Beerlines

Insights on beer marketing & PR by a beer-war vet

02 December
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CUB weakens Foster’s Lager. Why?

I was attracted to the bright blue pallet load of Foster’s Lager at Dan Murphy’s.

But what caught my attention was the alcohol content of Foster’s Lager now at 4%.

[UPDATE/CORRECTION 7 December: IT’S CLASSIC!! A case of reading the fine print! This brew is called Foster’s Classic and apparently is being sold exclusively through Dan Murphy’s; the comments at this web site about how ‘Classic’ it is are worth a read. Thanks to beer writer Matt Kirkegaard for the heads-up.]

fosters 4 percent

Previously, as you can see from the pic below from Carlton & United Breweries‘ website, Foster’s Lager was 4.9%. (Perhaps CUB should update its website.)

That’s a whopping 18% reduction!

fosters

Brand histories ignored
Why is CUB, or rather parent company SAB-Miller, doing this?

Okay.. Foster’s glory days are long over. Nonetheless it’s fair to say it remains an iconic beer brand recognised globally as Australian.

So has CUB learned nothing from the consumer backlash when they did this to VB? Remember CUB’s letter of apology in the press when they ‘fixed’ it?

Have they not checked their history and wondered at the demise of other strong CUB brands like Abbots Lager, Reschs Pilsener and Brisbane Bitter when alcohol was sneakily reduced?

CUB has recently cut the alcohol content of Cascade Premium too.

Perhaps Foster’s Lager is set to be yet another discount brand fighting on price. Call me nostalgic but that would be a sad end to this famous brand.

Cost cutting your way to growth
There is only one reason this is happening of course. It’s to reduce the Federal Excise the brewery has to pay which is based on alcohol content. Okay .. it’s the job of business to reduce costs. Consumers understand that.

What they don’t understand is a decision to ignore them and to reduce the essential ingredient and, invariably, the taste of a brand they prefer – or used to prefer.

SAB-Miller’s global webpage says it has “A commitment to growth.” Perhaps they’ve not heard the marketing truism which states “you can’t cost-cut your way to growth.”

However I suspect those making such decisions at CUB are not listening: certainly not to consumers. Pity.cheers

 

13 July
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Crown chases lost gold

So Crown Lager – or rather CUB’s Crown brand – has launched another line extension. This time as Crown Golden Ale.

The launch was well covered by the Herald Sun plus a solid review by Matt K at Australian Brews News (he has some unresolved issues with the Crown brand).

After the hefty consumer backlash to Crown Lager’s new taste (aka reformulation) as well as the failure of Crown Pilsner and Crown Gold, you’d think CUB would be treating Crown with more respect. Being gentle – softly softly – with such a key brand.

golden-ale-bottle-only

Crown Golden Ale in its black and gold livery

But no..

So .. this latest brand refurbishment for Crown prompts me to ask:

  • Is Crown Golden Ale filling an identified demand/niche or just line extending as CUB tends to do reactively when a brand is under serious pressure e.g. VB Original Ale?

Trend watching: OTL (other than lager)
Answer? Maybe it’s the strength of CUB rival James Squire’s Golden Ale.

Or could it be that CUB has spotted the trend in the UK where ‘golden ales’ are chalking up surprising growth in recent years?

The Guardian quotes Tesco ale buyer Chiara Nesbitt who notes: “Over the last five years ale has made a resounding revival as a flavoursome beer that is now appealing to a younger generation of beer drinkers. Golden ale with its light and refreshing taste is playing a major role in this revival as it is the beer lager drinkers first generally try if they want to switch to ale.” (my emphasis)

In support of this view, CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale in the United Kingdom) defines golden ales as a “.. new style of pale, well-hopped and quenching beer developed in the 1980s as independent brewers attempted to win younger drinkers from heavily-promoted lager brands.” (my emphasis)

Sneaking its way into craft?
Many beer experts will claim golden ale as being a style which has its origins in, and is now ‘owned’ by, the craft beer segment. I tend to agree.

So is this just CUB nudging the style boundaries and giving a hat-tip to a popular craft beer?

I think so, but does it matter? Read more…

08 March
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Beer provenance revisited: lack of transparency still a hot issue

On the matter of beer provenance I must highlight and hat tip the role Matt Kirkegaard, arguably Australia’s leading beer commentator and blogger, has played in bringing this issue to prominence.

After penning my previous post I came across an earlier post and podcast by Matt about beer provenance concerns. I urge you to read and listen to this interview with Dr Chuck Hahn by clicking on the RBN pic immediately below. Maybe miss the preamble and start 10 minutes in.

rbn chuck

While contacting Matt, beerlines took the opportunity to quickly interview him on beer provenance and secure an update on his thoughts.

