AB InBev: ‘We see homebrewing as a natural expansion of craft brewing’

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Homebrewing with Northern Brewer
Homebrewing with Northern Brewer
AB InBev has identified homebrewing as a burgeoning trend in the US, and is growing its homebrewing business through innovation arm ZX Ventures. While encouraging people to create their own brews may seem at odds with its primary business of selling beer, the company actually sees homebrewing as a 'natural expansion' of the craft business.

Homebrewing has become a burgeoning trend in the US, with homebrewers producing 1.4 million barrels of beer in 2017 and an increasing number of people taking it up as a hobby.

ZX Ventures – AB InBev’s global growth and innovation group which was founded in 2015 to develop new products and businesses that address emerging consumer needs – counts homebrewing as one of its five core business units.

Having acquired homebrewing supply business Northern Brewer in 2016, it is now seeking to build on growing consumer interest in the hobby.

Craft vs homebrewing

AB InBev is the world’s largest brewer, supplying beers around the globe. It has also been expanding its portfolio of craft and import brands under its unit The High End: including Goose Island, Four Peaks, 10 Barrel Brewing Co and Blue Point Brewing Company.

So why does the mega brewer want to encourage homebrewing – which could ultimately encourage consumers to make their own beers rather than purchase them from commercial brewers?

Cassiano Hissnauer, global VP of homebrewing with ZX Ventures, says there’s plenty of room – and opportunities – in the beer market for both craft and homebrewing.  

“ZX Ventures is interested in driving growth of the beer industry, which includes delivering the homebrewing experience to as many individuals as possible,” ​he told BeverageDaily. “As beer lovers, we want to work to bring as many opportunities as possible to other beer lovers, in whatever form they like.

brewing malt barley getty zmurick_k

“The proliferation of homebrewed beer does not mean that craft beer will go by the wayside; we consider it a success as long as we provide more access to homebrewing equipment and spreading the passion for homebrewing.

“We see homebrewing as a natural expansion of the craft brewing, and as long as we find ways to deliver incredible experiences to our customers, we’ll be happy.”

Furthermore, there are plenty of parallels between craft and homebrewing.

“Nearly every craft beer that’s popular today began with a homebrewer. We aim to make homebrewing as popular and as easy as cooking because it offers up one more avenue for people to fall in love with beer, and that’s ultimately what we’re about – making great beer experiences.”

‘Our aim is to make homebrewing as accessible as cooking’

AB InBev acquired Northern Brewer Homebrew Supply in 2016, which forms the central part of its homebrewing business. Northern Brewer is the top homebrew equipment and ingredient supplier in the US.

The Northern Brewer operation is currently the center of AB InBev’s homebrewing business. It is expanding its operations to other parts of the world including England, France, Argentina, Brazil and parts of Europe.

“By helping Northern Brewer expand, we are able to provide the company and its consumers with access to more ingredients and advanced brewing technology to drive the growth of homebrewing,” ​said Hissnauer.

US Homebrewing

  • Homebrewers produced more than 1.4 million barrels in 2017 —representing 1% of total US production.
  • Homebrewers are spread across the country, with 31% in the South, 26% in the Midwest, 24% in the Northeast and 19% in the West.
  • The average homebrewer is 42 years old, and 52% are between ages 30-49.
  • 68% have a college degree or some form of higher education, with a similar proportion having a household income of $75,000 or more.

Source: American Homebrewers Association, 2017

AB InBev wants to make ‘homebrewing as accessible as cooking’ – and that Northern Brewer can help make homebrewing more approachable to more people.

“One thing that stops individuals from becoming homebrewers is that they don’t know where to begin—they lack the tools, the expertise and knowledge to begin homebrewing themselves," ​said Hissnauer 

"Through our operation of Northern Brewer, we hope to offer the tools necessary to become a homebrewer and make this hobby as accessible as possible. Then, it’s a matter of equipping brewers with the knowledge necessary and highlight the ease of use.

Cassiano Hissnauer
Cassiano Hissnauer

“It’s also very important that we create an enjoyable experience for homebrewers on their first try. Only 40% of first-time homebrewers will try it a second time, because there are a lot of barriers that make homebrewing challenging (like the amount of time it takes to brew, the cleaning and sanitization of the equipment, etc.)."

Consequently it's important to create an easy and positive initial experience for budding homebrewers, so they are encouraged to brew at home again and again. 

“Through our partnership with Northern Brewer, we hope to eliminate some barriers to entry by selling materials directly to consumers and by supporting Northern Brewer’s in-store classes and workshops. We’re even watching as Northern Brewer branches out virtually – they recently held a brewing class on Facebook live, so they can share their expertise with people all over the world.”

Where next?

There are currently 1.1 million people in the US who brew their own beer, according to figures from the American Homebrewers Association. However, 40% of them started the hobby within the last four years, showing that the trend is still young and with plenty of room to go. Hissnauer believes homebrewing will follow the path of craft: expanding to new markets and appealing to a wider demographic.

“We see homebrewing continuing to grow, with more and more individuals creating their own beers at home,” ​said Hissnauer.

“We also foresee homebrewing taking off and maturing in other countries, where craft brews have just begun to gain popularity like China and in South American countries.

“We also hope to encourage more women to take up the craft. Currently, homebrewing is a hobby that has a large participating by men, and we’re hoping that by providing more access to equipment and technology, we’ll open the door for more women to take up the hobby in years to come.”

ZX Ventures

ZX Ventures is AB InBev’s global growth and innovation group within AB InBev, the world’s top brewer. Launched in 2015, its mandate is to develop new products and businesses that address emerging consumer needs. Its five divisions are international craft & specialty beer, eCommerce, homebrewing, brand experience, and exploration.

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