Disruptive force of craft beer is fermenting in Poland
With spring fast approaching, many of us are eagerly anticipating the longer days, relaxing lunches on open terraces, and entertaining conversation that this beautiful seasons brings with it.
Knowing full well that a dinner with friends is often accompanied by alcoholic beverages, beer advertisers often devote increased financial resources to their communication and marketing platforms with the hope of enticing consumers. during this popular season. In the past few years, several flavored beers and ciders have dominated the Polish marketplace. That being said, we are now witnessing the introduction of a number of new product extensions from prominent suppliers such as Zywiec, including the ever-sophisticated APA – American Pale Ale. In short, this likely represents the response of Heineken, Zywiec’s owner, to growing global interest in craft beer trends.
The term “craft beer” refers to smaller, more flexible brewing operations than the traditional corporate brewing establishments. Craft breweries can be small breweries as well as brewpubs, the latter serving beer for consumption on the premises. Although the craft beer phenomenon originated in the UK during the 1970s, it was not until the late 1980s that the beverage achieved mainstream popularity, when deregulation in the United States made it legal to home-brew, produce and distribute beer on a small scale. Although the commercial beer market is currently experiencing a large number of “mega-mergers” and the emergence of massive beer products, such as SAB Miller, Heineken, and AB Inbev, among others, craft beer continues to be an eclectic, largely fragmented industry, much of which is composed of regional or local businesses who frequently collaborate with one other.
The beer industry has been placed under considerable pressure in the past few years, primarily due to the fact that the spirits and wines industry have receive immense attention from press and public alike. Nevertheless, the craft beer industry remains a viable and substantive force, with market analysts predicting that this particular niche of the beer market will represent 15% of total beer sales by 2020.
On a fundamental level, craft beers distinguish themselves by focusing on organoleptically sophisticated brews, including ales, bitter, porters, white beers and stouts. They are often priced higher than their traditional counterparts. The loftier price tag is countered by a wide variety of seasonal and occasion-based beverages. They are often more aggressively hopped, and tend to use local and international ingredients which large-scale brewers often shy away from, including cinnamon, cardamom, coffee, chocolate or vanilla. Some of the craft beers develop their branding around the uniqueness of their products, targeting beer connoisseurs specifically. Most try to find their brand roots in either an urban location (e.g., Milan, San Francisco, Camden Town in London,…) or in the soul of their region (e.g., Californian surf, hills of Tuscany, Miami art vibe). However, what hooks the majority of consumers is a potent combination of experimentation, geographical proximity and the essential “experience” embedded in the product. These beers are not as easy to drink as a pilsner or a lager. Because of that, craft beer enthusiasts derive just as much pleasure from the experience of drinking these beers as the flavor of the beverages.
Lagunitas, one of the leading craft beer producers in the US, has developed a core offering which includes an Indian Pale Ale (6.2%), a filtered pale wheat ale (7.5%) and a strong pale ale (8%). Seasonal offerings including a stout (9.2%) enhanced with coffee, as well as brews finished in bourbon barrels. In the United Kingdom, leading craft brewer Meantime, which recently was sold to SAB Miller for 100 million pounds, bottles their beers in wine bottles as well as half-wine bottles in addition to more traditional methods. Core products include pale ales, stouts, and both traditional / flavored porters. In Mexico, local craft brewer Minerva has developed a popular “tequila pale ale”, which is partially fermented in barrels previously used for aging tequila. Italian beer producer Amarcord, which takes inspiration from the legacy of acclaimed film director Federico Fellini, has developed a branded beer, AMA, in collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery’s brew master Garret Oliver and NY designer Milton Glaser. AMA includes three products, all of which are high fermentation beers that are then re-fermented in wine bottles: Bionda,Italian for “blond”, is brewed by adding Sicilian Orange Honey Blossom; Bruna, Italian for “brown hair”, is brewed with brown candy sugar, and Mora, Italian for “dark hair”, is brewed with coffee and pure cane sugar.
