Gluten-free beer category 'explodes' in otherwise stagnant beer market

Imbibe Editorial

Imbibe Editorial

21 September 2018

If you’re looking for a bit of fizz in the otherwise flat beer market, look to craft. But for a real explosion in growth, gluten-free is where it’s at.

The category in the UK on-trade, currently valued at £12m, is a minnow, representing just 0.1% of total beer sales. However, it’s currently experiencing 60% year-on-year value growth (CGA, MAT to 12.08.18), compared to 1.7% for the wider beer market. A couple of months ago, just 1 in 20 venues stocked a gluten-free beer; fast-forward to today and that figure rises to 1 in 10.

Demand for gluten-free food and drink is at an all-time high, with the market expected to be worth a whopping £4.8bn globally by 2021. Curiously, only 5% of people consuming gluten-free products are actually diagnosed coeliac, while many simply buy into their perceived health benefits, particularly younger consumers.

‘Health is a big focus at the moment and it’s part of that overall trend that’s seeing consumers cutting down on alcohol, sugar and going dairy free,’ CGA’s Alicia Smura told Imbibe.

‘Gluten-free beer will always be relatively niche, but operators need to make sure they’ve got all their bases covered, so consumers have choice.’

An attractive proposition to producers due to their elevated price point, there’s been a spate of gluten-free beers hitting the market in recent years. There are currently over 50 on the market, with big hitters including Estrella Damm with Daura,  Asahi with Peroni Nastro Azzurro Gluten-free and Carlsberg with San Miguel Gluten Free and Celia.

As of last month, AB-InBev is also courting the gluten-free market with Stella Artois Gluten Free. Debuting in the off-trade, it will be rolled out in the on-trade this autumn.

‘Our motivation was to make Stella Artois even more accessible, [and] our focus was to ensure the quality and distinctive taste were not compromised,’ says Stella Artois’ European marketing director Alexis BergerThe lager is made to the same recipe at the original, with the same four ingredients, but the gluten is stripped out in the brewing process using a specific protein.

Molson Coors introduced Cobra Gluten Free in supermarkets in August as well, with a wider release expected later in the year.

Getting crafty

Despite mainstream players already marking out their territory in gluten-free, Smura says the category remains relatively fragmented, with no real market leader. Indeed, she asserts that there’s an overlap in terms of demographics with craft beer drinkers and health motivated, gluten-free consumers.

‘It’s definitely more craft at the moment [with gluten free] and we’re seeing quite a lot of cask products and ones coming in on rotation from smaller breweries,’ she says.

In the craft corner, BrewDog’s Vagabond Pale Ale ‘just so happens to be gluten free’; St Peter’s offers its G-Free range; while Autumn Brewing Co, Green’s and Bellfield Brewery are all dedicated to brewing sans gluten.

Bellfield Brewery was set up by Alistair Brown in 2016, after he was diagnosed as coeliac and ‘couldn’t find any decent gluten-free beers’.

The Edinburgh-based brewery is seeking £1m in funding to finance an expansion to support a rapid growth in demand for its products. It is installing a 2,000l capacity brew plant, which will produce beer in keg to meet demand for its draught products in the on-trade. This is expected to be operational by December this year.

‘The larger breweries are starting to turn their attentions to gluten free, but we’re attacking that space between craft beer and free-from,’ Brown says. ‘If you pick up a Bellfield, you know it’s going to be gluten free and that’s our USP.’

Its current offering includes Lawless Village IPA (4.5%), a traditional American IPA made with Cascade and Centennial American hops, and Bohemian Pilsner (4.5%), a classic Czech pilsner made with Saaz. The pair have been awarded bronze and silver respectively at the World Beer Awards in 2017.

Brown told Imbibe that the brewery is working on new beer recipes for a handful of different styles, expected to reach the market in a matter of months. Its new plant will also introduce capacity for cans, which, he says, there’s a major drive towards in terms of sustainability.

‘’If you look at the way things are going in the Nordic market, there’s a substantial shift into cans,’ he explains. ‘It’s gone from 50:50 [with bottles] to 85:15 in some countries.’

With 350 stockists in the UK, both on- and off-trade, the company is looking to expand its presence in London and the south-east. It already exports to Europe, Singapore and UAE, and is looking to break into new markets including, Canada, the US and Sweden.

‘We’ve just taken on Jamie’s Italian and we’re getting a fair amount of traction in London, but we’ve just scratched the surface really,’ Brown says. ‘We’re finding that if we can get our beers into the hands of a stockist, there’s a high likelihood they’ll convert.’

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