Zatec, a brewery in Czechoslovakia, has partnered with a local breast advocacy group called Mamma HELP and advertising agency Y&R Prague to create an alcohol-free beer for chemotherapy patients. According to Adweek, Mamma Beer has extra vitamin B and potassium to help fortify breast cancer patients and a sweeter flavor to counter changes in taste that often result from chemo treatments.
Project backers said they asked nine breweries to develop the beer, but only Zatec accepted. The brewery took about six months to create the final product. The limited-edition beer is only available in local pharmacies in the Czech Republic and online through the Mamma HELP website. It also was distributed at no charge to oncology hospitals and at eight Mamma HELP centers, Adweek reported.
"Doctors often recommend drinking beer, in moderation, to get some nutrition and vitamins," Tereza Sverakova, a breast cancer survivor and chief creative officer of Y&R Prague, told Adweek. "It really does help, but the taste is just so bitter! So, we thought it would be great to develop beer specifically for women undergoing chemo."
Chemotherapy impacts taste and appetite in different ways depending on the person, but often it imparts a metallic or chemical taste. It also can make foods and beverages taste bland.
To respond to this problem, food and beverage companies have begun developing functional products that deliver convenience and the extra protein, vitamins and minerals that cancer patients need to keep up their strength. Hormel Foods, Danone and Nestlé have all introduced product lines designed for this niche category. Hormel Health Labs has its Vital Cuisine brand of high-protein shakes, meals and whey powders developed with the Cancer Nutrition Consortium. Danone offers its extensive Nutricia lineup, and Nestlé Health Science has developed Boost and other brands for oncology patients.
There seem to be more functional beverages in the space than foods, perhaps because some patients may have trouble swallowing. Nestlé's Nutricia, for example, consists of liquids and powders for infants, children and adults needing nutritional supplementation for specific diets or medical conditions.
Medical foods and beverages can be very profitable. According to The Wall Street Journal, the segment could be worth as much as $15 billion. This presents an attractive sideline for CPG firms experiencing sagging sales in their core markets and looking for new sources of growth. Participating in the space could also help elevate their mission-based profile as a health and wellness company.
Some large firms that have invested in the segment are seeing increasing sales. Nestlé reported "mid single-digit growth" in its Health Science unit so far this year, while Danone's Specialized Nutrition segment posted a 14.5% jump in sales growth for the first quarter of 2018. It's not clear how Hormel's Vital Cuisine line has recently performed, since the company no longer separately reports sales for its Specialty Foods segment and has merged it with Grocery Products.
It will be interesting to see whether beer will fit into this segment. Medical professionals sometimes suggest beer consumption as a way to add calories, but the bitterness and perceived lack of flavor can turn chemo patients off. Alcohol is not recommended for some cancer patients since it could interfere with treatment, so the alcohol-free nature of Mamma Beer may be an added incentive for them to try it.
Should this limited-edition product prove successful and become more widely available, alcohol-free beer fortified with vitamins and nutrients for cancer patients could become a unique addition to the functional beverage category and be copied by other brewers and functional beverage manufacturers.