Given the level of sophistication of the products and the prevalent entry barrier on an organoleptic level, the majority of craft beer manufacturers place special emphasis on storytelling and education, a unique departure from the marketing schemes of more traditional brands, which helps to create a clear demarcation with the marketing approach of traditional brands.
This is, of course, not only a diversification strategy for craft brewers, but also a much-needed engagement strategy. Craft beer manufacturers often feel compelled to explain the origins of their products, how and when to consume them, and how/ when to pair them with food.
As stated previously, flavored beers, ciders and cider-like products, many of which are labelled as beer products in order to circumvent advertising restrictions, have gathered increasing attention in Poland. This upsurge in consumer interest has helped to counterbalance many of the prevailing difficulties in the core beer market, including price inflation, brand competition and the rising costs of professional marketing. That being said, the majority of beer owners are actively seeking out new strategies to capture profits in a market that is often “break-even” in the best of years. Knowing that the Polish craft beer movement has gained substantial momentum, it should come as no surprise that Heineken has undertaken new initiatives through their local brand Zywiec. While craft beer volumes are not as large as in other countries, Polish craft brewers and their beers are garnering a healthy amount of both domestic and international interest.
One of the primary advertising and promotional opportunities for craft breweries is the festival environment. There are nearly 20 beer festivals in Poland, some of which are now in their fourth or fifth edition, thus proving that consumer interest is far more than a passing fad. Interestingly, these festivals are also attracting renowned international craft brewers. One such example is the Danish craft masters Mikkeller, considered by experts to be one of the most important craft brewers in the world. Mikeller is well known for collaborations with top breweries, including BrewDog, EvilTwin and Arizona Wildnerness Brewing, all of whom helped to co-promote a 2014 Wroclaw-based beer festival, Beer Geek Madness. The 2015 edition of the same festival saw the presence of the Vermont based brew-master responsible for The Alchemist, and producer of the American Double IPA (8%) Heady Hopper, considered by Beer Advocate readers to be the best beer in the world. These are strong indicators that Polish craft brewers are second to none, leading several major players in the sector to invest their time and energy in order to support the emergence of a thriving domestic craft beer industry.
The truth is that there are very interesting craft brewers in Poland already, and, in the same manner as their foreign colleagues, they are operating around three main axes: rediscovering traditional recipes, often forgotten by mainstream brewers in favor of easier to drink lager or pilsner; embracing innovation by experimenting with flavors in heavier beer styles; and, finally, by collaborating with one another to create optimal results for all. For example, Zywiec based Browar Pinta offers a large variety of ales (American, English and Belgian styles), stouts and porters. One of which, the Imperator Bałtycki is now rated a 100 out of 100 in both overall quality and style by RateBeer website connoisseurs. This beer, which is a Baltic porter, takes inspiration from Polish traditional beers of the coast, embracing traditional recipes which forsake mass appeal in favor of unique local heritage. The same brewer, Pinta, alongside co-collaborators AleBrowar and Piwoteka Narodowa, have developed a sweet stout to celebrate their common birthdays. The Przewrót Mleczny, as it is called, incorporates chocolate and milk in the brewing process. Przewrót Mleczny has scored a 95 overall and 93 for style on RateBeer. Last, but definitely not least, a mention must be given to Lebork-based AleBrowar, no stranger to producing highly-rated beers for global connoisseurs. In their three years of operation, they have brewed multiple high-rated beers, all of which feature interesting recipes and even more interesting branding: So far So Dark, a robust porter (6.2%), developed in collaboration with Artezan; Rowing Jack, an Indian pale ale of 6.2%; and Saint no more, a single hop Indian pale ale.
While I am eagerly anticipating the day when Polish craft brewers can challenge larger beer manufacturers and reshape the market in a more colorful and consumer-friendly fashion,I also hope that this becomes an opportunity for moving the Polish beer industry towards a new export paradigm, whether it’s selling Polish beer to Polish residents abroad, or selling Polish beers to beer connoisseurs and fans around the world.
The original article in Polish was published by Media Marketing Polska