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Opportunities for beer in 2021 & beyond

12 May 2021 by Ambrosia Magazine

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Beer suffered quite heavily during 2020, primarily due to its reliance on the on-premise. Beer markets in Italy, the UK and Colombia were amongst those particularly hard hit due to lockdown restrictions. Traditional inbound tourism hubs continue to hurt. Some brewers also faced legislative issues, notably full bans on the sale of alcohol in South Africa and India, and a ban on domestic brewing in Mexico. Changes in consumer purchasing behaviour in the off-premise, such as a tendency to purchase multi-packs and less time spent browsing, meant some players had to adapt to new packaging offerings and/or new distribution channels as well. Overall, the industry will likely see an approximate 9% decline in beer consumption across 19 key markets (2019 to 2020). Amidst the challenges, however, there are bright spots:

Market recovery

IWSR research shows that some beer markets will emerge from 2020 relatively unscathed: beer proved remarkably resilient in Japan, for example, especially in the face of a strongly-advancing ready-to-drink (RTD) category. Although beer in China will see an approximately 7% loss in volume in 2020, the decline is not as bad as many feared it could be, primarily as restrictions had largely been lifted by the key summer months. Looking forward, developing markets will continue to provide growth opportunities for brewers. Even before Covid-19, many developed beer markets had stagnated in recent years. Key players have invested heavily in increasing their brewing capability and distribution networks across developing markets. Africa has been a particular focal point for investment, with new breweries opened in countries including Mozambique, Kenya and Ethiopia. In Asia, Heineken and Carlsberg have been very active in Vietnam and Cambodia. In 2019, Heineken enjoyed success with the launch of Heineken Silver in Vietnam, while Carlsberg’s relaunch of Huda was also well received. Of the leading markets, IWSR projects these two countries to be in the top ten growth markets between 2019 and 2024. The potential for beer growth in India is strong as well. AB InBev, for example, began brewing Budweiser in the market back in 2010. In January 2021, Kirin Holdings announced an investment of $30 million in New Delhi-based B9 Beverages, the maker of the Indian craft beer Bira. IWSR anticipates beer consumption in India to return to pre-Covid-19 levels by the end of 2023, continuing on its growth path from there.

Expanding beyond beer

As consumers moved to the at-home occasion, the trend for convenience has helped to shape purchasing behaviours. In markets such as the US, the ready-to-drink (RTD) category, which includes hard seltzers, has been taking share from beer. RTDs provide a growing opportunity for brewers to diversify their product portfolios. Indeed, Heineken entered the hard seltzer category in September 2020, with the launch of Pure Piraña in Mexico and New Zealand. In the US, Heineken partnered with AriZona to launch the AriZona SunRise Hard Seltzer in October 2020. AB InBev states that Bud Light Seltzer is their leading innovation in the US market, with over 75% of volume being incremental to their portfolio. In fact, 2021 was the first year in which a hard seltzer commercial (Bud Light Seltzer) aired during the Super Bowl. Malt-based RTDs are currently dominant in the US owing to their taxation base, and brewers there are in prime position to take advantage. Elsewhere, the alcohol base of choice varies by country, driven by consumer preference and local alcohol tax structures.

Changes in purchasing behaviour propel e-commerce

As with the wider beverage alcohol industry, Covid-19 has propelled the value of the alcohol e-commerce channel. Heineken, for example, reported that Beerwulf, its direct-to-consumer platform in Europe, nearly doubled its revenues in 2020, while in the UK, its revenues tripled. Online sales of its home-draught systems grew as well. Beer has traditionally under-traded online, primarily due to the channel offering lower margins. However, this will change as consumers continue to buy more groceries online and beer is included in the weekly shop. This is especially true in the US, where IWSR expects sales of online beer to grow rapidly as supermarket chains increasingly invest in the channel. Online beer sales hold the greatest market share in countries including Japan, the UK and the US. From a lower base, online beer sales will also grow rapidly over the next five years in markets such as Israel and Nigeria.

The entrepreneurial spirit of small-batch players

Craft breweries, which tend to be more dependent on the on-premise, have propelled interest in the global beer category and revitalised its fortunes in many markets. IWSR believes that the entrepreneurial spirit of the sector will mean that craft brewery regeneration will be quick. In the US, for example, IWSR has seen the pandemic lead to a “buy local” approach amongst some consumers, which will benefit small-batch players.

Innovation in the no/low space reignites the category

No- and low-alcohol beer is a bright spot for the category, as moderation and wellness trends continue to resonate with consumers. IWSR data shows that, to date, most volume has come from no-alcohol rather than low-alcohol beer across 10 key markets. Broadly, low-alcohol beer is giving way to no-alcohol offerings particularly in markets such as Australia, France and the UK. Spain, for example, is seeing a shift from low- to no-alcohol beers, as consumers seek healthier choices and view the newer 0.0% brands as more modern. In South Africa, investment from Heineken and the emergence of a craft segment has helped to generate interest in the no-alcohol category. While no-alcohol beer has existed for decades, in markets like the US, no-alcohol beer has premiumised through the release of no-alcohol versions of non-lager styles, long the domain of no-alcohol beer. More recent no-alcohol styles, such as IPAs, stouts or porters, are starting to make a real impression, driven particularly by new challenger brands, many of which are not linked to traditional brewing. The recent no-alcohol extension of Guinness – despite some teething issues – will help to underline that no-alcohol beers are no longer the sole domain of lagers. While several key beer players continue to steer the no/low beer category, the market is fragmented with a number of smaller brands vying to establish themselves as market leaders in this space. The segment is likely to become even more of a focus for smaller craft producers who are able to bring a diverse range of products to the market in future.

This report was contributed by knowledge partner:

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