Major brewers step up efforts to woo craft beer drinkers

Major brewers SAB Miller and Molson Coors are increasing efforts to grow the appeal of their craft beers by launching activity to recruit advocates. Observers warn, however, they should be wary of undermining the below-the-radar like status of their brands with high-profile activity that risks turning off younger drinkers attracted by the anonimity of the drinks.

The big brewers are boosting the appeal of their craft beers such as Blue Moon and Leffe to open up new revenue opportunities.

There is a growing intent from the world’s biggest brewers to wrestle market share from independent brewers in the face of flatlining beer sales across Europe.

Volume sales have fallen for the eighth year in a row in the UK with 381 million fewer pints drunk in 2012, according to the British Beer and Pub Association. By contrast, over 2,000 of the country’s pubs and clubs have added a craft beer to their stocklists over the past year and supermarkets are offering increased shelf space, according to CGA Strategy. Sales of boutique beers such as Blue Moon and Doom Bar are set to grow 43 per cent by 2015, the insight firm adds.

To capitalise on the thirst for craft beers, the likes of SAB Miller and Molson Coors are launching marketing initiatives to create advocates among bartenders and drinkers alongside vying for more shelf space in-store.

SAB Miller, the world’s second largest brewer by sales, is launching the first major marketing push for Belgian beer St Stefanus Blonde since acquiring the distribution rights for select markets in 2011.

The business is promoting the brand through taste guides, competitions, online and in-store activity alongside selling a limited edition bottle in 100 on-and-off trade sites. Each bottle features a release date, so consumers can choose the age of the beer based on their preferred tastes. It is hoped the online activity, a mix of Twitter and blogger engagement, will lead to beer enthusiasts across the country recommending the drink to their peers.

Brendan Williams, SAB Miller’s director of brand marketing and speciality brands for Central Europe, says the push aims to capitalise on the “rising trend” for speciality beers in a market that is becoming more fragmented. Craft beers offer “something unique” to drinkers, according to Williams and the brewer is looking to highlight the provenance of St Stefanus Blonde’s recipe moving forward to get cut-through.


Meanwhile, Molson Coors is rolling out a range of craft beers – The Craft Collection – which unites the head brewers of Franciscan Well, Sharp’s, William Worthington and Blue Moon under one umbrella brand offering.

It aims to expand the presence of the beers in the on-and-off trade as well as educate drinkers on their taste qualities through point-of-sale promotions and a new Facebook hub. Molson Coors will be hoping the brewing collective can play down its ties to the brand and keep consumers focused on the smaller-scale breweries it owns.

Industry experts observe the big breweries are “walking a tightrope” in terms how far they go to raise the profile of their speciality beers and warn they should “resist the temptation” to launch “major campaigns” in favour of more low-key awareness initiatives. This approach will help to maintain the premium perceptions of the category.

Phil Tate, chief executive of CGA Strategy, says: “There is a balancing act in ensuring that equity in craft breweries and brands remains as high as it is currently. Keeping the acquisitions as a separate or at least ‘arm’s length’ entity is important.

“This is a category remember with exceptionally high rates of trial from consumers (61 per cent), although awareness is relatively low in comparison (23 per cent), something that the bigger brewers can potentially help with.”

The investment into the category has been welcomed by independent brewers, however they claim more needs to be done highlight the links between the major companies and their craft beers in future activity.

A spokeswoman for the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), adds: “one of the reasons many consumers drink local beers is to support their local brewer, so if that local brewer is owned by a larger organisation, this should be communicated.”

The explosion of the craft beer market comes at a sensitive time for the world’s biggest breweries as they look to offset declining volume sales with new revenue opportunities. As further investment pours into category, craft beers will become more prominent in both the on-and-off trade and the challenge for marketers will be will be finding a way to stand out from the crowd with so many brands looking to drive word-of-mouth marketing.


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