Expert View

Bass Brewers director of brands Leslie Fitzell Gives his views on the sector

The market for premium bottled lager is growing by about 20 per cent by volume annually. The high number of brands makes it very competitive. The impulse element – the willingness to experiment and be swayed at point-of-purchase – and the suitability of different brands for different occasions all contribute to repertoire buying.

Research shows the achievement of ice beers, which have come from nothing two years ago, and the increasing polarisation between lighter American beers, which are easier to drink, and heavier, more distinctive tasting European brands. Ice brands fit into the American beer “style” phenomena. The question is, will they stick around? In Canada and the US they reached a peak and then slipped back.

Although volume is still growing, there are signs the market is consolidating – edging away from the “badge brands” of the Eighties towards beers with genuine roots and a physical point of difference .

This is an expensive market to compete in, and it is difficult to make a brand stick. The consumer is highly ad literate and sophisticated, and quite difficult to reach. TV tends to be more effective as part of a multimedia campaign, and media advertising is only half the story. Impulse purchase means that aggressive merchandising in pubs and bars is critical. Sponsorship and promotions are both important, although promotions tend to buy only short-term share. Ultimately, we are dealing with self-image – what you drink says something about you – where marketing has to reassure people that their choices are credible.

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