Asahi makes nostalgia play with return of Power's

Queensland is set to go back to the 80s with the return of the Power’s Brand as Asahi makes a major heritage play.

In a recently launched teaser campaign, the brewer has announced “Power’s is Back. About Bloody Time.”

Part of the current teaser campaign going to publicans ahead of the February relaunch

Despite having launched the campaign, the company declined to discuss the planned launch other than issuing a brief statement from a CUB spokesperson.

“Carlton & United Breweries can confirm it’s brewing a new full-strength version of Power’s beer in early 2023,” the statement said.

“Power’s Bitter was first brewed at Power’s Brewery in Yatala in September 1988. Power’s was subsequently sold to CUB in 1993.”

“We’ll have more exciting announcements about the new beer next month.”

Contacted for comment, brand founder Bernie Power confirmed he was aware of the relaunch, but declined to comment beyond saying he was leaving this to Asahi.

“I think it will be a very significant event for Asahi in Australia is all I will say for now,” Power said.

While publicans have been sent the teaser image (right) and billboards have started to appear, including around Asahi’s Yatala brewery that Power founded, little is known about the beer other than it has a “new taste” and is described as ultra smooth.

A pre-internet ‘disruptor’

Built as one of the country’s most modern and efficient breweries in its day, Power’s Bitter was launched in 1988. It burst upon the market, quickly taking a 10 per cent share in its home market. A number of other beers were launched under the Power’s brand, including Power’s Light and Power’s Gold.

Brewery historian and art director Mick Bannenberg notes on his Australian Beer Posters page that “such was the popularity of the beers that, after two years of operation, the brewery had expanded to a capacity of 140 million litres of beer a year.”

According to CUB’s website, the Yatala brewery, CUB’s most efficient, currently produces 400 million litres each year.

To put that into perspective, Coopers currently produces 80 million litres of beer a year.

While not currently willing to comment on the relaunch, Bernie Power spoke with the author in 2005 for an article, describing the creation of Power’s as capitalising on discontent in the marketplace.

Power’s quickly gained market share with gentle digs at bigger rival XXXX

“The two breweries then [Castlemaine Perkins, now part of Lion, and Queensland Breweries, now part of Asahi] were really masters of the industry,” he said.

“Castlemaine Perkins was the most dominant brewer in the marketplace. I think they had 86 or 87 per cent market share, which was quite extraordinary.”

Although it was a juggernaut, Power sensed an opportunity to break the stranglehold following Alan Bond’s takeover of Castlemaine Perkins, a move that upset local publicans.

He built one of the most modern and efficient breweries in the country and in 1988 launched Power’s Bitter.

Too big too fast

Ironically, the seeds of the business’ downfall were sown in its success.

“The facts are we ran out of beer literally on the first day, and we never caught up,” Power said in 2005.

“And we didn’t either, we couldn’t get beer to Ipswich.

“According to one of my friends at Anheuser Busch, it was one of the most successful brand launches in the world, not just in Australia.

“And even by the standards of Anheuser Busch, it was just fantastic that we could get that market share so quickly.”

Power said despite this success, the company made some strategic mistakes.

“We made some fundamental mistakes. We should have stayed in Queensland, we should not have gone to the Northern Territory. We should not have gone to Northern New South Wales,” he explained.

“What we should have done was focused on our state here, so we could supply it properly and manage it properly.”

Successful, but outcompeted

While supplying the demand for his beer provided a challenge, ultimately it was the competitive pressure of the major brewers that took its toll, according to Power.

“It was the fact that for every dollar we spent, our competitors spent five dollars,” he said.

“But it wouldn’t be allowed to happen now, I don’t think the ACCC would allow that to happen, because they simply outspent us.”

He said that he had seen a document that showed the impact Power’s Brewing had on the price of beer.

“It showed a graph of the price of beer when we came into the market, and how it dropped right down.

“And then when Fosters took us over, it came back up again. That showed very clearly that when we came into the marketplace, that’s where they went to war.”

If you can’t beat them, join them

In August 1992, Power’s Brewing Co. entered into a joint venture with the then Fosters, creating Queensland Breweries Pty Ltd, with the business brewing for both companies.

In October 1993, the brewery became totally owned by CUB.

“In hindsight, I think there are other things we should have done,” Power said in the 2005 interview.

“I think that we should possibly have not sold the brewery to Fosters. But at the time I don’t think we knew what they were but, in hindsight, there were other options we could take.

“The fortunate thing is that when we sold the company to Foster’s, it was a very good company.

“While we left with a considerable sum of money, the facts are the company was taken over in its entirety and all the staff. Every job was intact, the company was secure.

“The one thing they didn’t do, of course, was protect the brands. They didn’t do that.

“The Power’s brands were much stronger up here than the CUB brands were here, but they let them fail,” he said.

“And I think that cost them dearly because a brewery is just a part of the machine; the value is in the brand.

“So if you haven’t got brands, you’ve got nothing.”

Going back for the future

Mick Bannenberg says that what happened to Power’s Brewing was CUB’s strategy at the time.

“CUB had a policy that was acquire local breweries and replace them with CUB’s own,” he said.

“This is also what happened with Reschs in New South Wales, it was replaced by VB. VB was never a tap beer, Carlton Draught was a tap beer.

“They were trying to take their brands national, and they replaced the local brands.”

The state-of-the-art brewery was a major attraction for CUB in the Queensland market. The company closed its older brewery in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane in February 1993, and all CUB beers that had been produced at the Valley were then brewed at Yatala.

Bannenberg said that to some extent the strategy worked, with VB for a time reaching a position where it made up a quarter of the beer market.

The move is part of a longer-term strategy for CUB to play to consumer nostalgia, increasingly also looking to rebuild the state-based brands it once ignored.

While brands such as Reschs survived, they were largely ignored to the extent social media handles have been taken by fans of the brand.

Reschs has been revived more recently, largely thanks to a consumer-led movement inspired by the growing Reschs Appreciation Society.

CUB has also resurrected the Great Northern brand, another beer it had acquired and discontinued, closing its Cairns brewery in 1992.

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