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Athletic Brewing Lands $50M as Non-Alcoholic Beer Market Grows

Athletic Brewing Lands $50M as Non-Alcoholic Beer Market Grows

The NA beer brand has quickly gained a foothold in major retailers as consumers increasingly embrace non-alcoholic drink options

Cheers are in order – non-alcoholic ones, that is.

Athletic Brewing Company has completed a $50 million equity financing round headed by General Atlantic to support its long-term growth as consumers reach for cans of its non-alcoholic beer. Existing investors were also part of the round.

The NA beer brand recently purchased a third U.S. brewing facility, its second in San Diego, with another situated in Milford, Connecticut. The brand plans to renovate the new San Diego facility, which will feature a new packaging line. The renovations will take about eighteen months, but once operational, Athletic Brewing says it expects to double its U.S. brewing capacity.

“We’re thrilled to welcome General Atlantic as a key growth partner at a time when we’re significantly expanding our West Coast capacity to meet increasing demand for Athletic beer,” Athletic Brewing co-founder and CEO Bill Shufelt said. “We are passionate about transforming the way modern adults drink and converting critics into believers. We’re at the start of a long-term trend, and we couldn’t be more excited to have General Atlantic by our side as Athletic begins its next phase of growth.”

Shufelt left his position at a hedge fund in 2017 to co-launch what is now America’s number-one NA beer brand with John Walker, a craft brewer, but the climb to the top was no small feat. Convincing investors about the viability of tasty non-alcoholic beer was nearly impossible, with over a hundred venture capitalists reportedly passing on the idea. 

Athletic Brewing co-founders John Walker (l) and Bill Shufelt (credit: Athletic Brewing Company)

By 2022, Keurig Dr. Pepper purchased a $50 million minority stake in the NA beer brand, which has done the seemingly impossible in creating award-winning brews and marketing Athletic Brewing as a trendy (and healthier) alternative to traditional beer. The brand produced 875 barrels in 2018; by 2023, it had sold over 258,000 barrels.

It’s found a home at retailers like Whole Foods Market, cases of Athletic Brewing displayed with packaging that depicts a sense of adventure — landscapes of rolling hills, a sun peeking above mountains, a surfboard among the waves. The brand has become Whole Foods Market’s top-selling beer.

In 2023, Jet Blue became the first major U.S. airline to sell non-alcoholic beer at 35,000 feet following a partnership with the brand. Athletic Brewing has also partnered with fitness wearable company Whoop to encourage people to ‘Give Dry a Try,’ and counts former NFL players JJ Watt, Justin Tuck and athlete Lance Armstrong among its investors. 

credit: Athletic Brewing Company

Part of Athletic Brewing’s success can likely be attributed to the brand’s non-judgemental approach to drinking — one that celebrates sobriety if that’s a chosen path, but also a ‘flex sober’ philosophy, where there is room (and flexibility) for both NA and traditional beers. 

The new round values Athletic Brewing at around $800 million, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

Eyeing International Expansion

While Athletic Brewing has become a household name in the U.S. as it leads the NA beer category, General Atlantic managing director and global head of consumer Andrew Crawford noted that the brand is well-positioned to take advantage of the expanding global demand for NA beer. 

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“We intend to leverage our international platform and capabilities across technology, digital marketing, and merchandising to help the business achieve its potential,” Crawford said. 

Non-Alcoholic Drinks Gain Ground

The future looks bright for non-alcoholic beverages, buoyed by Gen Z’s interest in better-for-you food, beverages and low or alcohol-free drinks.

Major beer brands have launched NA beers, including Guinness, Sam Adams, Corona, Heineken and more.

Solidcore founder and entrepreneur Anne Mahlum is bullish on the alcohol-free space, recently investing in herbal remedy startup Apothékary, which sells products like herbal red wine alternatives.

“The mocktail industry is going to continue to become more robust,” she predicted in a wide-ranging interview with Athletech News in April. 

“People are really waking up — especially for those folks who work out — about how much alcohol is undoing all of the progress that they’re trying to make with the food that they eat and the work that they’re putting in the gym,” Mahlum said.

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