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Japanese-owned drinks and dairy group Lion now has a six pack of stand-alone craft breweries in its stable as it pursues the 20 per cent-plus growth rates in that segment, while mainstream beers lose its fizz.
But can a corporate giant have street credibility as a craft brewer, and is there a danger a large corporate bureaucracy might constrict the entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit which led to its establishment in the first place?
Lion is buying Byron Bay Brewing Company after being approached by its owner Barry Schadel, which will expand the number of craft breweries in its portfolio to half a dozen. The broader Lion portfolio represents about 50 per cent of Australia’s entire craft beer market, which experts say makes up about 5 per cent of the entire $14 billion beer market in Australia.
Byron Bay Brewing Co previously had a relationship with Australia’s other big brewer, Carlton & United Breweries, which was previously owned by Foster’s until a $12.3 billion takeover in late 2011.
James Squire holds about 34 per cent of the craft beer segment by volume according to Lion, while Little Creatures has close to 10 per cent.
Lion also owns the White Rabbit brewery at Geelong, which in 2015 shifted from its previous home at Healesville in Victoria. Lion also operates the Knappstein Enterprise in the Clare Valley wine region in South Australia, and four mini-breweries inside pubs including one in the snowfields town of Jindabyne.
Lion’s craft marketing director Gordon Treanor says Lion wants to build the Bryon Bay Brewing Co locally first and says it is careful to manage its craft beer portfolio differently, by ensuring the creativity and “experimental” approach is nurtured.
Lion’s mainstream brands which comprise XXXX, Tooheys and West End, along with rival CUB’s main brands of Victoria Bitter and Carlton Draught are under pressure in line with global trends where mainstream brands are losing market share. Australia’s beer consumption levels are at 70-year lows.
Elsewhere in the alcohol industry, the Chain of Ponds winery in the Adelaide Hills revealed on Monday it would shut its cellar door premises at Gumeracha after 31 years and transfer its operations to the Langhorne Creek winery operated by contract winemaker Project Wine, which has shareholders including former BRL Hardy managing director Stephen Millar and former Federal Minister Amanda Vanstone.