Big brewers muscle in on craft beer market
With a trio of lightly clad beauties greeting arrivals at the door and slick marketers driving home the brand message, guests at Independent Liquor's party in Wellington last week could be forgiven for thinking it was for a beer mega-brand launch.
Instead, the event, which took place at the Bruhaus bar, was to herald the Asahi-owned liquor company's entrance into the craft market with its Boundary Road range of beers, developed by respected United States beer luminary Brian 'Spike' Buckowski.
It also marked the latest in a string of moves by the big foreign-owned brewers to win a bigger slice of the domestic craft market, which accounts for about 10 per cent of 300 million litres of beer produced in New Zealand a year.
Asia Pacific Breweries subsidiary DB is about to reopen its Monteith's brewery on the West Coast after a $4 million overhaul, with the operations streamed towards smaller batch brews, and Kirin- owned Lion has got its range of Mac's beers back to near capacity after the Christchurch earthquake.
Many independent operators in Wellington, New Zealand's craft beer capital, fear the developments will squeeze variety out of the market.
'The threat to them is that consumers at pubs, who are otherwise told what they can drink, see that alternatives are out there and start demanding choice,' said Dominic Kelly, co-owner of Hashigo Zake, a craft beer bar and distributor.
'[The majors'] preferred approach has been to muddy the water by presenting a brand of their own as 'craft' or buying someone out.
"The threat presented by small brewers is as great to them as it's ever been so rumours are rife of a buyout of a New Zealand craft brewer.'
Kelly cites the example of the Cock & Bull, which was recently acquired by Nourish Group, as an example of how big operators can squeeze out smaller brewers.
'The chain has just been sold and the new owners are getting rid of the beer and have signed an exclusive supply contract with Lion,' Kelly said.
'If I lived in Newmarket right now, I'd be livid and looking for a new home.'
Cock & Bull made its name as a brew pub, with its beers produced under contract by boutique Auckland brewer Steam. Nourish owns the Euro & Jervois Steak House restaurants as well as several bars including O'Hagans and Wellington's Shed 5.
This critique - unsurprisingly - was rejected by DB, which says its reason for entering the market is pure economics.
According to its figures, total beer consumption in New Zealand shrank 2 per cent in the last quarter while the craft beer market grew by 14 per cent.
'We're obviously investing in our own brands and have nothing on the agenda to buy craft brands or anything like that,' said Clare Morgan, DB's general manager of marketing.
She maintains the beer drinking market has developed a taste for choice and as long as brewers keep innovating, there will always be room for independent operators.
Morgan also notes that the craft beer market in New Zealand is relatively untapped outside Wellington, and has the potential to increase from its current 10 per cent to 15 per cent of total beer consumption as it does in the US, the biggest craft beer consumer in the world.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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