Kiwis will be faced with a new bottle of beer in their favourite drinking hole from this week - and they are likely to ignore it and head straight for something more appealing.

Rumours have been circulating for some time that Steinlager, the Lion Nathan-owned staple for most New Zealanders, was coming up with something new.

Considered opinion expected it to be Steinlager Premium. Correct. Almost. In fact, Lion has produced Steinlager Premium Light.

Light! Oh dear, this sounds very like a smart marketing man spotting a gap in the market. But as the old saying goes: is there a market in the gap?

Steinlager Premium Light comes with a swanky new silver label. It looks good until you see the small print that says 2.5% alcohol.

New Zealand is a beer drinking culture. Steinlager sponsors the All Blacks and a light beer does not sit well with the image of hard men playing rugby. Not surprisingly the light beer market in NZ is
negligible, roughly 2% of the total market.

But Lion wants to change that citing Australia as an example of how popular light beers can be; all the flavour and taste but less alcohol and fewer calories.

In Australia 10% of beer sales are classified "light" - although up to 3.5% alcohol is permitted. This is a big difference and Lion is being hopelessly optimistic thinking that it will change a nation's drinking habits by slapping Premium and Light onto the biggest brand.

And the company is in grave danger of sabotaging its own sales. If you put aside the fact that a light beer may denegrade Steinlager in the eyes of Kiwis (okay, Kiwi males), the light beer is only likely to appeal to certain people, namely business managers having a light one before driving home. Before Steinlager Light these exact same people would have drunk: Steinlager. What's the point?

And the other brand likely to suffer by the introduction of Steinlager Premium Light is Light Ice, the only other major light beer which is made by guess who...

Lion Nathan would have been far better producing a Steinlager Premium. Steiny, as it is affectionately called, is shifting from its original perch as a premium lager and is now everyman's tipple. Due to its heavy sponsorship of the All Blacks and the winning America's Cup crew the beer is now seen as universally Kiwi.

The upper end of the market is therefore going to the imported brands like Stella Artois and a Steinlager Premium would have let Lion reposition the beer without losing the heart of the country. Instead it has produced an expensive addition to a non-existent market.