Major brewers are getting crafty

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 17 July 2015

Despite being a nation of drinkers, Australia is putting down its iconic ales. Aussies aren’t rejecting all beer, of course, but rather opting for craft beer as their brew of choice. Big players are pushing hard to take a slice of the action – hence Lion’s launch of Tooheys Darling Pale Ale.

Beer consumption is sitting at a 65-year low, with a recent IBISWorld report saying, per capita, beer consumption has declined sharply as drinkers give up traditional brands, such as Victoria Bitter, in favour of premium beers and other beverages like cider and wine.

The report highlights that an overriding trend affecting the industry and its product ranges is a shift in consumer preferences from quantity to quality. With beer drinkers savouring more premium craft and internationally branded beers, the increase in per-unit prices of these beers is offsetting the decline in consumption. Such demand has seen the number of microbreweries in Australia increase over the past decade to around 150 in 2014-15.

Lion brand director Tanya Marler tells AdNews that Lion’s rebrand of Tooheys reflects its 145-year history, and the rollout of Darling Pale Ale is a response to what consumers are calling for.

“We know that our drinkers’ tastes are evolving and they are seeking more choice and versatility in their beers, and this is what we’re delivering through the Tooheys range. The pale ale style has grown in popularity, and with a 21.2% volume increase this year, we know there is a demand for it,”

Marler says, citing Aztec data from May 2015. She disputes any suggestion the rebrand is simply capitalising on the craft beer trend, saying: “The new Tooheys Darling Pale Ale was created in response to the rise in popularity of the pale ale style. Consumers were telling us they wanted an easy-drinking and approachable pale ale, and we have responded with an easier drinking style than most craft pale ales.”

Carlton & United Breweries is also tapping in. CUB head of craft Tim Ovadia explains that the rise of craft can be traced back to the changing trends in society as a whole, not just in beer.

“Craft beer plays to the trends of more locally made and community-based products – the fact it’s often brewed to local consumers, like it is in a local farmers market,” Ovadia says.

“Craft plays to the new premium quest that defines premium in consumers’ minds. Consumers are looking for products to be defined by authenticity, history and quality of ingredients; the workmanship or craftsmanship of the maker.”

CUB recently announced it was expanding its Matilda Bay craft portfolio under the Fat Yak brand, spinning off the popular ale by creating Lazy Yak, with Ovadia laying out a plan for how the big brewer is hoping to shake up its portfolio by putting craft at its heart. There’s potential for more ‘Yak’ extensions too.

“The potential of craft goes way beyond the craft aficionados ... It’s taking the styles that craft beer has introduced into the market and delivering them to a broader audience – if you look at what Lion has done with their Tooheys products and what we plan to do with Crown Golden Ale, they’re examples.”

“We’ll be looking to innovate and expand our craft beer offering not only to appeal to existing craft drinkers, but [introducing] different styles, like wheat beer, that can really appeal to female drinkers.

We know the penetration of female drinkers in Australia is so much lower than in the US,” he adds.

As the big brewers make crafty marketing moves to get a different demographic drinking beer again, Ben Kooyman, co-founder of Endeavour Vintage Beer Co., isn’t perturbed by the larger players entering the craft game.

“I’ve got no problem with the big brewers’ efforts to be part of the category,” he says. “A lot of people see them as a threat and taking volume away from the small guys and yes, they do that, however, I think they also add an element to the segment, because they’re bringing interest to it from a consumer set we don’t usually target.”

Kooyman says that his problem rests with false truths – brands putting “facts” on labels that just aren’t true. However, in the case of Tooheys, he says Lion is talking about history within that brand, and it’s simply putting up in lights the best bits of those existing stories.

“We’re on a long-term journey with better beer flavour, and I’m not upset about it, because our beer is different,” he says. “Quite often you need some of the bigger players to invest their marketing budgets in these segments and they’ll give them a boost. Ultimately, it’s about how the beer tastes.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the current issue of AdNews Magazine (10 July). You can get your hands on both an iPad copy or a print version right here.

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