SLIPPERY SLOPE OR RELAPSE PREVENTION? –
Feb. 3, 2024 – When he took out the classified ad that changed everything, Bill Shufelt was desperate. He’d quit his job on the trading desk at one of the world’s richest hedge funds to start a business that sounded absolutely nuts: He was going to sell nonalcoholic beer. He didn’t have a product or even a prototype. Or investors. Or any sort of industry experience. And he’d been turned down by hundreds of brewers who basically hung up as soon as he mentioned what kind of beer he wanted to make. Finally, he went to a message board for professional brewers and advertised a job in “the most innovative sector in craft,” which isn’t how anyone else would have described nonalcoholic beer.
That’s when a talented craft brewer named John Walker responded to his cry for help and kept listening when Shufelt made his pitch. At the time, nonalcoholic beer accounted for less than 1% of U.S. beer sales. But in surveys that Shufelt commissioned, a majority of people said they would buy nonalcoholic beer that tasted better. That is, if it tasted like beer. “All of a sudden,” Shufelt said, “I felt like I was sitting on an enormous secret.”
Even a small change in consumer behavior in this $115 billion market had the potential to be a huge business, so Shufelt and Walker founded a company together in 2017 to focus exclusively on nonalcoholic beer. They called it Athletic Brewing Company.
Athletic has since become the country’s king of nonalcoholic beers, recently passing Heineken and Budweiser as the No. 1 brand by sales in U.S. grocery stores, according to an analysis of NielsenIQ data by consulting firm Bump Williams.