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Guinness purists will likely harbour dark thoughts about a lager version of the 'black stuff', but just-drinks thinks that Diageo may finally have hit on a way of successfully expanding the brand.

Diageo told just-drinks yesterday (22 March) that it will trial a Guinness Black Lager in Northern Ireland and also Malaysia over the next half-year or so - to be sold at premium prices in 33cl bottles.

Don't even think about suggesting that there could be a wider launch, though. The company is sensitive almost to the point of paranoia about what the future may hold for the lager version of its 250-year-old Guinness brand.

This is understandable, given muted consumer reactions to previous attempts to innovate with the beer, from the withdrawal of wheat beer Guinness Breo ten years ago to the somewhat lethargic performance of Guinness Red over the last couple of years.

Guinness may be one of only three Diageo brands to achieve GBP1bn (US$1.5bn) in annual sales, but its army of loyal consumers has proved stubborn to change.

But, with Guinness Black Lager, we think the company has the best chance yet of success in reaching out to the non-Guinness drinker in the "home markets" of UK and Ireland.

The beer's lighter style, together with its high-end, bottled credentials fit well with young adults' growing thirst for premium lager in the UK.  
   
Beer sales in the UK are down in mid-single digits year-on-year, with draught ale particularly hard hit. Yet, premium bottled beers have shown growth, as highlighted, for example, by SABMiller's careful handling of the Peroni Nastro Azzurro lager.

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Sales of black lager, while very much a lesser known quantity for the average Briton, are also reported to have risen strongly in the last year. Scottish brewer BrewDog has succeeded in getting its black lager, Zeitgeist, listed in Tesco.

Finally, the move may help Diageo to continue building Guinness market share in the depressed beer markets of the UK and Ireland. Success in these markets is no longer about volume.

Diageo's marketing tactics will be significant, and, as the company has no hesitation in reminding us, we remain in the embryonic stages of this experiment. But, Guinness Black Lager has a chance to shine where others have failed.

 


Sectors: Beer & cider

Companies: Guinness, Diageo, SABMiller

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