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Craft beer – Bucking the trend in Australia

Agribusiness Bulletin

With beer consumption in Australia at a 65-year low, the Australian craft beer movement is experiencing a surge in popularity and exponential growth.

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Craft beer – Bucking the trend in Australia

The genesis of craft beer evolved from beer lovers who tinkered with their home brew kits in their backyards, dabbling with different flavours and methods and innovating through spice additives, switching strains of hops, forte alcohol, and creating personal takes on international flavours. Currently worth $160 million, the Australian craft beer market is being driven by passionate craft beer makers and home brewers, together with more sophisticated beer drinkers and consumers who are demanding a more boutique, unique, and premium product. With more home brewers and innovative entrepreneurs adding to Australia’s 150 plus microbreweries, IBIS has forecast that the industry will grow by 5% over the next five years.

The Australian beer market: Losing its dominance

Traditionally, the Australian beer market has been highly concentrated and largely produced for local taste and consumption. The three major incumbents in the industry include SABMiller (VB, Carlton, Pure Blonde, Matilda Bay), Lion Nathan (James Squire, XXXX, Heineken, Corona), and Coopers, and they have traditionally produce full-strength beer, which dominates the market with 88% of all beer sold in 2013. Australian beer consumption is currently at a 65 year low, and we have seen a resurgence of wine as Australia’s preferred drink, whilst the popularity of cider has also impacted traditional beer sales. Unlike the Australian wine market, in which approximately 60% of Australian wine is exported, beer manufactured in Australia is largely consumed within the Australian market, with Australian consumption making up the majority of beer produced.

View the Apparent consumption of alcohol, Australia, 2012-13.

Despite the decline in the popularity of beer drinking in Australia, the Australian craft beer market is flourishing. Changing consumer tastes, and the shift from quantity to quality have seen the craft beer movement flourish. Nevertheless, despite its small proportion of the market, 2.5% to 3% by volume, IBIS World has forecast that the revenues in the sector should grow by 5% per annum over the next five years, whereas the traditional beer market will grow by only 1.7%. Key to this growth is a well-defined and educated consumer. Roy Morgan has identified craft beer drinkers as ‘hip, young inner-city dwellers’ aged below 50, who are "cashed up, clued up and cultured’. Chief Executive of the Australian Craft Beer Association Chris McNamara has identified that craft beer makers are targeting a different demographic than traditional beer drinkers, commenting that 'going out and drinking a lot of beer is generally not a part of what the industry is selling…it's all about drinking for flavour and drinking local.

The dominant players are not ignoring the growth in craft beer either, with the incumbents in the industry capitalising on growth and adding a number of ‘craft beers’ to their portfolios. Lion Nathan acquisition of Little Creatures brewery has given it the market edge in the craft beer movement, whilst ‘The Australian Beer Company,’ a joint venture between Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA) and Casella Family Wines, is launching a range of craft brews under the Yenda brand. CCA has also had success through importing the craft beer, Blue Moon, which is made in the US by Coors. The ACCC has, however, placed the market leaders on notice, with increasing discussion surrounding the definition of craft beer and concerns that the major brewers may be misleading consumers.

The future of craft beer is flavoured with opportunity

The increased development of micro-breweries will continue as the market matures, and the consumers demand premium, innovative, and diverse offerings. Low barriers to entry will exasperate further fragmentation in the Australian beer market, with Australia’s 150 microbreweries challenging the incumbents in innovation, service, and the number of products available in the market. This growth could be hampered by the market concentration and the leveraged position of retail liquor distributors of supermarket chains, which poses a difficulty for independent brewers.

Further growth could be accelerated through the development of tax breaks for craft breweries in Australia. A disparity has emerged between the government benefits afforded to small wine producers through the Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) and the excise charged on beer sales. Comparing the total revenue of wine and beer sales to excise contribution (government revenue) beer sales deliver three times as much in tax. In the US, which is the most advanced in terms of size and volume when it comes to craft beer, changes to US tax law will further drive the development of the industry. A change in Australian taxation of small breweries is likely to accelerate industry growth. Support for small or micro-breweries in the form of tax relief is being sought by the ARCBA to help foster the development of a growing industry.

Impact on agribusiness and regional Australia

This provides an opportunity for local Australian farmers, as a growing craft brewing industry is likely to demand more premium ingredients like malted barley and hops, the key ingredients in beer. Upstream suppliers, the growers of malted barley and hops, are well positioned to support Australian craft brewers. The Australian barley industry is strong, producing 5% of global production and accounting for 20% of all malt traded globally. It is largely export-focused, with 60% of the 2.5m tonnes produced each year heading to foreign destinations. The growth in the Australian sector provides opportunities for Australian farmers through understanding craft brewer needs and in the developing supply chain relationships that benefit both parties – secure supplies of quality ingredients with improved certainty and transparency of pricing.

Value-add industries in hospitality and tourism will also feel the benefit of a growing craft beer market in regional Australia. Regional Australia is home to a disproportionate amount of breweries. Many microbreweries have opened in popular tourist areas, often offering an alternative to wineries, while others like Sydney’s suburban brewer ‘Young Henrys’ and Manly’s ‘4 Pines’ have created a passionate following amongst locals in the area with localisation of the brand being central to the success within the market. Consumers want to experience ‘locally’ made produce and, by and large, craft beer entrepreneurs through their passion for the product and local ingredients, develop a strong link through their produce, marketing, and sense of place. With their local focus, craft breweries are fostering the development of job creation and further the establishment of small businesses in the region.

1. IBISWorld Industry Report OD5071, Craft Beer Production in Australia, March 2014
2. IBISWorld Industry Report OD5071, Craft Beer Production in Australia
3. Wine Australia
4. IBISWorld Industry Report, C1212, Beer Manufacturing in Australia
5. Roy Morgan,  ‘Nothing bitter about craft beer’s rising popularity’  Date: 23 July 2014
6. AFP, ‘Australia's small breweries out to offend as craft beers flourish’ 19th September 2014
7. Australian Real Craft Brewers and the need for excise relief and Government Support
8. Barley Australia website


Tom Wynne

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