Asia: Huge potential. Large pitfalls

Asia is the world’s largest beer market. This is where a third of all beer consumed worldwide is produced. Experiencing rapid growth, the market offers great potential. The Chinese market has doubled over the past 10 years with a current annual consumption of about 500 million hectoliters. Indian consumers have also developed a taste for beer over the last decade where annual growth rates exceed 200%.

The Asian draft beer market is split in two. In a number of countries, draft beer enjoys a double-digit market share – such as 10% in Singapore, 19% in Japan and 30% in Malaysia. With the exception of Korea, the draft beer market share is generally on the increase. However, in China, Vietnam, India and Taiwan, draft beer only represents a tiny share of the market, somewhere between 0.4% and 1.0%. And despite high average growth for beer consumption in China, the market share for draft beer is, indeed, falling.

In other words, emerging markets offer a huge potential and have in recent years overtaken Europe and America in beer consumption. The Asian market is currently the world’s fastest growing and is driven by young social climbers with rising personal consumption. These social changes are a boon to the brewery industry. And the hot Asian climate also offers the perfect conditions for the sale of nice, cool draft beer. Asian food is often spicy and perfectly suited to beer. So the beer business is good – it’s like selling water in Sahara. Nonetheless, the question remains how to unleash the full potential of these markets.


Draft beer market share in Malaysia


Draft beer market share in China

Good quality in every pint is the first challenge

Consumer preferences are similar on all Asian markets with only few differences. The choice of beer brand is primarily based on personal taste and preference. However, consumers in Japan and Korea are also often inclined to be price-conscious. And in China, the alcohol percentage of beer is a second priority, too. Nonetheless, taste and personal preference is the prime driver on all Asian markets.

You don’t need to spend much time in China or Vietnam before hygiene issues become evident. Draft beer is often sold in bulk from old and battered kegs, sometimes in plastic bags for home consumption. Hygiene problems often arise from insufficient cleaning and maintenance of the dispensers. The pressure is often wrong, the beer is too warm and the product is often served in dirty glasses. This not only hurts draft beer sales, it also reflects negatively on the brand image, a vital asset for breweries in the bottled beer market.

To increase draft beer sales, breweries need to address the issue of negative consumer experience by simplifying the dispenser system. This is especially of importance to the many small and medium-sized outlets with a sale of less than 40 hectoliters per year. For this segment, Heineken has enjoyed success with their David system, in Singapore for instance. Micro Matic has a similar solution in the form of FlexiDraft™. FlexiDraft™ lets you use your existing kegs. The system use a one-way beer line, and the beer is chilled in an energy-efficient refrigerator located immediately below the dispensing counter. The temperature and the carry pressure are fixed and constant. This offers an effective way of eliminating the problems of hygiene, pressure and temperature control.

The result is a perfect pint with every pour. The system allows you to simplify the value chain and thus reduce hidden costs for cleaning and maintenance.

Education and marketing is part of the solution

Many consumers in Western Europe and the US believe draft beer offers a better consumer experience than bottled beer. In much of Asia, where the market share of draft beer is below 1%, the case is just the opposite.

To address the issue of consumer preferences in Asia you need to significantly enhance the quality of how draft beer is served. There are two good options: one for big outlets using traditional draft beer systems, which require comprehensive service and maintenance programs, and another for small and medium-sized clients where a system such as FlexiDraft™ offer a solution to improve quality.

However, it takes more than improving the technical quality of how beer is dispensed to change consumer habits. This also has to be done through communication and education. You need to adopt a specific marketing strategy that includes improving the total consumer experience. You need the right serving rituals, the right drinking glass and the right beer mat or drip collar. This also means that you must educate restaurateurs and their staff so they understand how a good glass of draft beer is served. And finally, you will need to verify that they actually live up to your “Eight paths to good beer” – or however you choose to explain your program and action points.

In simple terms, there are no quick fixes to increasing draft beer sales in the world’s fastest growing beer markets. Nonetheless, the potential gain is huge. Increasing the market share of draft beer in your turnover significantly increases the bottom line of your business, not least due to the elimination of hidden operational costs and other problem-causing issues at the individual outlets.