Lager: Becoming more of a year-round proposition
The marketing messages around lager used to be very simple: it’s cold, it’s fizzy, it tastes relatively innocuous and it quenches your thirst on a hot day.
There might have been window dressing around knockabout humour and generally having a good time with your mates but that was about it.
As consumer tastes have become steadily more sophisticated over the years, it takes a bit more to persuade them to part with their cash and brands have to work a bit harder to stand out. Some of the most successful propositions of more recent times have come from lagers that sell a lifestyle or, heaven forbid, the contribution of quality ingredients to their taste.
Stella Artois, Foster’s, Carling and Carlsberg still sell by the shed load but strong growth has been achieved by brands such as Estrella Damm and Moretti that have successfully communicated their Spanish-ness or Italian- ness, or Guinness’ Hop House 13, which has bridged the gap between lager and craft beer... whatever that is.
It’s little surprise then that the latest Nielsen figures show world lager growth comfortably into two figures, while standard lager is in modest decline.
“The likes of Estrella and Peroni that are doing well sell themselves more on the emotional benefits and lifestyle rather than functional benefits or price,” says Jane Jones, director of marketing at Fuller’s, which is repositioning its Frontier lager to align it more with such brands.
Frontier used to be labelled “new wave craft lager” but has been rebranded as “London premium lager” to give it a greater sense of place and more meaningful resonance with shoppers.
“We decided there was a good opportunity to take it on to another level,” Jones adds. “Premium means so much more to consumers, so we took the decision to remove ‘craft’.
“It’s one of those things, like calling yourself cool. If you call yourself cool, you’re not cool.”
The brand’s signature yellow colour was made a bit more orangey, principally to make it technically easier to match over different packaging materials. “We didn’t touch the price,” says Jones. “It was about repositioning the pack for the next five years and beyond, moving with the evolution in the market.”
Argentinian brand Quilmes is another lager that’s recently undergone a brand refresh with the extended name Quilmes Clasica.
Graham Archibald, sales director at UK distributor Morgenrot, says the authenticity of its origins are an important part of the make- up of a brand that has chalked up a decade in the UK market. “It’s by far Argentina’s biggest beer brand and has now also developed a loyal following in the UK, so a revamp was necessary to continue the push,” he says.
“With the growing demand for beautifully- packaged, taste-rich world lagers, we believe the new branding will be key as we look to make it a leading light in the super-premium lager market for years to come.”
Stephan Kofler, UK sales and marketing director for the German lager producer Krombacher, thinks it’s not just different lifestyle associations and brand personalities that are making their mark with consumers, but lager’s ability to provide a range of flavour propositions, overturning decades of received wisdom that all lager tastes the same.
“The lager category is one of the most exciting in beer, with choice and quality at an all-time high,” he says. “Many drinkers who have been put off by over-hopped craft ales and complex, high-abv styles have moved back to the lager category with higher standards.
“Drinkers have been looking for more balanced and sessionable beers and this has benefited quality lagers like Krombacher Pils.”
Krombacher markets its classic Pils alongside the sweeter, Munich-style Hell and a Dark Lager with chocolate and roasted coffee flavours.
“The lager category is now so diverse, with consumers enjoying the subtle differences between an array of styles offering differing flavour profiles, carbonation and bitterness,” Kofler adds. “We have definitely benefited in the off-trade due to this trend, with our Pils, Hell and Dark Lager providing three entirely different lager experiences.”
London’s Bohem Brewery produces a range of six canned lagers to a Czech-style blueprint, including the relatively orthodox Victoria Session Pils and Amos Czech Pilsner alongside the more offbeat Raleigh Smoked lager and Henry Honey lager.
“There are now more beers than ever on the market that call themselves lagers, but our commitment to brewing in the authentic Czech style delivers the genuine article,” says chief executive Zdenek Kudr.
Bohem has also launched itself to the world with a Lager Manifesto, a range of standards it pledges to follow, including lagering for a minimum of five weeks, low-temperature fermentation and using genuine bottom- fermenting lager yeast, all technically adhering closer to the true definition of lager than properties such as yellow, fizzy and cold.
Despite all this interest in reinforcing quality brewing practices in the lager market, there’s no getting away from the fact that properties such as yellow, fizzy and cold are still what the majority of drinkers expect from lager. Cold – the antidote to stifling heatwaves such as spring/ summer 2018 – is probably the most important commercially.
Like it or not, lager brands still thrive in hot weather, though they may gradually be starting to rely on it less and less.
“You are going to sell more lager in the summer, but the reality is that lager is sold all year round,” says Jones at Fuller’s. “It’s less seasonal than cider, definitely.”
Kofler at Krombacher adds: “Lager is a year- long performer and is, therefore, a vital line for retailers to get right.
“Yes, a hot summer and a big sport competition will always provide a huge boost, but whether it’s the dark of January, a heatwave in August or a wet October, a quality selection of interesting lagers will always keep sales ticking over.
“It’s not just about quantity anymore, it’s about a quality drinking experience.
“Impress customers with a selection of different lagers styles, from different countries, with different flavour profiles, abvs and price points.
“You will soon see that lager can drive the upsell and be a year-round winner.”