Beerlines: “As Editor of Australian Brews News is provenance becoming more important? If so is there any variation between small and big brewers?”

Kirkegaard: “It’s an interesting question.

“As our shelves become more cluttered with a wider array of beers, consumers are looking to brand values as much as flavour to aid their selection.

“It’s here that provenance can really matter. It’s also here that large and small brewers can be pushing things a little too far and muddying the provenance waters.Byron_Bay_Pale_Lager_Carton_6_x_4_330ml

“While it’s very easy to point the finger at beers such as CUB’s outright deception with Byron Bay Lager, or LION’s highly dubious labelling of Kosciuszko Pale Ale, they can quite rightly point their fingers at smaller brewers who have taken the ‘we don’t hide it, but we just don’t advertise the fact’ line when it comes to own their own contract brewing.kosciuszko

“It really doesn’t matter to the quality of the beer, but the unwillingness to be open gives everyone the right to hedge a little and that hurts craft.

Unwillingness to be completely upfront .. lowers the craft bar
“While in one sense I can understand their thinking, it’s the craft brewers’ own unwillingness to be completely upfront that allows the debauching of the craft beer market by the likes of Coles’ Steamrail brand for example: indeed one beerlines used in earlier posts.

new dan murphys_1480

“When Coles can point to their product and say, quite honestly, that it comes from the same brewery as Mountain Goat’s Steam Ale and Summer Ale, and Mountain Goat offers nothing to differentiate their beer .. well, it lowers the craft bar. Read more…

01 February
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Beer biffo: a great start to 2013

Forget the surprise election announcement!

It was beer biffo that captured the news. Perfect timing to kick-start beerlines for 2013.

The biff? Hardly missable across the fraternity – but too juicy not to recap.

Through Australian Brews News, editor Matt Kirkegaard maintained a constant barrage of challenges to CUB/SAB-Miller over the matter of Byron Bay Pale Lager’s provenance.

[He’s still nudging them painfully in the ribs about Crown Lager’s increasingly mysterious heritage.]

In the one corner, with almost zero-tolerance, Matt pleads for complete transparency and authenticity regarding a beer brand’s provenance.

His plea, at heart, defends what he sees as the unique point-of-difference that most ‘real’ craft breweries have over the big guys when it comes to positioning in the market; that’s being small and acting small.

In the other, CUB/SAB-Miller says let the consumer decide.

It’s an epic stoush – although stereotypically big and bad verus small and good –  with some delightfully provocative language throw around; I just love Jamie Cook’s comment on CUB’s corporate comb-over. And as Jamie brews at Byron Bay with his Stone & Wood team, I suspect he has a keen interest in .. well .. CUB’s keen interest.

Craft Provocateurs
Brew News’ provocation of this debate will – eventually through the wonders of social media – nudge consumers to think more about the beer they’re drinking, or about to buy, which they believe is craft beer.

Not all – but some. Hopefully all opinion leaders.

Cheers!

19 September
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VB and Alan Bond: big lessons in taking beer consumers for granted

‘We put the consumer first.’

Any trust which mainstream beer consumers held for this claim, and the big brewers that made it has, too often, been shaken.

This post highlights two big lessons from both of Australia’s major brewers.

One is recent concerning VB. The other is from the 1980s but still provides relevant learnings in how not to treat loyal beer consumers. It concerns Alan Bond and his Bond Brewing empire.

Alan who? 
Fair question. The lesson however comes from what his Bond Corporation did to the three major state breweries it took over. They made up over half the national beer market and are now owned by LION, Australia’s largest brewer.

Bond Brewing corporate stainless steel replaces the Castlemaine Perkins sign

There are two great articles in Australia’s Beer and Brewer magazine which cover this fascinating and calamitous period in Australian brewing : one by ex-Four Corners journalist Paul Barry and the other by leading beer writer Matt Kirkegaard, editor of Australian Brews News.

A band-aid approach to trust
High-profile and public ‘whoops: we got it wrong’ flip-flops might help restore some trust. In the end though, loyal consumers still think they were taken for granted and ask ‘when will it happen again?’

The silver lining to these marketing and PR blunders is some big lessons for small brewers in what not to do in building and maintaining consumer trust.

Trust is hard to develop; easily lost; and unforgivingly hard to patch up. Band-aids only go so far.

If consumers really are your number one priority then you must live and breathe that focus 100%:  honestly, openly and transparently. Otherwise – especially in our increasingly networked market – your ‘trust’ credentials will be probed and found wanting.

Here are the two classic case studies in taking Australian beer consumer trust for granted:

VB’s apology letter in the press

VB: stuffing the golden goose Read more…