7-8 square centimetres greater than those who didn't. You couldn’t make it up.
Functional future

Functional beer is here to stay. Probably. The question is, is it the ticket for getting no & low beer into many more baskets? My reckoning is that it will grow to be a substantial sub-sector providing the integrity of the liquid experience remains the top priority. Else, function will only lead to fad.

I genuinely believe that functional mushrooms are a boon for no & low breweries looking to provide consumers with a booze free buzz. That said, it will be important that product positioning and packaging banishes any negative preconceptions on taste.

More home based lifestyles have so far benefited no & low beer. Nearly 2/3 of occasions are domestic according to IWSR. But we must also remember that the majority of no & low consumption is from people who also drink alcohol. So, great beer first, function second!

Get this right and I think that functional beer will propel this fledgling category into more people’s hands, shifting perceptions from ‘substitute’ to ‘supportive’.

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