Functional craft beers have entered the marketplace and are offering active consumers and athletes a refreshing way to refuel after training workouts or marathons, according to Fast Company.
As an indicator of the category potential, Sierra Nevada Brewing acquired Sufferfest Beer in February. The San Francisco-based startup, which launched in 2016, is focused on producing functional beer. It's the only acquisition craft brewer Sierra Nevada has ever made.
Sufferfest, named for an endurance race or hard workout, makes low-gluten FKT pale ale, which stands for "Fastest Known Time," plus Shakeout Blonde Ale, Taper IPA, Flyby Pilsner and Repeat Kolsch-style beer. They contain black currant, bee pollen and sea salt, depending on the variety.
The concept of healthier, better-for-you beers may seem like an oxymoron, but the trend appears to be catching on with consumers who appreciate functional ingredients. These beers could be poised for nationwide distribution now that Sierra Nevada, which is the nation's third-largest craft brewery, acquired Sufferfest.
Sufferfest founder Caitlin Landesberg, who's a long-distance trail runner, told Fast Company she wanted to make beer that runners could celebrate a race with — and benefit from. The FKT pale ale has low gluten levels and is brewed with black currant and sea salt to supply the electrolytes and sugars runners need to help them recover after a race.
According to Healthyish, Landesberg said she wanted to create "the Gatorade of beers" when she launched Sufferfest three years ago.
Others companies that have entered the functional beer space include Delaware's Dogfish Head, Boston's Harpoon Brewery and Zelus Beer Co., and Colorado's Avery Brewing. Connecticut-based Athletic Brewing sells non-alcoholic beer at a taproom and distributing on the East Coast and online direct to consumers. And Boston Beer Company has 26.2 Brew, a marathon-inspired beer made with Himalayan sea salt and coriander, 9 grams of carbs and 120 calories.
Big brewers may have an incentive to jump on the functional beer bandwagon since many of them could use a sales boost. While not all consumers are looking for functional ingredients in their beer, it might help to add marketing appeal and smarter positioning to a category that's seen slumping volumes for the past five years.
U.S. drinkers have been moving away from domestic lagers and turning to craft beers, Mexican imports and wine and spirits. As a result, total beer shipments dropped by 1.3% in 2017, with declines coming to major domestic brands — Budweiser (-6.8%), Coors Light (-4.1%), Miller Lite (-2.8%) and the most popular U.S. brand, Bud Light (-5.7%).
These name brands could see a boost from adding some of these unusual ingredients to their beer as a way to differentiate themselves from competitors and draw younger and more active consumers. The change could result in improved sales and reignited interest in a category that could metaphorically gain strength from more exercise and regular workouts.