Ted Fleming is taking a lesson from the European beer market. As the founder of PremiumNearBeer.com, Fleming is building a business from the ground up to serve near beer drinkers all over the country.
As Fleming explained to Beer In Canada, he is a beer lover who was diagnosed in 2005 with a chronic illness that required him to eliminate alcohol from his diet. Not an easy task for a beer lover, particularly with only a very small selection of near beers available in grocery stores.
The Canadian market for near beer is small. It made up $139.6 million of the more than $9.1 billion Canadian beer industry in 2012, according to data from Euromonitor International. Dominated by lager-style beers, the near beer selection is pitiful compared to the beer selection in liquor and beer stores across the country.
Compare that to European markets, which have seen near beer sales grow substantially in recent years. As beer sales slump across the pond, near beer sales are skyrocketing. And in some cases, they make up a significant portion of the overall beer market. Take Spain as a good example. Near beer accounts for 13% of beer sales in the country, and it’s the biggest consumer of near beer on a per capita basis. Other European countries are following suit.
Part of the reason for near beer success elsewhere in the world? Likely the same reason that craft beer has been taking off in Canada and the United States.
“They’re pretty much making almost any type of beer that’s available,” Fleming said. “Europe probably has someone making it in a non-alcoholic version if it’s popular enough. You see a lot of German-style lagers, a lot of Eastern European Pilseners being produced. My understanding is they tend to be a bit easier to produce in a non-alcoholic format.”
But lagers aren’t the be-all and end-all of near beer. Sourcing beers from Europe to resell in Canada, PremiumNearBeer.com sports a variety of near beer lagers, but also wheat beers, ambers and dark beers. The company even offers a small selection of kosher beers.
And they’re not just from the biggest breweries, either. Flemining said he is waiting to receive a shipment of Nanny State, a 0.5% ABV dry-hopped beer from BrewDog, the Scotland-based brewery known for its aggressive, high-ABV brews.
The idea for Fleming’s business started about a year ago. It opened in the closing days of summer last year.
“What kind of pushed us over the edge to do it is we found some models in other parts of the world,” Fleming said. “In the UK, there’s a company that seems to be doing this non-alcoholic-specific online store, and they seem to be doing well.”
Fleming is hoping to replicate that success, and he noted that he is quite pleased with sales to date. It will take some time to market and grow the business, but he believes there is interest from beer drinkers across Canada in accessing premium near beer brands.
If it tastes as good as a real beer, then why not?
For now, most of Fleming’s business is in the Greater Toronto Area, but he told Beer In Canada he is testing out shipping products on a national basis. The packaging isn’t yet set, and he is worried about “shipping people broken glass.” It’s a big issue keeping him from becoming the near beer supplier for the entire Great White North, but he expects to solve the problem.
Awareness is also critical, as the fledgling company hasn’t yet made a big splash. But Fleming is working on it.
“Then our products will sell themselves. They are very good. … It’s just a matter of the customer finding us and us finding the customer, and doing that on a budget,” he said.