Molson Coors talks alcohol-free, better-for-you beverage ambitions from probiotic seltzer to barley milk

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: Molson Coors
Photo: Molson Coors

Related tags Molson coors plant-based milk Probiotics

A new slate of better-for-you, non-alcoholic beverage brands developed by Molson Coors and beverage incubator L.A. Libations launching over the next several months -- including a plant-based barley milk and a nootropic performance beverage -- will position the company as leader in the non-alcoholic beverage segment, says Danny Stepper, CEO and co-founder of L.A. Libations.

Nearly a year since Molson Coors took a minority stake in the beverage incubator, L.A. Libations​is helping Molson Coors build out its non-alcoholic beverage portfolio -- which already included kombucha brand Clearly Kombucha and Henry's Weinhard soda -- by launching a slew of new brands across several fast-growing beverage categories. 

"We were very picky with the ideas that we wanted to pursue to make sure they were on strategy. We said to ourselves, ​‘OK, where and when and why are people looking for functional non-alcoholic beverages? And how can we put some horses in the race at different occasions?',"​ Lane Goggin, portfolio manager, non-alcoholic beverages division at Molson Coors, told FoodNavigator-USA.

"Better-for-you continues to be our North Star, we still feel like there’s white space there."

'Bubbles with benefits'

Earlier this month, Molson Coors announced the online launch of HUZZAH​, a seltzer with added probiotics which is intended to capture non-kombucha drinkers, said Goggin.

HUZZAH, which will first be available in Southern California retailers before expanding to nationwide distribution, is billed as seltzer water with added probiotics and contains 3g or less of sugar and 15 calories or fewer per 12oz can or as Goggin refers to it, "bubbles with benefits"​.

"Kombucha is a really big category and still growing, but it’s struggled to reach to the masses. It only has about a 9% household penetration, which is pretty low for its size and it doesn’t show any signs of exploding anytime soon,"​ Goggin told FoodNavigator-USA. 

"There’s obviously a very loyal kombucha drinker that’s spending a lot of money in this category, but we felt like there was a way to bring probiotic benefits to a broader consumer base through a seltzer. The second source of volume beyond kombucha would be seltzer drinkers who are interested in trading up to something that has more functional benefits."

In addition to its entry into the functional sparkling water category, Molson Coors and L.A. Libations are set to launch MadVine, a better-for-you 'clean' soda with zero sugar (sweetened with monk fruit), zero carbs, and zero artificial ingredients available in three SKUs: Clean Cola, Yuzu Lemon Lime, and 'Dr. Stepper' (a spicy cherry flavor). 

Like HUZZAH, MadVine will first be introduced to retailers in the SoCal region before expanding to more retailers nationwide to compete within the diet cola set. 

"This thing is really built for speed,"​ added Stepper 

Entering the plant-based milk alternative category

Also part of its expanding better-for-you beverage portfolio is the upcoming launch of Golden Wing, a non-dairy, plant-based milk alternative made from barley designed to compete with the likes of almond milk and oatmilk, said Goggin, who believes there's still white space to be had in the fast-growing category. 

"Oatly just kind of came out of nowhere, and shook up the almond, soy milk game. So, that got us excited and told us that the category is not set. There are new entrants that are coming in changing the whole dynamic of the category with new ingredients and new tastes,​" noted Goggin.

With its long legacy as beer brewer, Molson Coors decided to leverage its robust end-to-end barley capabilities, added Goggin.

"We were able work with our barley team to produce a super high protein strain that was growing this summer and the crop is complete now and that’s what we’ll be using in our product."

'Top-secret' nootropic beverage launch

Rounding out its first major expansion in the non-alcoholic beverage space is a "top-secret" nootropic performance beverage targeted towards e-sports gamers and developers. 

"It's a super insight-driven functional product that’s intended to provide focus, nutrition, improved performance without giving you the jitters that you might get from a caffeine energy drink,"​ said Goggin, who added that brand will be unveiled in the coming weeks. 

'This is really the beginning'

With its expertise in emerging better-for-you categories and strong retailer relationships, LA Libations will continue to support Molson Coors in its alcohol-free portfolio strategy.

"We’re not going to teach Molson Coors anything about beer, and they would’ve figured it out with or without us, but I do think we give them a shortcut,"​ said Danny Stepper, CEO and co-founder of LA Libations.

"Our mission together is to put Molson Coors in the non-alc game in a big, big way to compete with the Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr. Pepper, PepsiCo, and everybody. This is really the beginning... probably the first inning."

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