Beer is one of the oldest and most widely consumed drinks in the world. Yet as beer consumption in most of the traditional beer drinking countries is declining, brewers have to develop new strategies in their marketing and even in terms of taste.
In many markets the growing popularity of wine and designer drinks, changing consumer habits and demographic factors have depressed beer consumption in recent years.
In Germany annual sales dropped below 100 million hectolitres for the first time since German reunification in 1990. Most of this decline occurred in the domestic and not the export market. On average Germans are now drinking “only” 101.8 litres per person per year.
While a greater health consciousness and changing consumer habits play a part, Germany’s ageing population is the main reasons for the decline, according to Marc-Oliver Huhnholz, the spokesperson for the Association of German Brewers.
On the one hand older age groups, who used to drink a lot of beer, have lowered their consumption with age and at the same time younger age groups do not make up for the decline.
The reaction of the beer market is to push the range of alcoholic drinks to appeal to a younger market segment.
Because breweries realised that they are not reaching younger consumers with classic beer brands, they started to introduce mixed drink variations.
These include traditional lager and lemonade mixes, lager with lemon, green lemon and orange flavours as well as wheat beer mixed with cactus fig or grapefruit aromas.
This segment of the market has recently been very successful, overtaken non-alcoholic beers and now represents about 4 per cent of the total German beer market.
Interestingly, despite the overall decline in beer sales the number of breweries in Germany has remained constant over the past two decades.
However, this is largely due to an increasing number of microbreweries that produce less than 5,000 hectolitres per year.
This is also a trend that can also be witnessed in the US, where small and independent craft brewers saw their sales increase by 11 per cent in 2010.
Small and independent craft brewers have propelled the number of US breweries from under 100 in 1980 to over 1,700 in 30 years and the highest number in 110 years, according to the Craft Brewers Association.
Together with the growing popularity of import beers in the US, microbreweries, with their focus on domestic beers and specialty brews, have led to a greater diversity of beer brands and types of beers available in the market.
They also brought out a penchant for experimental techniques and the rise in popularity of “big” beers, such as imperial stouts or IPAs, among beer aficionados.
Another popular trend in the US beer industry is the light beer. First introduced in the 1970s, consumers were attracted by the milder taste and, out of a growing health and fitness consciousness, the lower number of calories was also a draw. Nowadays light beers have become more popular than the original premium beers in the US.
The stronger sales of light beers are also a reflection of a larger number of women drinking beer with a preference for less strong tasting and low carbohydrate beers.
In the UK, where light beers are largely unavailable and unpopular, women are driving the demand for ciders as an alternative to beer. The fruity flavour and sweetness of cider in many ways mirrors the trend toward beer mixes in Germany, which are also favoured by women.
In the Cayman Islands some of the trends from other markets can also be observed.
In terms of consumption the local beer market is down at the moment, says Jaques Scott Sales Manager Findlay Wilson.
“It has shrunk by about 10 to 15 per cent due to the decrease in population and lack of construction.”
As the volume of beer sales is largely driven by those who drink beer every day, fewer construction workers on Island can make a significant difference.
Another factor is price and in the current environment “people are definitely price conscious and looking at cheaper brands”, Wilson says. As a result premium brands have taken a slight hit.
In terms of trends among beer brands Coors light is the best performer, he says. “It has gone from zero to hero pretty fast.”
The preference for light beers is also related to the health craze, he agrees.
But the Caribbean feel is that people want something strong and light at the same time, says Wilson. “That is why Coors is doing so well, because it is a light beer, but it still has high alcohol content.”
However, Heineken is still the King in the Cayman Islands, he adds.
At the other end of the spectrum there are some restaurants on the island, such as Abacus, Michael’s and Ortanique at Camana Bay, that are looking at more specialty beers.
“We have actually started importing some beers from Europe, from Austria and Germany and they do quite well,” Wilson notes, although they are only a subset of the market compared to the mainstream brands of Heineken, Coors and Amstel.
“But they are quite popular in the restaurant industry. People are looking for something a little different,” he says, and something that may have a little bit more of a flavour profile.
Competition from other drinks is also a factor in beer consumption and currently spirits are on the up significantly, while wine tends to trend with the tourism market, seeing a high in the winter and a decline in the summer.
As far as gender trends are concerned, he says: “We probably have more women drinking beer here compared to other countries, but I would not go overboard with that statement. Women still like their Bailey’s or a glass of Savignon Blanc.”
Overall trends are difficult to detect in Cayman, with the biggest trend being diversity, which means brands such as Jamaican Red Stripe, Mexican Corona and Irish Guinness remain extremely popular.