Is the Non-Alcoholic Marketplace Drying Up?

The booze-free world has a real future, even as non-alc marketplace Boisson undergoes a Chapter 11 "restructuring"

A selection of non-alcoholic drinks from Boisson, an NA retailer that is rumored to be shuttering its physical stores

The NA marketplace will live on. Will Boisson be part of it?

By Kirk Miller

(04/09/24 Editor’s note: We’ve updated this story to reflect additional news on Boisson’s status)

What, exactly, is going on with Boisson? Just last fall the non-alcoholic marketplace, which has both physical stores and an e-commerce presence, announced $5 million in additional funding and a new CEO. Plus, non-alc was hot! They appeared to be a market leader in a growing, healthy space within the drinks world.

This past weekend, rumors abounded. VinePair reported an imminent closure of Boisson’s retail and online stores, based on a since-deleted social media post from a Boisson employee. But Monday came and everything, at least online, appeared business as usual (except for a 30% off sale, which might have raised some eyebrows). Brewbound reported that the physical stores were indeed shuttering — but again, this news was based on secondhand sources within the NA industry.

This week, we got some clarification: Per Just Drinks, the non-alcoholic beverage retailer is moving to close its stores and is restructuring its business under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Boisson CEO Sheetal Aiyer attributed the move to “macroeconomic conditions” and “significant infrastructure” costs.

Dry January Is Officially a Year-Round Phenomenon
New data and surveys suggest the non-alcoholic market (led by beer) is growing steadily

This all happened rather quickly: In January, the company expanded its national wholesale distribution model with a few new partnerships. A press release at the time touted Boisson as the “largest dedicated non-alcoholic platform” in the U.S. and promised the new distribution model would help it continue leading the growth of a $550 million non-alcoholic beverage category.

“Unencumbered by traditional alcohol beverage regulations, Boisson is breaking the mold of traditional wholesale beverage distribution and taking a larger share of the food and beverage market to now include national retailers, grocery, bottle shops, and entertainment venues, in addition to traditional bars and restaurants,” the press release stated. “The demand for NA offerings has skyrocketed in recent months, with studies revealing that 14% (1 in 8) of consumers have non-alcoholic alternatives while out, and that percentage jumps to 25% (1 in 4) for millennials.”

Let’s unpack this. The $550 million number is one of several figures that get thrown about (the same goes for those stats about younger drinkers). Drinks analysts IWSR put the marketplace number closer to $13 billion worldwide, though that seems to include both low- and no-booze options. And pretty much every statistic shows overall growth happening in the category, with IWSR suggesting that NA could represent 4% of the overall alcohol category by 2027.

And yet…non-alc may not be sustainable as a standalone business. Most of that NA growth has been in alcohol-free beer, with particular success in places like Whole Foods. Even Boisson’s founder may be wondering if the dedicated brick-and-mortar approach works for NA drinks. In a flattering profile in the industry site Retail Touchpoints just over a month ago, Boisson Founder and President Nick Bodkins noted that the company was being purposeful about where to open stores, suggesting “We don’t think there necessarily needs to be 150 Boisson stores around the country. We could be better served by store-within-store concepts and help curate collections within traditional retailers. That, to us, means it’s more capital-efficient, but we’re still seeing that data and insights play out. We still have opportunity there.”

Hopefully, Bodkins is correct. While losing dedicated non-alc stores might be a short-term pain, there are opportunities to expand the NA offerings in traditional, everyday retailers. Let’s hope Boisson’s restructuring helps them find their way.

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