Premiumisation is needed to stand out in China’s beer market

January 25, 2019
3 min read

China’s beer market is entering a new era as we see a rising demand for premium options among Chinese adults.

The total beer consumption in China has remained steady in recent years, according to Mintel. Rising health awareness has encouraged some adults to scale back on their drinking habits, but any health-related sales declines have been counterbalanced by the growing number of Chinese drinkers trading up to higher quality, more sophisticated brews.

Major beer manufacturers are now adjusting their product portfolio with better quality beers to meet this demand. Mass-market brands like Snow and Tsingtao are increasingly struggling to retain consumers who are now turning to more premium brands.

We expect the premiumisation trend to define the Chinese beer market over the coming years. Here, we take a look at how both international and local brands can stand out in a market where consumers are trading up.

Flavour, mouthfeel and brewing method

Imported brewers have cache in China, particularly as beer drinkers become more and more sophisticated with their preferences. Brands that rely primarily on foreign credentials and heritage have traditionally been attractive to Chinese consumers; however, the tides are changing. The development of China’s craft beer  scene has seen local craft breweries place more emphasis on the attributes of the beer itself. In fact, consumers are increasingly concerned with the flavour, mouthfeel and brewing methods of their beers, according to Mintel research.

Moreover, more than half of beer drinkers in China say they have tried and are fans of craft beer. This suggests that relying on foreign heritage alone will now have less resonance in China as the presence of microbreweries and specialty beers offer more upscale options for Chinese beer drinkers.

Mark Earl Beer
Mark Earl White Beer is said to be crafted using barley malt, wheat malt, rice and humulus lupulus extract. It features burnt malt flavour and has a mouth-feeling depth.

Reberg beer is freshly brewed in Shanghai for 30 days. The beer is processed according to a bottom-fermentation process, and has a caramel aroma that comes from refined cara-malt. This is a full-boiled beer with a dry and refreshing taste.

Wheat beer carries potential

Brands hoping to profit from the growth of premium beer in China also need to consider how well their products fit with the taste preferences of Chinese consumers. Wheat beers, for example, have enjoyed growth in many Asian markets in recent years because of their suitability for pairing with spicy food—a type of food that’s commonplace in China.

Interest in wheat beer has also been spotted in the country recently. In fact, over half of beer drinkers in China say that they have tried wheat beer and like it, ranking above draft beer and barley wine. This suggests that brewers hoping to take advantage of premiumisation in China should be looking to expand their portfolios with wheat varieties, which offer the silky mouthfeel and lighter flavours preferred by Chinese consumers.

Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale

This unflavoured/plain wheat beer uses ingredients including barley malt, wheat malt, hops and yeast.

Hema Orange Rain Witbier
This private label product is described as a refreshing wheat beer with added orange jam. This beer brings out both floral and orange notes.

Jennifer Zegler
Jennifer Zegler

Jenny Zegler is the Director of Food and Drink at Mintel. Jenny blends her trends expertise with food and drink topics such as health, formulation, sustainability and premiumization.

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