Victoria Bitter makes ABV play with Xtra

In an apparent move to target younger adults leaving the beer category, CUB has launched a VB brand extension that emphasises its higher alcohol as a product feature.

CUB has today announced the launch of Victoria Bitter Xtra – or VX – which goes on sale this week.

The media release announcing the launch leads with the strength of the beer, noting it  “comes in 250ml bottles and has 6% alcohol compared to 4.9% in classic VB”.

“VX will be sold in four-packs of 250ml stubbies, which contain 1.2 standard drinks each,” it reads.

VB Brand Director Sarah Wilcox said the new variant was ‘slightly bolder’.

“We’ve launched VX to give beer lovers a slightly bolder and more intense version of the great VB taste they’ve enjoyed for generations. It is brewed to be enjoyed with mates and to offer more choices of great-tasting beer for various occasions.”

“Australians are increasingly moderating their alcohol consumption – with almost 30% of Carlton & United Breweries’ beer sales now, zero, low and mid-strength beers.

“However, higher-alcohol beers are increasingly popular in the craft segment, and we think there’s a market among traditional beer lovers who also want bolder and more intense flavours. It’s all about choice.”

While CUB is celebrating this as an exciting innovation for the brand, the insights, execution and language are almost identical to its rival XXXX’s 2006 launch of the 6.5 per cent XXXX Special Brew.

A XXXX spokesperson said at the time the higher alcohol and fuller flavour were designed for those who inhabit the “night time zone”.

“We’ve done a lot of research which identified a niche market for XXXX, aimed at the younger crowd who are essentially impervious to mainstream advertising,” the head brewer Brent Wright was quoted as saying.

“These people go out to a bar and they tend to drink something with more taste to it, like wine, spirits or the RTD (ready to drink) cans.

“XXXX Gold is a beer you can drink a lot of but it has no taste memory. Special Brew is a step-up in flavour.”

The XXXX brand extension, launched as an early counter to the initial growth of craft beer,  never found its intended market and died quickly and quietly.

The launch of VX is a calculated move for CUB, which has previously been willing to risk significant damage to the VB brand by dropping the strength to 4.8 per cent and then to 4.6 per cent in the name of saving the excise dollars the reduction brought.

The company clearly now believes that there is a market sufficient to warrant the excise hit it will take for a significant alcohol increase, though is silent on the market or occasion it is targeting.

While the release notes the higher alcohol in many craft beers, this is rarely the focus of that category, coming instead as a byproduct of the genuinely fuller flavour of the styles.

It also comes at a significantly steeper price point than that pitched by VX, ruling out price-conscious and effect-driven drinkers.

The combination of highlighting the strength, the 250ml ‘throwdown’ bottles and $16 4-packs has the launch squarely targeting younger drinkers, especially those with an eye on bang-for-the-buck.

The move comes as Gen-Z is increasingly seen as the first generation that prefers spirits and wine to beer.

The alcohol-as-a-feature launch is a departure to CUB’s own attempts elsewhere to build value in beer’s brand as the basis for thoughtful social bonding or an inclusive shared experience.

CUB has also sought to attract RTD and seltzer drinkers back to the category with its Sungazer Fruity Beer range, at 4.2 per cent ABV.

Last week historic craft brand Lord Nelson sought to attract older drinkers to its brand with a cheeky 35+ campaign designed to make its brand appeal to more sophisticated drinkers.

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