MICHAEL KRYZANEK: Islam’s brewing interest in beer
When I head over to my local package store and stand in line to check out my liquid refreshment, I rarely see the patrons buying non-alcoholic beer. While such beers as O’Doul’s may be fine drinks on a hot day, especially for those who don’t want a morning hangover, most Americans are not the O’Doul’s type – they want alcohol in their brew.
But in a strange twist, non-alcohol beer may be set for a major breakthrough, only not here in the United States. In the Middle East where religious doctrine does not permit the drinking of alcohol, beers without alcohol content are becoming popular; in fact they are enjoying a sales boom.
Islamist leaders and interpreters of the Quran have given their blessing to the sale and consumption of non-alcohol beers and the result has stimulated new life to breweries in this part of the world. In some countries clerics have even issued official fatwas or religious declarations giving their approval to drink alcohol-free beer.
This new trend toward the promotion and sale of non-alcoholic beer is becoming a big deal in the region. As reported in the British-based magazine The Economist, over 2.2 billion liters of non-alcohol beer were consumed in the Middle East, which was 80 percent more than five years ago. From arch conservative Saudi Arabia to chaotic Egypt to revolutionary Gaza breweries are working overtime to produce this alcohol-free drink.
What is even more interesting, these Middle East breweries are producing western-style advertising campaigns to promote their product. Beer drinking is now presented as part of a glamorous lifestyle, as young people (mostly men) imbibe their favorite beer. There are even a few ads that show women drinking with men, but such promotions are only shown in countries where western values are accepted as part of the global economy. These non-alcohol brews are slowly but surely replacing Coca-Cola as the marketing kingpin. T-shirts, hats, glassware and all the other paraphernalia of our breweries are sure to follow, only now touting brands like Egypt’s Moussy, Saudi Arabia’s Barbican and Gaza’s Halal.
While most of the non-alcohol beer is produced by local breweries, the international giants such as Heineken and Carlsberg have gotten into the market as they buy up assets and bring their marketing skills to bump up international sales. To date, no American breweries are actively pursuing the Middle East market, but as this trend toward hoisting a few beers after work takes hold, it is certain that Budweiser will not be far behind.
But despite the rise in sales of non-alcohol beer, staunch religious beliefs hold sway. As The Economist also reported, a Lebanese brewery, which produces the brand Laziza advertises that its product is not fermented, which guarantees that the brewing process leaves no traces of alcohol. Most of the Middle Eastern beers proudly state that their beer is 0.0 percent alcohol free, but Laziza assures its drinkers and the religious police that its brand is 0.00 percent alcohol-free. It is interesting to note that according to Euromonitor, alcohol-based beer still outsells the non-alcohol brands by a large margin, despite the admonitions of the Islamist clerics.