Never mind the pressure group fury, Anheuser Busch's caffeine beer faces UK consumers who are sceptical about flavoured beer and a tough advert code that will stop the product displaying its 'best' assets, writes Chris Mercer.
The US brewing giant will launch the first beer containing caffeine on the UK market in around two weeks' time. The beer, called B-to-the-E, or B(E) for short, also contains guarana and ginseng and has been in American stores since before Christmas.
A-B's announcement has caused quite a stir in the UK as pressure groups warn it will encourage binge-drinking because the caffeine will keep consumers on-the-go for longer.
But, A-B has bigger worries over how much it can sell in the UK.
John Band, drinks analyst for Datamonitor, told www.BeverageDaily.com the product launch had been timed well on the back of a boom in flavoured alcoholic beverages (FABs), yet "it is difficult to persuade people in the UK to drink beer with extra additives and flavourings in it".
B(E) has a sweet taste with undertones of raspberry, blackberry and cherry, according to Jim Gorczyca, Budwesier's UK marketing director, who admits A-B is "mixing it up for the UK beer market with this new, innovative product".
A-B said its new beer came on the back of extensive consumer research, and Gorczyca highlighted the "huge excitement" B(E) has created in US clubs and bars.
But, Band warned that US consumers are more used to this kind of concept because American alco-pops are malt-based beverages. In the UK, however, alco-pops are made with spirits.
Success will naturally depend on how B(E) is positioned on the market. Yet, advertising restrictions set by the UK drinks industry's self-regulatory body, the Portman Group, forbid alcohol to be advertised as an energy drink.
A-B has subsequently stated its intention to market B(E) as a premium beer offering that little something extra, but Band said this posed potential difficulties for the brewer.
"UK adults are happy to drink energy drinks with caffeine in, but the more they [A-B] market B(E) as a beer the less successful it is likely to be."
On the other hand, "the Portman restrictions mean they can't mention the product's core distinguishing features in marketing. The [advert] campaign will have to be very subtle".
Band did add that the sheer novelty value of a ready-packaged alcohol-caffeine mix on the UK market may be a help. A-B may also be boosted by the fact that young British women, who generally prefer fruitier flavours than British men, are now drinking more than their male counterparts.
Strong opposition to B(E), from groups including the Institute of Alcohol Studies and Action on Addiction, has already been cited in the UK mainstream press.
Such opposition, not just from these groups but any member of the public, could also put A-B in a tight spot with the Portman Group.
A spokesperson for Portman told www.BeverageDaily.com that it only takes one complaint from anyone - public or industry - for the group to start an investigation.
This complaint may then be passed on to an independent complaints commission, which, if it decides to uphold the complaint, may ultimately issue a retailer alert bulletin asking retailers not to stock the product in question.
The spokesperson said retailers have never refused such a request and that it did not matter that A-B had not signed up to Portman's code of conduct. "Strictly, they are not bound by our rules, but their products can still fall foul of the code."
B(E) will be targeted mainly at the younger, nightclub audience. It is five per cent ABV and will come in a sleek, black 355ml glass bottle.