SABMiller marketing challenges laid bare as sales volumes slow

The scale of SABMiller’s marketing challenge to broaden beer’s appeal has been laid bare as people purchased less in its markets hit first half sales. But higher prices for premium brands such as Peroni blunted the impacted of the slow volume growth.

The brewer’s latest financial results highlighted ongoing concerns of slowing growth in emerging markets and falling consumption in the key Europe and North America markets. Beer volumes sold in the six months to September, dropped 1 per cent, including a 3 per cent decline in the latest quarter.

SABMiller’s premiumisation efforts damped the impact of decline, resulting in consumers being convinced to pay more for beers. Revenue rose 5 per cent in the first half of the year compared with a 3 per cent jump in the quarter.

While sales and volumes in Europe climbed 3 per cent and 2 per cent respectively, it masked troubles in Italy, Turkey and Russia due to “soft” comparisons to the previous period, according to the business. Elsewhere, a 2 per cent sales jump in North America was driven by its premium business, which offset volume declines.

The need to boost volumes and be less reliant on pricing sets the stage for SABMiller’s plan to push beer into new occasions. It is embarking on a 20-year strategy to broaden beer’s appeal to women as well as into new occasions such as family gatherings to convert wine and spirits drinkers to premium beer.

The company’s marketing director Nick Fell told analysts last week (6 October) the brewer plans to forge a position for beer outside its “masculine” heartland by offering sweeter and weaker beers and ciders such as Radlers that will attract “more consumers on more occasions.

The product launches will be focused regionally with the business refusing to deviate from its tried-and-tested tactic of using local brands such as Grolsch and Redd’s to win market share. At the same event Fell discounted concerns the business was missing a truly global beer brand to compete with the likes of Heineken and Carlsberg.

“I’d be interested to look at how many ‘global’ brands are truly global in terms of what they do”, he said.

“My personal suspicion is that while the label remains the same, successful marketing programs have to be tailored to local environment, competitive and customer realities and consumer preferences. I do not envisage a future where, certainly in terms of classic and easy drinking lager, there will come a point when a global brand is the most obvious winning play in every world market” added Fell.

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