Craft beer sales on rise despite flat market

ROB STOCK
Last updated 05:00 05/05/2013
craft beer
John Selkirk/Fairfax NZ
BEER O'CLOCK: David Cryer, with the specialty malt he imports from Germany. 

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Interest in craft brewing continues to grow, despite a decline in the overall beer market. 

David Cryer, founder of Cryer Malts which supplies the country's brewers with specialty malts from all over the world, said in the 12 months to the start of April, sales of craft beer were up just over 30 per cent on the corresponding period in 2011.

What makes that doubly impressive is that against a backdrop of a weak economy and high unemployment, the total beer market continued to decline.

It was down by 2.4 per cent year-on-year, said Cryer.

Craft beer is a term widely applied, but in general stands for traditional beers brewed by smaller, aspiring brewers who seek to produce brews that are distinct in quality and character.

Much to the annoyance of some, though, the craft beer figures include the Macs, Monteiths and Boundary Road brands run by large overseas-owned brewers Lion Nathan, DB and Asahi.

Some see these as "faux" craft beer. More generously, others said they help promote wider awareness of the craft styles available.

Figures from Statistics New Zealand show a dramatic decline in beer sales in contrast to rising consumption of wine and spirits. In 2008, beer available for consumption - the quantity on the shelves and in venues such as bars - was 322.5 million litres. In 2012, the total amount was down by just over 13 per cent at 279.9 million litres.

Cryer said compared by market share the craft range still plays a distant second fiddle to big-brand beer lines such as Tui and Heineken. Craft brews claim less than 10 per cent of the market, of which Cryer reckons around a third is "deep craft" brews not produced by the giant corporate brewers.

Cryer said there were no figures to prove that, but as he supplies malt to the market, he reckons he has a good feel for the numbers.

Further, though the corporate craft beer trio are seeing significant collective growth, the smaller craft brewers are growing much faster.

The growth of craft beer is still being muted by what he called the "recession" effect, people splashing out on small luxuries because they can't afford the big ones.

"We are still in the recession phase of the market," he said. "The affordable treat is still the driver."

But the amount of investment being put in by existing and new craft brewers is a sign of strength.

"When we go into the growth phase of the economy, craft beer will get going again."

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As well as the smaller craft brewers dotted around the country, there are signs that the big brewers are continuing their craft beer drive, the latest being Asahi's purchase of the Cricketers Arms craft brewery in Australia.

Cryer said this year's Beervana, which is to be held in Wellington's Cake Tin waterfront stadium in August, is expected to attract a record 10,000 drinkers, up from 8000 last year, another indication interest in craft brewing continues to grow.

Cryer said one of the country's least known export success stories was the rise in craft beer exports across the Tasman with firms like Tuatara expanding their footprints significantly.

Starting from a slower base, Australia is playing craft beer catch up, said Cryer. But a story exciting craft brewing buffs more is the Auckland market finally catching on to the Wellington trend. With its specialist craft beer bars and expanding "free house" movement, the capital leads the country in craft beer consumption, but Auckland is catching up with new brewers and bars emerging.

Cryer said last year just six in every 100 Beervana attendees were from Auckland. He expected to see that rise this year.

- Sunday Star Times

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