Ho, ho, ho, it's the green giant

22 February, 2008

Despite the beer market virtually reaching a standstill, Carlsberg's brands continue to thrive, writes Christine Boggis

The market may be stagnant, but Carlsberg just keeps motoring on. All around brands are losing sales - but Carlsberg and Carlsberg Export manage to grow sales by 18 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. It was the same story in the OLN Beer Report in November and the OLN Brands Report 2007.

Carlsberg is not investing massively in advertising and you hear a fair bit of grumbling that it is drawing customers with unreasonably low prices and big discounts . But volume increases of 19 per cent for Carlsberg and 11 per cent for Export, although they slightly out-pace value sales, aren't so far ahead that you can say they're giving their beer away.

Perhaps there is an advantage for the Carlsberg stable of not having many brands at the top of the beer league - Carlsberg Special Brew is the only other offering in the top 20 and although it has pledged to focus on speciality offerings such as Jacobsen, these aren't in a position to cannibalise sales from its core brands.

Market leader Stella Artois continues its slow decline - but with sales of £516.5 million it is still so far ahead of the competition that it would have to keep declining at the same rate for nearly a decade to reach the level of its closest competitor, Carling.

Stella remains secure in its position as the biggest drinks brand in the UK off-trade, but it is not resting on its laurels and has brought in German marketing chief Andreas Hilger to try and stem the decline. According to Marketing Week, brand owner InBev UK is also planning to switch ad agencies after 20 years with Lowe, which was responsible for its iconic Reassuringly Expensive campaign.

It has to be said that the Belgian giant's decline has slowed slightly - this time last year sales were down by 5 per cent, and in November 2006 they were down 6 per cent. That could be thanks to InBev repositioning it as part of the "Artois family" with Peeterman , Bock and now oak-aged Eiken Artois.

Apart from Tennent's, up 7 per cent, InBev's other brands aren't looking too exciting. Beck's is up 1 per cent - perhaps due to a focus shift to Beck's Vier; Boddingtons, one of only two ales in the top 20, is down 13 per cent; and Castlemaine XXXX is the worst performer in the table, with a 40 per cent sales slump.

Budweiser, in fifth place, lost 6 per cent of its value. Anheuser-Busch will be hoping that a relaunch for the brand - to be announced next month - will turn its fortunes around.

This may be the last time we see Scottish & Newcastle as suppliers in one of these tables and there are some mixed fortunes here. Foster's is holding steady with 2 per cent growth - which interestingly comes from static volumes. Kronenbourg is down 8 per cent, while San Miguel - which tends to sit alongside it on bars - is up 6 per cent.

John Smith's boosted sales by 14 per cent, partly thanks to its horse racing focus, but also because of promotions which saw its volumes soar 25 per cent.

Meanwhile Heineken, which is to take control of S&N's brands under its joint bid for the company with Carlsberg, grew sales by 17 per cent and volumes by 14 per cent - the continental thinking of its latest marketing and advertising drive must be paying off.

Amid rumours that Diageo is about to sell the brand off, Guinness struggled on. Draught did well to grow sales by 4 per cent (against 7 per cent volume growth), while Original slumped 6 per cent. But perhaps the stout's new ad campaign, launched with a fanfare last autumn, will have the kind of delayed domino effect it portrayed on screens on the brand's sales.

Government responsible drinking drives and growing pressure on retailers to control their customers' appetites are having no visible effect on the bad boys of the beer league table. Superstrength favourite Carlsberg Special Brew is sitting comfortably in 13th place, where it has been holding its position for well over a year - and Tennent's Super is in its usual place next to it , and doesn't look like it is going anywhere.

Star performer

Imported and speciality beers are the new black! Or at least, that is what a lot of beer pundits would have us believe. So it should be no surprise that Miller Brands' Peroni Nastro Azzurro is the powerhouse of the top 20 UK beers, rocketing into 19th place with a 50 per cent sales surge. Certainly, we're not as surprised as we would be if Cantillon Gueuze suddenly popped up in the top 20 beers: after all, it may be a tasty, well-made, imported lager - but it's still a lager. Still, well done to Miller Brands for sending the Italian restaurant favourite soaring up the off-trade league table.

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