Coopers Brewery has applauded the plans by the foreign owners of Foster's to revive its beer portfolio, saying there is a dire need for fresh ideas to return the beer category to growth after four successive years of shrinking volumes.
Coopers, the largest locally owned brewer, recorded beer sales of 69.7 million litres in the 2013 financial year, bucking the trend for beer drinkers to abandon their schooners for wine and alcopops.
Coopers managing director Tim Cooper said SABMiller's revamp of Foster's flagship VB beer and a relaunch this month of Crown Lager would bring excitement back into the market to the benefit of all.
"From the point of the view of the overall market it's good, because we are also competing against wine and RTDs [ready to drink]. Even though they could take some of our market at the same time it's good for the overall beer industry to grow the segment," Dr Cooper said.
SABMiller has quickly gone to work to resuscitate Foster's flagging sales since it bought the brewer in 2011 for $12.3 billion. It lifted the alcohol content of VB back to its historic level after a reduction drew the anger of fans, and freshened up other brands.
"I tasted the new VB, which I think is certainly an improvement," Dr Cooper said.
"SABMiller are very passionate about brewing and the wholesomeness of their brewed product globally, so I think they are taking a long term view to try and increase the beer credentials of their flagship products."
He said his brewery would benefit from a restoration of the beer market in Australia. Volumes had declined as much as 4 per cent since 2009-10 as part as a prolonged slide.
"We are in our fourth year of market decline now," he said.
"The decline is slowing but we are still seeing a decline of 2 per cent across Australia. We need to appeal to the younger drinker who might otherwise be drinking RTDs or wine."
The takeover of Foster's has also benefited Coopers directly. A number of global labels have quit the Foster's camp to seek new local partners. T family-owned Coopers won a distribution deal with Carlsberg. That deal, along with new licence arrangements with brands such as Sapporo and Kronenbourg 1664, helped Coopers' 8.3 per cent rise in beer volume sales for 2012-13. Its partnership with Japanese brewer Sapporo generated a near 100 per cent increase in sales in Australia last financial year to 1.2 million litres.
Dr Cooper said despite tough conditions, Coopers' growth had averaged 9.8 per cent for 20 years.