Research firm Mintel said the world’s largest beer market grew volumes 29% in the five years to 2011, to reach an historic high of 50bn litres in 2011, ahead of the US (24bn litres), Brazil and Germany (9m each).
The market also grew 63% in value terms to CNY 454bn (€56.78bn) in 2011, while the average price per litre of beer sold rose 27% since 2007, indicating a significant trend towards higher-value products.
Matthew Crabbe, Mintel’s director of China research, said: "China is where the leading multinational brewing groups are hoping to make the most growth these days, compared to relatively flat established markets elsewhere and the continued growth in sheer scale is a key factor in that interest.”
Rapid income rises and a feel-good factor surrounding China’s economic growth meant consumers were going out to eat, he added, which meant catering sales were also increasing important (weighed against retail) as a share of overall beer sales.
Market demands innovation
But while the market was booming, brewers needed to compete more cleverly than before to engage with key Chinese consumer groups “who will be key purchasers in the coming years, including the youth and women’s markets, as well as connoisseur drinkers of premium beers.
In global NPD terms, the US accounted for 22% of new beer launches in 2011, followed by Finland (7%), the UK (6%), China (5%) and France (4%), Mintel said, pointing to a product innovation need.
“China's beer market still needs to see more innovation in products, packaging, regional and national branding and engagement with consumers, in order to maintain per capita growth, and encourage sales of more premium beers,” Crabbe said.
High-end ‘snob brew’ scope?
Multinational beer companies had targeted Chinese youth more effectively recently, but few had really engaged with female consumers – a key growth consumer group – properly, he added.
Crabbe said: “Older and wealthier consumers are increasingly becoming 'connoisseurs' of premium beers, but mostly for imported brands, and there is potential to premiumise local brands, especially regional favorites.
“The recent drop in growth of wine and spirits sales could leave room open for high-end 'snob-brews' to find new interest,” he added.
“Indeed, the fact that wine and spirit sales have dropped, despite having enjoyed really strong recent growth, makes it the perfect time for premium beers to press the right kind of new interest buttons of the ever-fickle Chinese brand- and image-conscious consumers.”
Beer brands ranked equally with taste for Chinese consumers, Mintel said, with 25% reporting that it was the most important factor for them when choosing a beer, well ahead of price (8%).