Let’s put your love of beer to the test: Would you still drink it by the litre if it didn’t produce some sort of inebriating effect? You probably answered yes, refined young professional, since drinking for the sake of getting drunk is juvenile… and you love the taste. Maybe you’re also aware of the health benefits, fancy driving home after the bar every once in a while, or just want to fit in with your group of friends sporting a bottle of brew rather than a glass of water without committing to a hangover the next day; perhaps you’re an expectant mother, an elite athlete, or your religion forbids intoxicating indulgence.
Good news, then, because non-alcoholic beer is finally becoming a thing in Canada thanks to PremiumNearBeer.com, Canada’s first, and only, online “near beer” store. Toronto entrepreneur Ted Fleming launched the service after a diagnosis for Crohn’s Disease nearly a decade ago forced him to accept that he needed to eliminate alcohol from his diet. His site boasts 14 (and counting) beer brands, and brings two of the world’s top-rated non-alcoholic beer brands — Clausthaler Premium and Brew Dog’s Nanny State — to the Toronto area for the first time.
“I think non-alcoholic beer drinkers should be able to drink great tasting beer like anyone else,” says Fleming. “And let’s be honest, the beer we carry blows away any mass market light beer in terms of flavour.” No argument here. We caught up with Ted to talk a little bit about his venture and what he hopes to achieve in five years’ time.
Why do you think it has taken Canada so long to catch on to the non-alcoholic beer trend?
There seems to be a stigma related to non-alcoholic beer in Canada that doesn’t exist in other countries – at least not to the same degree. Part of that is due to the lack of premium non-alcoholic options – until now. Part of the stigma can also probably be attributed to our culture, which seems to promote alcohol consumption. In Europe, non-alcoholic beer consumption can account for anywhere from 3 to 10% of the overall beer market. In Canada we estimate it is around 1%.
Do you think young professionals will start purchasing non-alcoholic beer based on preference rather than necessity?
Absolutely. The beer we carry is excellent, so for most people the taste will be as good as or better than what they are currently drinking. I can see non-alcoholic beer being the next frontier for people who want to make a unique statement about themselves through the beer that they drink – perhaps a backlash to the Pabst Blue Ribbon phenomenon.
What are some of the lesser-known advantages of consuming non-alcoholic beer?
Non-alcoholic beer is very healthy. Numerous articles and research studies have been published about non-alcoholic beer preventing colds, speeding up recovery after workouts, aiding in sleep quality, and improving heart health – just to name a few. The beer often contains B-vitamins, folic acid, complex carbohydrates and comes in under 90 calories. Some companies have also been promoting their non-alcoholic beer as an alternative to sports energy drinks.
Is there a particular stigma around non-alcoholic beer by the general public that you’ve had to overcome?
About half the people I speak to about this business initially react by saying, “Why would anyone drink non-alcoholic beer.” By the end of the conversation, however, more often than not they can see why and usually can identify a friend or relative who would likely order from us. The biggest thing I can do to overcome this stigma is to get people to try one of our beers – they usually end up saying they could see themselves drinking it.
Why did you choose the (currently) 14 beer brands currently on offer?
We carry beers that are great tasting, unique in style or place of origin, and award-winning (Clausthaler Premium has taken took home the gold medal in the non- alcoholic beer category at the World Beer Awards for four out of the last five years). We also wanted to offer a cross section of styles and flavours to the greatest extent possible. We are continually working on bringing in more offerings that will complement what we already have.
What has been the most popular brand?
Our most popular product so far has been our mixed case, where customers can sample a selection of what we carry.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in bringing non-alcoholic beer to Canada?
One of the greatest challenges has been getting the attention of brewers since the non-alcoholic category is usually a small part of their business. The logistics in bringing products in from overseas is another challenge and requires us to purchase larger quantities than we might otherwise in order to be able to sell at a reasonable price.
What has been your biggest milestone so far?
I would say that our biggest milestone has been setting up the infrastructure and building the relationships needed to make the business function. As a result of that we have executed orders and have received nothing but positive feedback from our customers, so we’re intent on building on that.
Where do you see PremiumNearBeer in five years?
I would like to see PremiumNearBeer.com in five years as a company with loyal customers due to premium quality products and great service, as the expert source in North America for information on non-alcoholic beer, and having achieved a reputation for innovation in non-alcoholic beer products and marketing. If we can say that we’ve changed attitudes about non-alcoholic beer, then that would be great too.
Currently shipping is available in the GTA area only, but plans are in place to expand shipping to beer drinkers across the country in 2014.
The non-alcoholic beer market in Canada increased by over 100 per cent for the fourth consecutive year (Macleans) compared to the traditional beer market that has shown no growth and lost market share.
Worldwide, 2.2 billion litres of non-alcoholic beer was consumed in 2012, jumping by 80 per cent in five years (Economist).
Want more updates on the most Notable things happening so you know before your colleagues do? Get our exclusive newsletter here.