Discovery beers: The best way to trade-up your pint-loving customer

Drinks: Beers
Other: Business

Discovery beers, like Leffe, Hoegaarden, Kasteel Cru and Grolsch, are the easiest way for your customers to trade up. Melissa Cole sits down for a few cold ones with the brewers to see how they think you should go about it

Research company Nielsen defines discovery beers as world and speciality beer combined, with two beers that currently dominate the category, controlling a whopping 54.5% on-trade share between them: Hoegaarden and Leffe. However, there are many other established brands and more recent entrants to the category that are gaining significant consumer followings as well.

Overall, the category grew by 9% last year, and with the impending upheaval in the premium lager sector, following the Carlsberg/Heineken purchase of S&N, it could well be the year of discovery beers – if suppliers and licensees play their cards right.

It’s so much more about the brand now; you’ve got to be able to provide history and

 provenance, and we need to sell this in to the bar staff Alison Pickering 

The opportunity for the category has come as post-Budget price rises hit the premium lager sector, moving them to within the same price bracket as discovery brands in a lot of cases. With the credit crunch upon us, consumers are looking to spend their pennies a little more wisely, and could very well be encouraged towards these sorts of interesting and unusual beers – which also offer an excellent gross profit.

Draught excluders

As Michael Cook from specialist beer importer Pierhead – which will be putting heavyweight campaigns behind its brands Alhambra Reserva, Moosehead, Coopers and Dixie this year – says: ‘We’re a bit puzzled. After the Budget, we had a record-breaking month, despite the fact that we put prices up. We had expected a downturn and got an upturn. Even though the price of a bottle has gone up by at least 5p, consumers are willing to pay for an authentic and original product and are still inclined to try things that they’ve either tried on holiday or not seen before at all.’

But what investment are brand owners and importers putting behind these brands and does it make stocking them worth it? Let’s start with InBev, owner of Hoegaarden and Leffe, the two brands that kicked the whole category into life.

Even for these giants, not every discovery beer has been successful. Belle-Vue has fallen by the wayside in draught and is now only available in the kriek (cherry) version in bottle, while raspberry has been completely delisted.

Turning this into a positive, InBev’s director of on-trade, Steve Kitching, says this has allowed the company to focus further on its core brands and bring new entrants to the market such as Franziskaner, in both the kristal (clear) and hefe-weisse (unfiltered wheat) variants from Germany. It has also launched a new trade support site at

‘Some of the speciality types, as of yet, have not established themselves with consumers, and it is key that we continue to focus on the right serve glassware, measure and quality of the dispense,’ he says. ‘It is tough for premium segments when consumers are really feeling the pinch and the overall market has been depressed by factors such as the weather and the smoking ban.’

For the moment, Hoegaarden and Leffe are where InBev is placing its main focus. Franziskaner has received a positive response from the trade, but is, as yet, in very limited distribution.

Outlets planning to stock these beers need to ensure that there is theatre around them. Cider is cannibalising wheat beer sales as the drink of the summer, and this will only become more prevalent with the big bottled brands like Magners moving to draught.

Nick Holmes of Specialist Brand Development (SBD) is extremely happy with the performance of the brands in his portfolio, in particular Früli, the strawberry beer, which is benefiting from ‘a really even gender split’.

But he, too, cites the importance of glassware. ‘If you order a discovery beer and you don’t get it in the right glass you feel cheated, because you are paying a premium for the product and you haven’t received the full experience,’ he says. ‘What licensees and bar staff need to remember is that
feeling of not getting your money’s worth and ensure that it is dispensed correctly at all times.’

So seriously does SBD take this issue that it has a hotline for branded glassware, which is then dispatched within 48 hours to the outlet.

Coors and effect

Coors also recognises the importance of getting the serve right in the discovery beers category. The company has taken the Kasteel Cru brand back under its wing after farming it out to Inspirit Brands to seed into the style-bar market for a number of years and has added Czech lager Zatec, Dutch wheat beer Grolsch Weizen and Belgian amber ale Palm to its portfolio to give it a good balance of different offerings.

