European brewers must focus on regional beers, says Lion Nathan's Cairns

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Regional beer brands will become more important for European brewers, claims the head of one of Australia's largest companies.

Gordon Cairns, CEO of brewer Lion Nathan, believes that the trend in the northern hemisphere towards nationwide and even continent-wide brands will be replaced by a more local focus.

Born in Scotland, Cairns, 50, has a unique insight into the beer industry in the north and the south. He has run Lion Nathan for three years and has concentrated on promoting his company's regional brands. Cairns sees the same thing happening in the UK and other European markets.

"In Australia we are a consolidated beer industry with largely just two players [Fosters and Lion Nathan]. Twenty or 30 years ago you'd have a Tooheys, Castlemaine, South Australian Brewing company and Swan Breweries but they are all one company now [Lion Nathan]. That consolidation has now taken place in the UK.

"But we have remained a federation of regional brewers. The thing for us is localness. I think as the world becomes more homogeneous people start to identify themselves by the local icons and one of those is beer. The beer you drink defines you as a local like Ruddles in Rutland or Bellhaven in Scotland. What we have seen in Australia and New Zealand is there is an opportunity for a national brand appealing to upwardly mobile people, like Stella in the UK, but there are also huge opportunities for local brands.

"One of the things the big brewers did in the UK when they acquired local brewers was to largely kill off the brands but now there are some flourishing local brewers - like Youngers and Fullers in London - and I see that as a growing trend in Europe."

Cairns believes the battle between the major European brewers for dominance with just one or two brands misses a vast opportunity to develop a more regional approach.

In Australia Lion Nathan has pumped money into the regions and now boasts that it is the market leader in all but one of the country's mainland states.

"Five years ago Fosters said they wished there was more competition in the Australian market but you don't hear them saying that now. In fact the opposite."

But despite the hefty pay packet and perks of working in Sydney, Cairns has decided to retire. "I will probably retire in about three years time," he said.

"I'd like to spend more time in the UK, particularly Scotland because all my family are back there. I get back every year for retraining when they get rid of my Australian accent and teach me to speak properly again."

Companies: Lion Nathan

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