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Crafty Australian beer independents set sights on China’s middle-class

By Rei Rengsen Siew Lin , 25-Aug-2014
Last updated on 26-Aug-2014 at 16:37 GMT2014-08-26T16:37:12Z

Crafty Australian beer independents set sights on China’s middle-class

China’s craft beer market might not yet be as dominant as its Australian counterpart, but this will change as a growing and affluent middle-class opens its eyes and palates to craft beer imports.

More private Australian breweries are looking to China as they set out to capitalise on demand for their full-tasting and often retro-chic brews. Consumers in cities like Shanghai and Beijing are uniting in their love for hipster hop drinks, and Australian independents feel they can fill the gap.

Among these, the Balmain Brewing Company in Sydney already has its food in Greater China with distribution to Hong Kong, and the company hopes to expand to the rest of the country once they have a firm hold on the market.

Stronger flavours

Although its still early days, Balmain chief executive Glenn Cary is sure of the potential China’s market holds for Australian craft beers.

I think there will be tremendous interest and we’ll see some significant growth in the coming years,” he told FoodNavigator-Asia.

What we’re seeing is more flavorsome beers being well received by consumers here in Australia and I think that will carry into the Asian market.

I think it’s got a lot to do with the high flavour profiles, and high-quality ingredients, which the Chinese middle-class now demand.

Some Chinese beers are very basic¾simply designed beers that are not too complex, not big in their malts or hops. Our beers, in comparison, have big hops, big malts, big flavours and I think that’s what we offer to the Asian market: a real new taste experience.”

Distribution the key

To enter China, Cary signed an agreement with the Tai-pan Beer Company, a reseller based in Australia in Hong Kong, to represent the Balmain brand. The company’s beers will be targeted towards the premium end of the market and sold in hotel bars and fine-dining establishments.

We are very much at an early stage where there will be a lot of promotionals, tastings, demonstrations to build the brand, and the awareness has just begun,” said Cary.

Tai-Pan will go into the market and promote Australian craft beer into Chinese bars and restaurants. It’s aiming to provide consumers with the opportunity to try each different beer.”

Tai-Pan initially approached Balmain; an approach that was met by Cary with great enthusiasm.

I’m very familiar with Hong Kong, and as a market it’s very enthusiastic about new products and new ideas, and I think its wonderful that we too can display just how good a beer we can produce here in Australia.”

Beyond China, Cary is looking at other export markets one step at a time, although China will remain the centrepiece. As an unknown market with vast potential, he said he is wary of spreading the company’s production too thin.