Global hop marketA local alternative to mass beer suggested by independent brewers has been successful and is now altering the global market. Beer is becoming more diversified, so transnational companies have to accept the new game rules and to switch focus to young and fast growing markets. All these processes increased the demand for aroma and bitter hop as well as their acreage expansion on two continents. However now there appeared a downward trend of alcohol consumption in the world, so even special sorts can soon turn to be sufficient. In this connection the dynamic American hop market is already facing some problems. EU hop producers have become more cautious, they are not racing to exceed the demand and look forward with more confidence, judging by the contract terms.
Hop Market in RussiaGermany still dominates the Russian market, yet over the recent two years one has been able observe a continuous success of Czech hop suppliers. Their expansion and growing popularity of hops from the United States became the drivers of supplies growth in 2016 despite the preceding modest harvest crop in the EU, as well as the factor of relative stability in 2017. In this connection, in 2017, the ratio of the varieties continued to shift towards the aroma ones, and the supplies of Magnum hop and other alpha varieties were reduced. However, the import of bitter hop pellets is partially replaced by extracts, especially from the major beer manufacturers. Total volumes of alpha acid supplies, according to our estimation, decreased by approximately 5% and returned to the level of 2015. Barth Haas Group continues dominating the hop products market; HVG also increased its weight. At the same time, Morris Hanbury significantly reduced the supplies in 2017.
10+1 trends of Russian beer market 2015-2017Despite of the moderately negative prognoses for 2017, the beer market can be stabilized soon. Yet the years of the negative dynamics have resulted in marketing being limited just to “optimization” and the art of balancing between price and volumes. Bigger supermarkets share means stronger trade marketing. These processes are connected to the majority of the described trends. At the same time, the federal brands inflation leads to searching for new tastes, sales channels and contact formats that expand the product range and diversify the beer market, but do not imply a substantial volume increase. Let us enumerate and further discuss the ten trends of the beer market we can see in 2015-2017 as well as the major event of 2017.
Beer market of Ukraine 2017In the first half of 2017, the Ukrainian beer market goes on decreasing slowly. Yet, the companies manage to compensate their lost volumes by raising prices and improving the sales structures. This results in the mid price market segment reduction while the sales of premium brands are rising. These processes are connected to position strengthening of companies Carlsberg Group and Oasis and the market share reduction of Obolon. Most of the novelties by the market leaders belong to craft or hard lemon categories.
Beer market of Russia 2016: PET goes to draftThe beer market of Russia was warmed up by the hot summer, but the preparation for large volume PET prohibition has already impacted it negatively. The year was successful for Efes, MBC and regional producers; Carlsberg’s positions were virtually stable but AB InBev and Heineken lost a part of market share having focused on the sales profitability. The dynamics of big brands was determined by how much the companies were willing to keep the prices down or by their promotional activity. In this context the economy segment of the beer market and sales of inexpensive draft beer were increasing. The premium segment started shrinking due to license brands migrating to the mainstream segment.
SABMiller’s Asia chief Ari Mervis raises a glass to Snow Beer
All wrong. For the past three years, the world's top-selling beer is a pale, Budweiser-like brew that barely anyone in the West has ever heard of, let alone tasted. It is Snow Beer.
The Chinese drank 16.5bn pints of Snow last year, making it easily China's favourite and roughly twice as popular as Bud Light, the global beer from which it snatched the number one spot back in 2008.
Snow may not yet generate as much profit for SABMiller, the brewer that part owns it, as Bud Light does for its rival, Anheuser-Busch InBev, but the Chinese beer market is booming, with around 10pc growth each year.
By contrast, US and European beer drinkers, sobering up fast thanks to the economy's poor state in the developed world, are steadily reducing their own consumption.
"A lot of foreigners who have been to the mainland are surprised when they stop by my office," said Ari Mervis, the head of SABMiller in Asia, from his base in Hong Kong. "They ask me: 'What is this brand Snow? We did not see it anywhere.'"
"And of course I tell them it is the biggest beer in China, ahead of rivals who have been around for 110 years when we have only been going for 15. But it is in a very Chinese part of the market, not in places where foreigners go to."
