Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer Makers Athletic, Ceria Expand Distribution Footprints

Athletic Brewing Company and Ceria Brewing Company, two up-and-coming non-alcoholic craft beer companies, are expanding their footprints into several new states.

The moves follow both companies receiving investments earlier this year, with Stratford, Connecticut-based Athletic closing on a $17.5 million Series B funding round round, which brings its total capital raised to a little more than $20 million, and Arvada, Colorado-based Ceria raising $500,000, bringing its total raised to more than $5.5 million.

Athletic and Ceria are vying for more sales in a non-alcoholic beer segment in which dollar sales in off-premise retailers increased 23.3%, to $131.9 million, in 2019.

Off-premise dollar sales of non-alcoholic beer year-to-date have increased 40.7%, to $64.7 million, according to IRI data shared by Bump Williams Consulting. Driving some of that growth in the segment has been Heineken’s non-alcoholic offering, Heineken 0.0, which has increased dollar sales 318.5%, to more than $18.1 million, year-to-date through May 17 in multi-outlet and convenience store retailers tracked by IRI.

Nevertheless, the non-alcoholic beer segment trails other segments, with year-to-date dollar sales of cider ($171.7 million), the next closest segment, more than double those of non-alcoholic beer.

During the COVID-19 purchasing period (March 8 through May 24), dollar sales of non-alcoholic beer have increased 39.1%, to nearly $40 million, compared to the same time last year.

“I think it’s still just the discovery phase,” Athletic co-founder Bill Shufelt told Brewbound.

With an eye on capturing more of those sales, Athletic and Ceria announced this week major territory expansions.

As of June 1, Athletic’s non-alcoholic craft beers are available in

  • Texas via Ben E. Keith;
  • Washington and Oregon (and Sonoma and Marin counties in California) via Columbia Distributing;
  • California via Sheehan Family Companies’ Craft Los Angeles and Craft San Diego (from Los Angeles to the Mexico border);
  • New Jersey via Hunterdon (Sheehan);
  • Rhode Island via Horizon Beverage.

Additionally, Athletic will launch in Arizona via Crescent Crown on August 1.

Shufelt said many of the company’s existing chain partners — including Whole Foods, Wegmans, Trader Joe’s and Total Wine — are adding his company’s products to their locations in those expansion states.

“We’ll be expanding Wegmans into New Jersey, Trader Joe’s into Texas, and will be launching Safeway/Albertsons September 1 in the Pacific Northwest,” Shufelt said.

Helping supply that expansion is Athletic’s addition of a former Ballast Point production facility that came online May 15 and will have more than 100,000 barrels of capacity.

Shufelt added that Athletic’s e-commerce sales and shipments across the U.S. have helped insulate the business from the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, Athletic has donated 10% of its sales to the Restaurant Relief Fund, donating more than $100,000 to date.

Meanwhile, Ceria Brewing, which was founded by Blue Moon Belgian White creator Keith Villa and his wife Jodi in 2018, announced a series of distribution partnerships to sell its Grainwave Belgian White Ale and Indiewave IPA non-alcoholic beer offerings in bars, restaurants, and grocery and liquor stores in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In Massachusetts, Ceria will partner with Burke Distributing Company in the Boston area, Atlas Distributing in central Massachusetts, and Commercial Distributing in the western half of the state.

In Wisconsin, Ceria will work with the Frank Beverage Group, including Beer Capitol Distributing in Milwaukee, Frank Beer Distributors in Madison, and La Crosse Beverage in La Crosse.

Finally, in Pennsylvania, Ceria’s wholesalers include Banko Beverage Co. in Lehigh and Northampton counties, Muller in Philadelphia, Wilson-McGinley in the Pittsburgh area and LT Verrastro in the northeastern part of the state.

“These are our first distributor relationships for our NA craft beers and, as such, represent a substantial step forward for Ceria Brewing,” Keith Villa said in a press release.

“[I]f you look back just two years ago, NA beer represented about 0.5% of the total beer business and is projected to be 1-1.5% by 2025,” Ceria Brewing VP of business development Greg Miller added. “We look forward to becoming the leader in this strong performing category that has a very bright future ahead of it.”

Earlier this year, Ceria launched its two non-alcoholic beer offerings in more than 200 Total Wine locations across 24 states.

Grainwave and Indiewave both check in at less than 0.5% ABV, and 77 and 99 calories, respectively. Ceria originally launched with THC- and CBD-infused versions of its non-alcoholic beers, which are still being produced and sold in Denver area dispensaries.

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