South Africas fledgling craft beer sector appears to still be on friendly terms

South Africa's fledgling craft beer sector appears to still be on friendly terms

Craft brewers and big beer firms may be on opposite sides of the trenches in the US, but the situation appears to be a little different in South Africa.

In the US, small producers have drawn a line between themselves and the likes of MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, as competition heats-up over the still-mushrooming craft sector. Only this month, in an exclusive interview with just-drinks, Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman was bemoaning the lack of transparency from large producers over the labelling of their beers.

But, according to SABMiller, things are much cosier in South Africa: This, despite the country also seeing a craft beer revolution. During a seminar in Central London today (31 March), Norman Adami, chairman of SABMiller Beverages South Africa, shed light on the situation. “It’s a little-known fact that we provide a lot of assistance to many craft brewers in South Africa, either by way of technology or the science around brewing and raw materials, where they may not have access to them,” he said.

SABMiller also sponsors craft beer festivals in the country. The company has its own beers on show at such events, along with smaller brewers.

"It stimulates the (South African) beer category overall”, said Adami, in explaining the reason for the company’s approach.

It may not be all happy families but, on the surface, things appear more placid than in the keenly-fought US market. 

In the US, craft brewers have been known to collaborate. But, mixing with the big boys, I suspect, is frowned upon. Ed McBrien of MillerCoors, SABMiller’s JV with Molson Coors, has told just-drinks that he finds the sniping from craft brewers unhelpful for the sector. Although, the situation isn’t that bad. Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co are allowed into the Great American Beer Festival, organised by craft brewer trade group the Brewers Association.

The clue to the cosiness in South Africa could be down to the size of the market. In the US, craft brewers now lay claim to 8% of the beer sector by volume and are aiming for 20% by 2020.

Meanwhile in South Africa, despite the rapid rise of the segment, craft is still “less than quarter of a percentage point” of the overall beer landscape. Mainstream lagers still dominate.

“That doesn’t mean that an acorn won’t grow into an oak tree (with craft beer)," noted Adami. "But, we’re watching that.”

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