Brewer profile

The niche brewer that’s taking on the big guns at their own game

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Coopers now has a sizeable range, including licensed international brands
Coopers now has a sizeable range, including licensed international brands

Related tags: New south wales, Beer

Last year was the worst for Australia’s mainstream beer industry since before the Second World War, though one Adelaide brewer, which operates on the premium cusp of the market, has now achieved its twenty-first successive year of growth.

Last week, Coopers, which is now in its sixth generation of family ownership, recorded a bumper harvest of beer sales, registering a 7.4% increase on 2013 and selling 77.3m litres of its brews.

The brewery, while still very much a local business, has now gained widespread recognition in Australia’s most populous eastern states, as well as Western Australia, Cam Pierce, Coopers’ national sales and marketing director, told FoodNavigator-Asia.

National growth

Over the last decade, we have improved our sales and distribution outside South Australia​,” he said. “Whereas 10 years ago, 70% of our sales were in SA, now it’s more like 27%, with the rest going out of state. There’s been very good organic growth in the east and WA, where it’s seen as a premium product. It’s a satisfying story for a family company​.”

In New South Wales especially, Coopers has been riding on the coat tails of the increased popularity of craft beers, Pierce says. “On the back of this, we’ve seen Coopers’ crafted credentials resonate well​.”

Australia’s taste in beer has changed enormously over this time. While a beer drinker might in the past have had his mind on one or two mainstream brews a generation ago, today her or she might fancy one of half a dozen favourites, and have a particular setting for each of them.

Tough market for independents

There’s been a shift in a lot of developed economies towards higher-value premium products that offer a variety of flavours and styles. Now people might have a portfolio in their heads for different occasions, like one for after the gardening’s done, or another with a meal for the family. The same could be for wine and spirits. These days, people are seeking out things that are new and different​.”

For Pierce, who counts himself as an extended member of the family business, having married the daughter of the late Maxwell Cooper, a past chairman and production manager, the family name is important, especially with he says 90% of the Australian beer industry is controlled by two brewers: SABMiller-owned Carlton & United Breweries and Japan’s Kirin. However, Australia is “a very difficult market​” in the face of this powerful competition.

We have grown in spite of this because, as a family business, we can be underwritten by a long-term view, and we have a family passion for what we do. We’ve achieved a lot of very good things working together as a family​,” said Pierce.

Coopers’ range includes a number of different brews, from pale ales and lagers to dark ales and stouts, and recently, it has incorporated Carlsberg and Sapporo beers, which are brewed under licence at its facility at Regency Park, as well as Thatchers cider, another family-owned business in England.

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