The allure of the Far East has been entic ing explorers for centuries but a new wave of interest in all things Asian also seems to be having a positive affect on its share of the beer market here in the UK.
Indian brand Cobra was one of the success stories
of last year's beer report and it has shown impressive growth this year too, with sales up 34%.
Channel controller Tony Cleeve says: "Growth of total lager sales in the off-trade has slowed in the
past quarter but still remains 3% up year on year, with
growing at a more encouraging 10%. Cobra beer is bucking the trend of a slow-down though with 27% growth in volume and 29% growth in value."
Cleeve points to two areas specific to the appeal of Asian beers.
He says: "There is a growing interest among consumers for premium quality beers with strong heritage and provenance. Also, by understanding different types of occasions, opportunities are created for new off-trade drinks purchases - in particular meal occasions."
Waitrose's Giles Fisher confirms this trend . He says: "There has been an increase in consumer awareness of world or speciality lagers, in particular those associated with restaurants and food."
Donna Tirrell of Thailand's Singha Beer, which has been available in the UK for more than 30 years, says that a more adventurous spirit has also contributed . "Singha Beer has gone from strength to strength as Asian themes have become increasingly popular ," she says.
"With travel abroad more accessible than ever before, the popularity of undiscovered brands has also increased.
"Lifestyle plays an important role
- people have wanted to see the world and explore different cultures.
"Travellers have been able to experience new tastes and enjoy the local produce, creating a demand for these products on their return home.
"With the credit crunch looming those who may have considered travelling to the Far East are still able to enjoy and experience the delights of the Far East here in the UK."
She agrees the heritage of the brand plays an important role, pointing out that Singha is still brewed in Thailand, its country of origin.
Tirrell says Singha's image has changed over time . "With travel becoming increasingly popular the message too has adapted.
Singha's no longer pigeon holed
as a Thai beer associated only with Thai food."
Steven Greaves, UK marketing manager for Tiger, the second biggest Asian beer
in the UK, says
heritage has also been key to
the brand's image.
He says it is one of a few beers in the UK to be imported. Greaves explains: "Over the past year the consumer, especially in the world beer market, has become increasingly aware of a brand's heritage and they want to be a part of it.
"This is reflected in not only Tiger's growth over the past year but also the world beer market, which has experienced growth compared
with overall premium lagers
Japanese beer brand Asahi, produced by Kent-based brewer Shepherd Neame under an exclusive licence for brewing, sales and marketing, has enjoyed good levels of growth over the past 12 months .
Andy Pinnock, head of take-home sales at Shepherd Neame,
says: "We have seen a huge increase in demand for Asahi in both on and off-trades with a growth of 11.2% in volume over the last year.
"This is largely down to the successful Asahi Robot Tour
we conducted in the summer, where our robotic bartender, Mr Asahi,
was taken to eight major cities across the UK.
"We were able to sample in the daytime in central supermarkets and in the evening Mr Asahi was put to work in fashionable bars dispensing drinks and generating a lot of interest among
Shepherd Neame also brews Chinese beer Sun Lik under licence.
Pinnock says: "Sun Lik's presence is still relatively small in take-home, but it s on-trade presence through the Chinese restaurant sector continues to grow steadily. We are anticipating that the brand will gain ground following the launch of the Asian
Collection six-pack in A sda, which includes Sun Lik as one of the three lagers."
So who buys Asian beers? Across
the board target consumers
seeking to differentiate themselves from the mainstream.
Pinnock says: "Our customer profile is cosmopolitan, trendy and certainly not mainstream . Sun Lik off-trade customers are typically discerning drinkers who are looking for beers that have some character and point of difference."
He sa ys
is backed up by London's Scene magazine,
which voted Asahi most desired lager brand for the second year running . It was also voted coolest beer brand last year by independent researchers from Superbrands UK.
Cobra's Cleeve says: "We've built up a detailed picture of our core consumers who are 28 to 34 year-old guys living in urban areas - particularly London, Birmingham and the north west. They are generally co-habiting and pre-family with high disposable incomes. They are time-poor and image-conscious.
"Cobra is also popular with a slightly older consumer group who are broadly aged 40-60 and have a preference for traditional ale. Th at group are also frequent Cobra buyers and account for 19% of Cobra's total off-trade sales."
Chang, another Thai beer, was launched in the UK last October and
there are high hopes for
its future. "The world is very much moving east to west at the moment, and we are benefiting from the fact that Thailand and all things Asian are fashionable and cool," says Lesley Scoular, brand manager for Chang beer.
"Our strategy in the UK has always been to build a long-term future for the brand here. Stage one has been to establish distribution via specialist oriental and Asian supermarkets, wholesalers, cash
and carries, off-licences, Thai restaurants and the growing number of pubs and bars serving Thai food. A listing with Booker has made the brand widely available to independent retailers."
Scoular add s: "It's still very early days for Chang in the UK, but the prospects are looking good. We now have a year under our belt, we have made some good distribution gains and we've just broken through the one million case mark in terms of our export business."
selling Asian beer s
(30% up on last year)
(9% up on last year)
Source: Nielsen GB off-trade to
Oct 4 2008