If there is one sector that has been front of mind for brewers in recent years, it is craft. While lager sale growth is largely flat, craft beer is growing rapidly: UK craft beer value sales grew 23% last year, according to CGA Strategy figures for the 12 months to April 2017.
This booming craft beer market has emerged as consumers move away from mass-produced beer and become more discerning in their choices, and so behemoth brewers like AB InBev, Heineken and Carlsberg have naturally wanted to get in on the action.
So how have the big brewers responded? Many have been aggressive with acquiring small breweries. AB InBev bought Goose Island in 2011, and has since snapped up another 11 craft brewers, ranging from Blue Point in New York to Camden Town Brewery in the UK. Meanwhile, Carlsberg’s UK division recently acquired Hackney-based London Fields Brewery.
Some have decided to launch their own products Diageo introduced ‘Hop House 13’ lager in 2015, putting a seven-figure sum behind it to promote it to the masses. Meanwhile, Carlsberg has been brewing a 133-year-old lager in a bid to reclaim its “craft beer heritage”, and launched a craft beer portfolio, The Crafted Handbook, which showcases its own beers as well as some independents and Brooklyn Brewery beers, which it markets and distributes in the UK.
And increasingly the major brewers are using their marketing to push their craft credentials using a message focused on quality and heritage. Carlsberg recently told Marketing Week it sees itself as “the first craft brewery”, and that it is “exactly the same as [those] craft brewers launching their products today”. That might seem counterintuitive to those that believe craft beer is all about small, independent brewers.
But Carlsberg thinks the only real difference is that its beers reach a global market.
“The real difference is that we have managed to stabilise the quality and handling of the production so that we could make craft beer for the many. Small breweries are using the idea of craft being about small-scale brewing as a marketing tool against us,” says Thomas Lohren Busch, creative advisor consultant at Carlsberg.
The independents fight back
With the major brewers expanding rapidly into craft beer, the independents are having to fight to retain ownership of the idea of craft beer. To do that, the Society of Independent Brewers Association (SIBA), which represents 870 British independent brewers has launched a ‘seal’ that gives independent brewers the chance to tell…