In fact, Snow is such a domestic Chinese product that it is not even available in Hong Kong, just across the border. The beer that most foreigners see, both inside and outside China, is Tsingtao, first brewed by Germans in the north-east of the country, and now owned partly by Asahi, the Japanese conglomerate, a Chinese entrepreneur and the Chinese government. More than 11bn pints of Tsingtao were sold last year. And Tsingtao is said to be up against SABMiller in the race to take over Foster's, after the South African brewers put up a ?6bn hostile offer last week.
Snow is not marketed as aggressively as Tsingtao. Indeed, it barely advertises at all. But its parent company, which is 49pc-owned by SABMiller and 51pc-owned by China Resources, has steadily gone about buying up China's network of local breweries, traditionally the main providers of beer in each region, moving from the north-east down the coast and then to the south and inland. The spate of acquisitions has given Snow control of large areas of the country where it dominates the local market.
"When we entered the market in 1993, we did so very humbly with only three breweries," said Mr Mervis. "Now we have 80 and there are 500 across the country," he added.
In the beginning, as Tim Clissold, a former banker who invested heavily in China in the 1990s, relates in his book Mr China, the Chinese beer market produced "a great deal of froth". International investors piled into the market, but there was little quality control at breweries that had been state-run for decades.
"Late that summer, I was given several samples of our beer that had been recovered from a Beijing market," wrote Mr Clissold of the Five Star brand he had invested in.
"One bottle had leaves in the bottom, several contained only an inch of beer and another was full but contained a large ball of adhesive tape. We could never figure out how it ever got in there."
Mr Mervis admits that when he started in China, some of the breweries reminded him of his days in Russia, when he would see "places with just a kettle and a tank that had been set up for distilling vodka".
Nevertheless, in the early days of Snow, he said the team looked at under-performing breweries as "an opportunity". These days, of course, the breweries have all been upgraded with the latest equipment.
"The technological and technical advances have been remarkable," he said. "When we look at our breweries globally there are some in China that are right up there, in terms of low water usage, energy per hectolitre (100 litres), and output per person."
He added: "In terms of quality we have focused on consistency of quality, and we have rationalised the brands – so there used to be over 60 brands of Snow and now there are just five key varieties. We focused on the glass, the labelling, the crowns."
Earlier this summer, Snow's expansion continued down in Jiangsu province, Shanghai, and then in Zhejiang, with the ?111m purchase of four major breweries, one of which produces one of Shanghai's favourite beer brands, REEB. The sellers were Asahi and Heineken.
"For us it was important to have control of those areas," said Mr Mervis. "Hangzhou in particular is a large and affluent city, very prosperous and attracts a lot of visitors." He declined to comment on why Asahi and Heineken had sold, beyond saying that the Japanese brewer was focusing its efforts on Tsingtao and that Heineken is after China's premium market. Last week, Snow struck a ?25m deal to take a 70pc stake in Kweichow Moutai beer, a spin-off brand of China's most famous "baijiu", or white spirit, distillery.
With the purchase of each new brewery, Snow targets a 50pc share of the local market, slowly replacing the local brewery's brand with its own and courting distributors. The focus on logistics, rather than image, has so far been the key to its success.
The product itself is difficult to distinguish from the rest of China's beers, all of which tend to taste the same to a European palate, much in the way that American beers do, but it is a good example of where localisation is essential to success in China.
According to SABMiller, the beer is "bright, almost transparent in nature, with a tight pure white foam". According to beer enthusiasts outside of China, posting on the BeerAdvocate magazine's website, it is "bland and watery".
"The Chinese do not look at beer the way that you do in the UK, where people go to a pub to drink. Chinese still see beer mostly as an accompaniment to a meal," said Mr Mervis. "Half of all beer is drunk in restaurants, and with spicy food, they want a less filling and less heavy beer. The prefer low alcohol (typically between 3pc and 4pc) and a more American taste profile," he added.
Looking forward, Mr Mervis predicted that Snow's march of acquisitions would start to slow. The jumps that saw Snow double in size between 2005 and 2006 are unlikely to be repeated.
"I cannot see much on the horizon," he said. "It is a big challenge to make sure acquisitions can see a clear path to profitability," he added. "It is hard in China, because to do well in fast-moving consumer goods, you need to be big. But you have to balance that investment. We want to build an unassailable lead but we want to be profitable, too."
Instead, he hinted that the company's experiments with moving the brand towards the premium sector had been successful, and that with the national coverage that Snow has, it could be time to start a national advertising campaign.
"Beer is not really seen as a real premium product in China so far," he said. "But in the future it may move that way."
23 Aug. 2011