‘There are a number of different things consumers are after,’ says Coors’ senior marketing manager Alison Pickering. ‘It’s important for the trade to recognise that they have their core repertoires but also a desire for trying something new. The discovery beer brands are our opportunity, as an industry as a whole, and Coors specifically, to meet their needs.’

In order to do this, a lot of work is being done in tailoring bespoke marketing for each different product.

‘It’s so much more about the brand now; you’ve got to be able to provide history and provenance,’ adds Pickering, ‘and we need to sell this in to the bar staff, give them soundbites of knowledge about the brand so that they are confident to sell it, and if the staff buys into the product, then the consumer has the confidence to buy it.’

Coors is also doing a lot of work on the experiential side, such as putting menus together for beer matches. ‘It could be something as simple as serving cracked black pepper crackers with Kasteel Cru,’ says Pickering, ‘but it’s the thought that matters, and it’s certainly something we want to move forward on.’

It is tough for premium segments when consumers 

 are really feeling the pinch Steve Kitching 

Food for thought

Food is something that Peroni is making a big play of, with its current Aperitivo campaign, fronted by Italian celebrity chef Giorgio Locatelli, who believes that adopting the Italian concept of small bites to eat with a beer can not only help to improve brand sales, but could also prove to be a USP
for struggling local businesses.

‘By putting together a few nice small things to eat, made from local ingredients, you are making a better and more convivial atmosphere for people to drink. This approach could even help improve the business of rural pubs, as people would come to them more,’ says Locatelli.

‘It also helps with this British habit of going straight to the pub after work and not eating during the evening because, as we all know, eating something slows down the effects of alcohol and is healthier for you.’

So, what’s going to be the next big thing? According to Pierhead’s Michael Cook, we should be looking across the Atlantic, rather than to Europe – a sentiment echoed by Glenn Payne of specialist beer supplier Beer2Love, who is also non-executive director of London’s Meantime Brewing Company.

‘Brands like Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn, Goose Island and Anchor have made great ground here and are being embraced by the trade and consumers, because they are able to tell a story. In the States, the staff knowledge is incredible,’ says Payne. ‘My tips are Terrapin Rye lager, Schmaltz brewery’s Coney Island lager and its range of kosher beers called He’Brew, and also North Coast Brewing’s Acme Pale Ale.’

Top tips for stocking discovery beers

  • Provide branded glassware. It creates a unique beer-drinking experience and communicates the history, heritage and provenance of the brands.
  • If you’re not positive your outlet is right for discovery beers, experiment with some bottled versions before committing to draught.
  • Look for a company or brand that provides a range of off-the-shelf solutions for customers, including things like half-pint and pint-branded glassware, silver-service trays, staff uniforms and POS.
  • Make sure you invest (or that brands invest) in bar staff training and reward schemes to really enable brands to engage with consumers.
  • Pouring rituals provide many speciality brands with a story and help to create a talking point between bar staff and consumers.
  • How the brand looks on the bar, product quality (in the case of draught), serving temperature and fridge displays are key. Three-quarters of lager drinkers only decide what brand of lager to drink when they’re actually at the bar.

Fact file

Alhambra Reserva, Coopers, Dixie, Moosehead
Pierhead 020 8320 4467,

Belle-Vue, Hoegaarden, Leffe
InBev 01582 391166,

Kasteel Cru, Grolsch Weizen, Palm, Zatec
Coors 01283 511000,

Peroni Miller Brands 01483 264100,

Sierra Nevada Vertical Drinks 0113 267 0565,

Anchor Steam, Brooklyn, Goose Island
James Clay & Sons 01422 377560,

Terrapin Rye, Coney Island, He’Brew, Acme Pale Ale
Beer2Love 07779 352021,

Meantime Brewing Company 020 8293 1111,

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – July / August 2008

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