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June 15th, 2018
Diving deep into the beer keg
by Alice Hesmondhalgh

Here at fusion we’re not short of beer knowledge. For National Beer Day, Project Manager Alice Hesmondhalgh has been chatting navigation, loyalty and much more to our beer experts Myles Ritson, Pat Tully and Caroline Cutress.

Today is Britain’s annual national beer day; a day to celebrate the nation’s alcoholic drink of choice. There is a reason why National Beer Day is today, and it’s not to appease the dads coming up to Father’s Day. It’s on the 15th June as it is the date the Magna Carta was sealed in 1215. Article 35 stated: ‘Let there be throughout our kingdom a single measure for wine and a single measure for ale and a single measure for corn.’

Nearly a millennium later, beer is still enjoyed, but in the last few years in particular the beer market has changed drastically. We’ve seen exponential growth of the craft category but a double-digit decline in keg and lager sales (source: Mintel 2016). So, I thought why not chat to our fusion learning beer experts to unearth their insights into the beer landscape.

First up, what makes you a beer specialist?

Myles Ritson (Founder & CEO): We encourage everyone at fusion learning to jump between categories, allowing us to provide divergent perspectives for our clients. But inevitably we all find ourselves gravitating towards certain categories we love. I love the craftsmanship and the complexity of beer and that’s what’s led me to work on the positioning of more than 30 beer brands around the world and to be part of some amazing, category-stretching innovation projects.

Patrick Tully (APAC MD): I started my career in the world of beer and have been lucky enough, since then, to have worked on a vast array of great brands including global icons like Guinness and Stella Artois as well as smaller national treasures like Two Hoots Golden Ale and Kokanee. The truth, however, is that my love affair with beer started a few years earlier when I had my first sip of ice cold Kingfisher Lager on a family holiday to Goa in South India – and it continues today!

Caroline Cutress (Brand Mentor): I started my career as one of the very few women in marketing at Fosters Brewing Group. There is something about the world of beer that gets into your DNA. Since then I have been lucky enough to work on some great brands that are still thriving today.

Keg and lager sales have seen a double-digit decline in the last few years. What do you think brands should be doing to turnaround the category?

Myles: The fightback has already begun. Many of the big players have now begun actively acquiring great craft brands to add to their portfolio, but they have also begun to look hard at their big monolithic national beers and explore how they might evolve to meet the needs of an ever more inquisitive and sophisticated consumer. Take a look at Staropramen in its home country and you will see a beautiful example of mass artistry – Staropramen 11, 12, Granat…all served the Czech way with multiple pours that can transform the drinking experience of any one beer. The on-trade remains a huge experiential opportunity to be tapped…literally.

Patrick: I think brands should get very clear on their target audience and occasion and celebrate what they can bring to both. They can never and should never try to be niche or crafty. They should celebrate the fact that they are generally very drinkable and sessionable beers that have a breadth of appeal that can bring people together. They should remain free of beer snobbery and enjoy the fact that they are for the masses.

Caroline: I think it is time for the big brands to get to grips with the low alcohol segment. They need to understand the audience, how health and well being is embedded into their psyche and develop their brands to grow the sector with mainstream options.

On the other hand, there has been an increase in craft beer brands and smaller breweries. Why do you think this is?

Myles: It’s mirroring the wider societal movement to specialness, craftmanship and an interest in all things edible and quaffable. But like every trend, there’s a counter trend coming. Already in the US, the cradle of craft, the big chewy 6%+ hop monsters are seeing a drop off in interest. Watch out for the growth of lower alcohol offers and category hybrids like beer & tea.

Patrick: This is driven by the broader cultural trends around the celebration of smaller, more local producers. Primarily as a backlash against the rising tide of globalisation and commoditisation. Smaller craft producers can afford to be bolder and braver than the bigger organisations as their scale allows them to survive initially on niche appeal.

Caroline: Consumers are more interested in the story and provenance behind food in general – whether it is the location and the name of the farmer behind the meat on your plate or the ingredients in the ready meal you eat. It is no surprise that consumers are interested in smaller, local producers.

With all this choice, what do you think beer brands should be doing to differentiate themselves and create loyalty?

Myles: Differentiation is easy. Loyalty in a super complex category is the bigger challenge. You can seek to drive portfolio buying with a signature across a range of beers, but as the desire to experiment is here to stay, the answer will lie in continuous refreshment and having a purpose that’s bigger then the beer.

Patrick: I think the brands like Brewdog who have a very clear and compelling purpose and an appealing and fitting tone of voice will survive – so long as they produce the products that match. There seem to be some very strong emerging codes around craft beer and blindly following these may be a recipe for obscurity.

Caroline: Refreshing your understanding of the consumer is key. Consumers don’t stand still and so neither should the brands they choose.

The beer aisle is very crowded and difficult to navigate. What can brands and retailers do to help shoppers compel to buy?

Myles: There are already a myriad of in and out of store merchandising games being played. The biggest trap is for brewers to believe the answer lies in giving consumers a rich instore education in their beers. In Canadian Beerstores where people go only to buy beer, that might just work, but for the vast volume of beer sold around the world through supermarkets, trying to deliver an instore degree in Kolsch vs Grolsh won’t fly.

Patrick: Brands need to have a distinct tone as well as a real commitment to a quality product. I also think they need to continually innovate as there’s an expectation that craft brewers will keep on crafting. In terms of the retailers – I think their role will be to help consumers navigate the vast array of beer types and brands available.

Caroline: Develop a common language, like wine has. Consumers understand wine well enough to choose what they want to drink – beyond just the colour or the grape. They choose based on all the associations and the entire experience they expect from drinking it. It is difficult to encourage experimentation in the beer category without that level of understanding and without clear signposts at point of sale.

Who do you think is the beer brand to watch in the next 3 years?

Myles: For the near future, purpose led and beer brilliance driven Brewdog will continue to turn heads. The brand to watch in the future hasn’t come yet. It could be a totally new brand from a one of the Big 3, but it’s unlikely to be beer as we know it.

Patrick: From an Australian and potentially global perspective I’d say 4 Pines as it has been bought by AB Inbev and they plan to take the brand far and wide. I also think that Brew Dog are worth keeping an eye on too.

Caroline: Watch out for some of the locally brewed beers such as Harvey’s in Lewes. Investing in marketing and packaging to extend beyond their traditional boundaries could allow them (and other local breweries) to ride on the current trend and interest in provenance.

If you’d like to chat (or drink) beer with us please get in touch!