Big brewers losing share of craft

Jamie Cook

Small independent brewers could soon overtake Lion and CUB’s share of ‘craft beer’, an unprecedented occurrence for any beer market segment in recent history, according to Stone & Wood co-founder Jamie Cook.

Cook told Radio Brews News that the growth of independents is outstripping the two big brewers in the 6.5 per cent of the beer market considered to be ‘craft’.

“The two big guys are actually struggling to hold share… if the trend continues in the next six months you will see, as a compilation, small independent brewers actually being bigger than one of the two big brewers,” he said.

“And that’s the first time ever, in… say the last 30 years of Australian beer, that one of the two big brewers haven’t been number one or number two in a category.I think that must be a worrying sign for the big guys,” said Cook.

Conscious consumers

He said the recent Megabrew merger had not solved any of the “core problems” the big brewers are facing.

“Their brands are in decline, the drinkers aren’t looking for those things that they’re offering. And they don’t have or can’t create the things the drinkers are looking for,” he said.

Cook said small independent brewers now have a beer market share of just over three per cent, up from half a percentile five years ago.

“The conscious consumers are out there looking for the small independent brewers, and that’s certainly what’s [been] driving that growth over the last five years,” he said.

Big brewers’ conundrum

All three Stone & Wood founders were formerly CUB employees and Cook said their experience relaunching Matilda Bay in 2003 illustrated the contradiction craft beer posesfor multinationals.

“We did it on our own terms… we needed some distance from the larger beast, if you like, and ability to create and develop things,” he said.

“Within 18 months, we’d overtaken Squires and Creatures. [But] we knew from the moment that we started on that exercise, once we started to become successful the empire would close in on us, because people would see that success and want to have their fingerprints all over it.

“And that’s pretty much what happened… over time, the big guys in corporate-land kind of helped themselves and started to pick at it and morph it and change it.

“I think it’s very hard for big businesses to try and play that game, and I think that’s a bit of an echo in terms of where the market [currently] is.

“The big guys are just in the wrong place at the moment for where the drinkers are heading. And they don’t have, or they can’t create what a lot more drinkers these days are looking for,” said Cook.

Corporate combover

Cook said the jury is out on whether the big brewers can re-engage consumers by nurturing their own smaller, regional breweries, as Lion has done recently with Eumundi and Byron Bay.

“Whether they can pull it off is yet to be seen. But it comes back to that famous little catch cry… it’s a bit of a ‘corporate combover’.

“You can try and be regional but if, at the end of the day, your sole purpose as a business in Australia is to report profits, return profits back to your overseas shareholder, then that’s going in a different direction to trying to be a small local brewer that supports its local market,” he said.

Episode 114 of Radio Brews News is available to download here.

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