Media: Big beer barons muscle into the craft market

Last updated 11:11, September 19 2018

View story online here

Craft brewers are usually perceived as smaller independent operators but the big players - Lion and DB - are taking over more of them and using their marketing muscle to lift sales.

They may not not fit comfortably into the established narrative of what makes a craft beer, but the biggest contribution to craft beer value and volume growth over the past three years has come from craft brews owned by the major corporates.

It was evident at the recent Brewers Guild Awards where three new champion categories were created to avoid the awards being swamped by the two biggies. 

Brewers Guild Awards chief executive Sabrina Kunz said there had been 120 different brewers and the new categories would help continue to reflect the wider industry.

Sprig and Fern's Banner flies high at national brewing awards 
Lion brews a deal with boutique pioneer Harrington's 
Geoff Griggs: Tuatara buy is a good move for DB 

At the Brewers Guild Awards in Nelson, Lion took the Champion Large NZ Brewery, ParrotDog took the Champion Award, and Fork took the Champion Small award.

One of the fastest growing craft beers over the past three years has been Mac's, owned by Lion for about 20 years.

By 2014 Mac's was declining about 12 per cent a year while the craft beer market was growing at 15 per cent, according to Lion's brand manager Dave Pearce.

Lion embarked on a major marketing push and Mac's was now the top brand in the craft sector, nearly doubling retail sales to a value of $14 million over three years.

Head brewer Kirsten Taylor at the Fermentist craft brewery in Christchurch, which is owned by Lion.

Head brewer Kirsten Taylor at the Fermentist craft brewery in Christchurch, which is owned by Lion.

Pearce said Mac's was driving a quarter of all craft beer growth for retailers.

Mac's was founded in 1981 in Nelson by publican and ex-All Black Terry McCashin, who persevered though many challenges before being rewarded by the Lion buyout in 1999.

To cover the market, Lion has recently acquired Christchurch-based Harringtons, adding to others to the pride such as Emerson's in Dunedin, Panhead in Wellington, and Little Creatures from Australia, named after the yeast microbes. The company has also set up its own craft beer outlet in Christchurch called Fermentist.

The companies continue under their original operators except Mac's which has been fully integrated into the larger Lion business.

Pearce said low alcohol beers had enjoyed some initial growth after drink driving penalties rose about two years ago but had tapered off and the growth was in craft beers.  


At the Brewers Guild Awards a plethora of awards went to individual beers produced by the different breweries.

Lion's main rival, DB Breweries, took 35 medals including a trophy and four golds

DB classes its Monteith's, Black Dog, Lagunitas and Tuatara, as craft beers and said they made up 25 per cent of the total craft market.

"The way New Zealanders consume beer is changing with people drinking less but drinking better and we are encouraged by people showing more interest in the taste profile of beer through craft," DB managing director Peter Simons said.

According to an ANZ survey, craft beers made up about 6 per cent of beer production in 2015 but more than 10 per cent of consumption by value.

Lou Draper