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SABMiller’s CEO has said the company plans to launch new experimental beers that will compete directly with wines and spirits, as too many lagers around the world taste similar. 

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Speaking at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference today (18 February), Alan Clark said his firm is doing “an extensive amount of research” to understand how beer can compete in the space that cocktails, spirits and wines currently occupy. “(Beer) innovation in this space is about reintroducing a wide range of flavours and experiences that are available from the natural raw materials within brewing such as malt and hop varieties, alcohol and bitterness levels,” he said. 

“We will be launching a range of those (beers) in the coming years.”

Clark admitted that there is now many lager brands globally that taste similar. “The brewers of the world perfected the most refreshing form of beer, called lager. It’s no accident that lager conquered the world. The consequence of that is that if you move around the world today these large national iconic brands are very similar in their taste profile.” 

In the US, SABMiller’s JV with Molson Coors, MillerCoors, last week launched a 6.9% abv lager - Miller Fortune - aimed at competing with spirits

Clark said of the launch: “This is the first test to see if we can directly challenge spirits.”

In 2012, analyst Trevor Stirling accussed big brewers operating in the US of being "asleep at the wheel" for the last 20 years for ignoring the trends being set by spirits

However, SABMiller’s chief said the London-headquartered firm remained committed to what he called “refreshing” its “core” lager offer. The company is focussed on breaking lager out of its mainly male-dominated drinking environment to “access more occasions”, Clark said. In particular in the US, he stressed: “We are not about to walk away from premium lights.” But, he said reviving the segment remained the firm’s “biggest challenge” in  the US. 

On China, Clark said its focus, through its Snow business, remains to drive premiumisation in the beer category as revenues are currently substantially below other markets. “Profit growth is a long-term story,” he said. Clark noted that 35% of all Snow variants are currently sold within premium and that trend  “continues to move apace”. 

To read an exclusive just-drinks interview with MillerCoors' sales president, click here


Sectors: Beer & cider

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