Weaker Artois launched in UK
The makers of Britain’s best-selling premium lager finally confirmed industry rumours today and announced it is venturing into the country’s fastest growing beer segment with the launch of a 4% abv Stella Artois.
The creation of a standard strength version of the market-leading 5.2% lager is in response to the new demand for premium lager at a lower abv, which has sky rocketed in the past few years.
Stella brand-owner InBev UK’s division president Stuart MacFarlane told journalists today that the ‘premium everyday’ lager market – a term apparently coined by the brewer – has increased at a rate of 466% over the past few years and is now worth around £158 million.
MacFarlane said: “It’s come out of nowhere in two years and we believe right now this is, firstly, the biggest beer category opportunity in the country and secondly that InBev, with the Becks and Stella Artois brands, is best placed to exploit this opportunity.”
Stella’s InBev stable-mate Becks Vier has risen to the top of the new category in the past few years. While MacFarlane accepts there could be some brand cannibalisation he said Stella Artois would be looking to wrestle market share from premium positioned 4% abv Amstel and other premium and standard lagers.
Sales of Stella Artois have slumped in recent years and Macfarlane hopes the new brand – billed as a ‘triple filtered smooth lager’ – would help arrest the decline. He said a beer’s definition as premium was no longer dependent on alcohol by volume strength – generally 5% or better in the UK market – and relied more on its flavour and brand cache.
While still the market leading premium lager in the UK, the new beer’s big brother has been plagued for some time with the unfortunate sobriquet ‘wife-beater’ in the country’s bars and pubs. In response to the brand’s negative image InBev launched a campaign emphasising its heritage and craftsmanship.
When asked by Brewers’ Guardian whether today’s launch was a last effort to bury Stella’s anti-social behaviour connotations once and for all, Macfarlane said, “We’re aware of that but my job is to extenuate everything that’s good about Stella Artois.
“Any other of my competitors would die for this brand – it’s number-one for quality and it’s number-one on premium lager. Consumers are paying for the credentials of heritage and craftsmanship. We take responsibility in this business extremely seriously.”
InBev said today that it has “significant millions” to spend on the marketing of the new Stella Artois in a high profile advertising campaign. The firm claims the beer is brewed to a Belgian recipe and filtered three times to make it smoother. Stella Artois 5.2% is filtered twice.
The new brew’s packaging uses silver and black in a bid to reinforce its image as a premium offering and will be available in the on-trade in the Stella Artois trademark chalice glass. InBev has also launched a large silver condensation font designed to give it prominence in the UK’s pubs.
Stella Artois 4% will go on sale in the off-trade in August with a recommended retail price of £3.49 per four-pack of 440ml cans – a 10% price hike on standard offerings such as Carling and Foster’s. A draught version of the brand is due for launch in the on-trade in November.
The InBev UK brand portfolio is now brimming with beers bearing the Artois name. In recent years Stella has been joined by Peeterman – a 4% take on wheat beer – Artois Bock – a stronger dark beer – and most recently a wood-aged beer named Eiken.
MacFarlane said the strategy has been promoted by consumers’ demands for more choice. "This launch will strengthen our lager portfolio going forward. We believe both Stella Artois brands will complement each other, offering customers an improved choice and retailers a better return from their beer category business.”