Mighty Squirrel Brewing company has developed a high-protein (at 5 grams) beer and is expanding distribution within the U.S.  As a fan of the exploding craft beer scene—especially with our office being surrounded by so many breweries in NE Minneapolis—and as someone who has tested more protein-oriented products than one can imagine, this seemed like an interesting case-study to explore further.

The founders of Mighty Squirrel found their inspiration from post-tennis beer drinking that was a regular occurrence for them.  Like other protein seekers, they wanted something that would refuel them post-workout and keep them fuller for longer, a benefit that is far from the full-flavor (and buzz) that most craft beer seekers are looking for.  For the health conscious, beer, especially a craft beer, is likely perceived as an indulgence or cheat; they work out so they can afford to reward themselves with their preferred beer options. Will a high protein beer impact their system if it doesn’t deliver on the flavor reward they initially sought? As a researcher, I appreciate that the idea comes from a perceived need, but I have to wonder if this merger of protein and craft beer trends is truly delivering on a meaningful benefit.

Branding also plays a role due to the seemingly growing preference for smaller breweries.  Would this product be perceived as more of a gimmick if branded as Budweiser/Miller/Coors instead of as a small start-up offering? Regardless, preference for a small brewer will not be enough of a benefit on its own right due to the pervasiveness of small breweries in most markets and readily available craft beers, be they regionally or nationally distributed.

An interesting parallel beer product that didn’t last long was Budweiser Extra (aka “B to the E”), a caffeine and ginseng infused fruity beer introduced a little over a decade ago.  With the rise in popularity of energy drinks, adding the caffeine bump to beer seemed like a no-brainer. However, Budweiser chose to include the lingering fruity flavor found in energy drinks as well, which was found to be off-putting to traditional beer drinkers. The eventual product failure suggests to me that taste is a critical piece in the beer equation, and it cannot be sacrificed for other benefits.  While big name beer brand names were not the kiss of death back in 2004 the way they are now, even then a reputable brand was not enough of a driving force to maintain success.

Since I haven’t had the chance to have any conversations with Mighty Squirrel drinkers, I don’t have a clear sense for whether it will share Budweiser Extra’s fate. Perhaps the involvement of a craft brewery will help to keep the focus on taste first and protein second. If not, I won’t be surprised if this is a beer that doesn’t survive past the initial curiosity-driven trial phase.

-Luke Cahill, Managing Principal

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