Radius Micro Trend: Functional Wellness Beers

The shift away from sugary sports drinks has taken a surprising turn

Though it’s true that no alcoholic drink can make health claims, some in the beer category have been making strides to position beer as a beneficial post work-out treat. Beer is now becoming the drink of choice for active consumers.

The German Olympic ski team garnered a lot of press as they made their way to multiple Olympic golds in 2018, and not just for their athletic prowess: reporters noted that the athletes drank non-alcoholic beer during training. The practice is so ingrained that the brewery Krombacher supplied 3,500 liters of non-alcoholic wheat beer to the athlete’s village at the Pyeongchang Games. A known anti-inflammatory, and high in antioxidant polyphenols, isotonic non-alcoholic beer is consumed in Germany as a sports drink.

According to Dr Ryan Greene, an osteopathic physician and diet and fitness coach in Los Angeles, many of the ingredients used to make beer are helpful to athletes: “Hops have been noted to help treat anxiety, insomnia, indigestion and muscle tension – all things that plague athletes. It’s also an excellent source of vitamins, carbohydrates, protein and fatty oils.”

Hops have been noted to help treat anxiety, insomnia, indigestion and muscle tension.

Producers in other markets are taking note – and upping the ante by adding known functional ingredients. Better-for-you brews that seesaw between revelry and wellness are launching in the US and Europe, boasting a myriad of benefits. Some brewers are adding superfood ingredients; others are infusing variants with electrolytes or vitamins; and hybrids that merge beer with kombucha offer probiotic benefits. While some of these products are non-alcoholic, many do contain alcohol, offering consumers holistic health benefits paired with the relaxing effect of traditional beer.

Sports Recovery
Many craft breweries are launching electrolyte-infused beers aimed at fitness enthusiasts. Often infused with sea salt, these beers are positioned as an alternative to sugary sports drinks such as Gatorade. Maryland craft brewery Dogfish Head launched its sessionable Gose-inspired Sea Quench Ale in 2016 with the claim that it hydrates. The 4.9% ABV salty and sour beer is brewed with strains of barley that are high in potassium and sea salt, which contains sodium, calcium, magnesium, chloride and more potassium.

Recently launched Harpoon Rec League is a 3.8% ABV hazy pale ale infused with Mediterranean Sea salt, as well as chia seeds and buckwheat, to deliver electrolytes, omega-3, B vitamins and antioxidants. The brewery touts it as “your number one cool-down companion”.

Other brands are positioning non-alcoholic beer sans the salt as post-workout drinks. Danish brewer Mikkeller’s Racing Beer, packaged with an illustrative label designed with runners, is made with water, hops, barley malt and yeast. Containing 0.3% ABV, the beer is advertised as an isotonic drink that replenishes the fluids, salts and minerals lost during exercise.

Superfood Ingredients
Superfoods such as açai and rosehips are all the rage in the health food aisle, but do they belong in the beer aisle? A handful of craft brewers have shouted the answer “yes” in the form of several intriguing launches. Dogfish Head’s It’s The End of the Wort As We Know It has been described as the “ultimate and definitive survival beer”. The 9% ABV Belgian-style fruit ale is deep purple in colour, thanks to a long list of superfood ingredients, including blueberries, açai and goji berries, purple sweet potatoes, rosehips, chia seeds, flax seed, spelt, oats and quinoa. High in amino acids, micronutrients and vitamins, the powerful brew is said to contain eight times more vitamin B complex than a typical American light lager, and more than 90% of the daily recommended serving of folic acid.

Probiotics
Gut-friendly probiotics are an established presence in wellbeing aisles, and now hybrid beers are offering the benefits of kombucha combined with the flavour of beer, creating a what some have dubbed ‘buchabeer’. The drinks tap into a global probiotic market that is projected to be worth $96bn by 2020.

New York’s Fairport Brewing Company recently launched a New England-style buchabeer dubbed Crown Jewel. The 4.1% ABV hybrid merges a Belgian wheat-based brew with probiotic-rich kombucha. The resulting beverage is said to offer notes of citrus and peach and is high in B vitamins, as well as containing 86 calories per 12oz can.

Finally, researchers at the University of Singapore created a probiotic beer in 2017, and while the product has not made it to market, the news spurred a flurry of media reports. Will probiotic beer be the next big thing in the Asian market?

Key Takeaways
A trend forged in Germany, non-alcoholic beer is being positioned as an isotonic alternative to sports drinks, and media coverage of the German Olympic team at the Pyeongchang Games helped to spread the idea in the US and Europe.

Craft brands are infusing beers with ingredients from the wellness space, including sea salt for electrolytes and superfruits for vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

Probiotic beers – aka buchabeers – offer the live cultures, beneficial bacteria, enzymes and antioxidants of kombucha. With probiotic drinks on the rise, these hybrids are positioned within a quickly growing category.


Radius, the IWSR’s innovation tracker, brings you the latest product launches and new consumer trends driving the market. Available online or as quarterly trend reports.

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