Connecticut-based Athletic Brewing Co. produces only nonalcoholic (NA) beer and has announced a commanding list of high-profile backers. It includes pro football stars J.J. Watt and Justin Tuck, Momofuku founder David Chang, and bicycling legend Lance Armstrong, as well as Tom’s Shoes LLC founder Blake Mycoskie. The celebrity backers have been invested in Athletic for as long as three years. Their involvement in the brand hadn’t previously been announced. In 2020, the wave of celebrity-backed booze showed no sign of cresting, from Peyton Manning’s Tennessee whiskey to Bruno Mars’s tropical rum. And let’s not forget Ryan Reynolds’s $610 million sale of Aviation Gin to Diageo Plc. So far this year, the product attracting big name money is alcohol-free.
“It’s cool to have famous athletes and chefs, who might have once made fun of NA beer, get behind it and support it,” says co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Bill Shufelt about the transformation of a category most people consider “a small, penalty-box market.”
Shufelt sees 2021 as an expansion year. The beers are newly available in Canada, and by the end of the first quarter the brand will also be sold in the U.K., the European Union, and Australia. Based on fourth-quarter sales, he says that doing three times the company’s $15 million revenue “is a reasonable expectation.”
The NA beer category has seen major growth during the pandemic, despite news early on that alcohol consumption had jumped. Athletic’s sales grew about 500% in 2020, compared with the previous year, from $2.5 million to about $15 million in revenue. Last year the overall nonalcoholic beer market grew almost 39%, to around $187 million, according to the market research company IRI. The craft beer segment of the category grew more than 300%, of which Athletic has a 61% market share, said Shufelt in a Jan. 12 interview on Bloomberg Radio’s Bloomberg Businessweek show.