In a move that will no doubt generate discussion amongst beer purists, iconic Australian Brewery Coopers last night entered the low-carb beer market with their new product, Coopers Clear.
Clear enters the ultra-light flavoured beer category with a beer that weighs in at 4.5% abv and one gram of carbohydrate per 100 mls.
This is a beer of firsts for the family-owned brewery, being the first time that they have sold a beer in a clear bottle and their first low-carb beer, and speaking with Managing Director Tim Cooper you get a sense that they took some convincing that it was a market Coopers should be in.
Even so, for Tim the new beer represents less of a change in direction for the brewery than the brewery trying to cover all of the bases.
“For some time we’ve pondered the low carb market and pondered whether we’ve needed to respond to what we’ve perceived as a popular change in sentiment amongst a big section of the younger generation,” Tim told Australian Brews News.
Tim said they asked themselves whether the low carb market was here to stay and something that Coopers needed to address.
“Like being in the midstrength market or the light market or the premium beer market,” Tim said.
“And we concluded that it was a well-established segment with nearly 10 per cent being these low-carb and dry beers,” he said.
“We had to ask ourselves, ‘if we enter that segment, will we be able to add something that is a worthy contributor while not being inconsistent with our brewing heritage’,” Tim explains.
“And that last point did worry us a lot because these beers are fairly neutral flavoured products.”
“We undertook some market research and [Coopers’ Executive Chairman] Glenn [Cooper] really tried to understand what the public perception would be of us producing a beer like that.”
“The view that came back was that if Coopers produces a low-carb variant then it would be a good example of that type of beer, and I think that’s positive in the sense that it’s recognition of Coopers’ brewing credentials.”
The beer is the result of a pragmatic business decision for the company that has been producing cloudy, bottle-conditioned ales for five generations and is a significant departure from the beer that coined its hugely successful, “Cloudy but fine” campaign.
Tim says this is recognition that there is a generation of drinkers coming through for whom bitterness is a significant barrier to drinking beer as opposed to competing products.
“I think the challenge that we have got on a commercial level is that many of the younger consumers have gone on from drinking soft drinks to drinking RTDs which are sweet.”
“To try and introduce them – at a sales level – to the concept of drinking beer, they are confronted by the beer’s bitterness levels, hence products like Corona and the American beers, and the new variants on the domestic scene, are easier for them to get used to the idea of drinking beer.”
“We had that discussion with Anheuser Busch when we were selling Budweiser and Michelob, both very low bitterness-level beers, and their argument was simply that ‘we sell so much of it’. Bud and Bud Light are the two strongest brands in the world, they speak for themselves – a lot of people like that.”
You get the sense that there is significant commercial pressure on a brewery of Coopers’ size to be able to satisfy more than what is still, despite its growth, a narrow market for its fuller-flavoured beers. In a beer retailing world where Coopers, with less than three per cent of the Australian market, is still a minnow compared to Fosters and Lion-Nathan, having beers such as Clear and last year’s 62 Pilsner in the portfolio assist the brewery’s sales arm to get the traditional ales into retail outlets.
With Coopers ales still generating sales growth of 10-15 per cent in states outside of Coopers’ South Australian home, Coopers Clear and 62 offer a broader portfolio of products, especially since Coopers and its distribution business, Premium Beverages, lost the rights to Grolsch and Budweiser over the last few years.
“We see Coopers Clear as the next generation in Coopers products. We are excited to offer something that is new, yet will remain with Coopers tradition of quality, allowing us to cater for a broader range of drinkers,” Coopers Executive Chairman Glenn Cooper said.
The product is available in a Clear 355ml Bottle, a new ‘Euro‐sleek can’, and on tap. Coopers Clear was launched officially last night and will be available in most hotels, bottle stores and restaurants from today.