Austalia. Supermarket giants tapping into beer market

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COLES and Woolworths are set to prise tens of millions of dollars in revenue from Australia’s brewing giants this year as they bolster sales of house-brand beers, industry experts say.
The retail behemoths have been advised they have the potential to significantly increase sales of private labels despite falling beer consumption.

Liquor industry analysts predict the retailers – believed to reap at least $100 million a year in sales of own-brand beer – can increase their market share from 2.5 to 4 per cent.

Supermarket-owned wine labels now account for almost 20 per cent of wine sales in Australia. The supermarket giants have antagonised food and beverage companies by aggressively rolling out new home-brand labels in recent years.

Woolworths, which last year stated its wish to double private label sales across all products, has clearly been most aggressive in the beer market and this month added a new label, Sail & Anchor, to its range.

The group’s liquor buying manager, Steve Donahue, told BusinessDaily Woolworths’ beer sales were growing. Market research indicates industry-wide sales fell more than 5 per cent in the year to November.

Woolworths has also moved into the booming cider market using the Sail & Anchor brand.

Citi analysts believe the growth of “big box” liquor stores – Woolworth’s Dan Murphy’s and BWS and Coles’ First Choice – will provide vital shelf space for their lower-price private label beers. They estimate private labels, sold at full price, provide a gross margin of 10-20 per cent compared with less than 5 per cent for mainstream branded beers from Foster’s and Lion.

Citi’s Craig Woolford said the big retailers would always promote the big brewers’ brands while quietly slotting their own labels in for subtle competition.

“Foster’s makes very high profit margins so the beer category has been a target for retailers, though building brand equity in beer takes time compared to wine, as consumer repertoire of wine choices is far wider,” Mr Woolford said.

The retailers’ private labels are divided between so-called “control brands” and their own labels. Control brands, such as the Sol Mexican brand sold in Woolworths outlets, are made by other manufacturers but licensed exclusively to one retailer.

Woolworths has also bought 25 per cent of Perth’s Gage Road brewery.

Hammer ‘N’ Tongs was produced for Coles by Boag’s, but that contract was cancelled by the Tasmanian brewer’s owner Lion and the beer is now made offshore in Vietnam.

Mr Donahue said: “We won’t be spending millions in advertising like the big brands do, and we are growing, but from a small base.”