Canadian Beer: Ready to craft an international reputation

October 3, 2014
3 min read

Despite being a CAD$8.8 billion retail market, the international reputation of Canadian beer is relatively limited. The country has two well-known breweries in particular, Molson and Labatt’s, which are now owned by Molson Coors and AB InBev respectively. However, Molson and Labatt’s branded beers are scarcely seen in many European markets such as the UK, and Canadian beer overall is often overshadowed by the considerably larger American retail market (US$44 billion – Mintel Market Sizes).

Statistics Canada indicates that beer consumption in Canada has been falling in recent years, coinciding with an upturn in the popularity of wine. Upcoming consumer data from Mintel shows how overall numbers of beer and wine drinkers are now broadly equal. Specifically within the beer market, just over half of adult Canadians drank a lager such as Molson Canadian or Labatt’s in the six months to September 2014.

As the craft beer scene has blossomed in many countries around the world, craft beer is also becoming big business in Canada, with three in ten Canadians now drinking these beers. There has been a large upturn in Canadian breweries in recent years, increasing in number by just under 50% in the past five years alone, to reach around 400 in total. Sales figures support the growing popularity of craft, with many retailers (eg Beer Store, LCBO) and pubs reporting significant growth from this segment.

Consumer expectations are certainly high of craft beers, with almost half of Canadian beer drinkers thinking that craft variants should taste better than standard beers. While there are notable regional differences in styles and taste, many Canadian craft beers are somewhat similar to their American counterparts in being defined by a hop-heavy taste. For some brands, this is in fact a central selling point, with the likes of Hops & Robbers/Barking Squirrel (Double Trouble Brewing), Boneshaker (Amsterdam Brewing) and Mad Tom IPA (Muskoka Brewery) all packing a considerable punch due to their high hop content. Despite the potential threats posed by escalating hop prices, a third of beer drinkers think that craft beer is worth paying more for, suggesting that many Canadians can be still be encouraged to trade up within the beer category.

As a British drinks analyst currently residing in Canada; and of course a committed professional researcher; I have taken the none-too-arduous task of sampling from the wide range of beers now available to Canadians. There is no doubt that many of these craft beers are worthy of a much wider audience and can go toe-to-toe against many of the craft equivalents being produced across the world. Perhaps the main reason why Canada’s craft scene is relatively unknown internationally is that the majority of these craft beers never even leave the country, limiting awareness of even larger regional breweries such as Steam Whistle and Mill Street in Ontario.

There now appears to be a ready and willing audience for Canadian craft brewers to push for international growth, helping to boost the global appeal of the country’s beers. Or, perhaps Canadians are just simply happy to keep this secret and drinking all of these great beers themselves.

For more information about Mintel’s Canada reports, please click here. Data is taken from Mintel’s forthcoming Generational Lifestyles Canada 2014 and Beer Canada 2014 reports.

Chris Wisson researches and writes reports on the UK drinks industry. He is currently based in Mintel’s Toronto office.

Chris Wisson
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