Premium Belgium beer has long been a go to category for beer aficionados, in fact, they have arguably played an important role in creating demand for the boom in craft beers that we have seen from so many different countries. But for Duvel Moortgat the challenge is to keep pushing the boundaries on what Belgium beer can offer, and in particular for its two flagship brands, Duvel and Vedett. Here John Wood, UK managing director, assesses the premium beer opportunity.
Belgium beers have been a key factor in helping to drive premium beer sales. John Wood looks at how new styles, even better glassware and draught serves can help push Duvel Moortgat even more into the UK’s on and off-trades.
How was 2018 been for you in terms of sales and market growth?
Given a rather unstable wholesale market at the start of 2018, we are very pleased with the performance of our headline brand Duvel. Our jewel in the crown enjoyed strong growth across both the on and the off-trade. We finished the year with strong double-digit growth which gives us great excitement for its potential in the coming years. Our wider family of breweries have also enjoyed a solid year in the UK, with our Vedett brand being our second strongest performer.
Where have you seen the most opportunities?
Without doubt there has been a wider market shift from the on to off-trade which, in turn, has presented greater opportunities which we are keen to continue to fully support. That said, the on-trade remains vital to the success of our business and we continue to deploy significant resources to gain presence for our beers in this channel and ensure we support the trade with education and, of course, fantastic Belgian glassware, a vital component to any fantastic tasting Belgian beer.
What were the biggest challenges and issues holding you back in 2018?
Without doubt, the issues of Conviviality in early 2018 presented a big challenge, but, with good relationships across the trade, we have managed to largely recover from those difficulties. The hugely competitive nature of the lager category in the UK will always continue to be a challenge with huge investments made just to be on the bar. We will always value the quality and craftsmanship of our beers above pay to play and will deploy our investment in the best way to ensure the beer drinker gets to enjoy our fantastic family of beers.
What steps have you taken to address them?
We have upscaled our sales team to focus on the independent market as well as national wholesale and retail customers. We strongly feel that a closer relationship with the IFT will serve our beers well for the years to come.
What do you see as being the big trends/issues for 2019?
We certainly see a significant growth in slightly higher ABV, higher price beers in the UK market as the consumer shifts at pace from quantity to quality. The UK consumer is clearly saying it is less but better, and with our family of brewers we feel we are uniquely positioned to support this trend. With regards to wider issues, we look at the unfolding political landscape rather closely, and, whilst we have contingencies plans in place, we certainly hope for a smooth trading landscape in the future.
How is the Belgian beer category?
The Belgian beer category is in good health and many expert commentators cite it as the next big category explosion. We have instigated a campaign for Vedett called#BelgiumUntold where we bring the coolness of Belgium into the UK psyche. Duvel and La Chouffe, at a higher ABV, really present the traditional Belgian Golden Ale perfectly and these are the style of beers that are now gaining momentum in the UK market.
What are the key growth trends in that category?
Without a doubt, Golden Ale remains key in this category, but we are seeing IPA showing good growth, also which, given this category is somewhat smaller in Belgium, is a really interesting development.
Tell us what your strategy for Duvel and Vedett has been in 2018 and how has this differed from other years?
In the last year we have really placed Duvel back at the heart of our business and this has paid strong dividends. We have introduced Duvel on Tap in a select number of bars to support the UK dominance of draught beer. We have introduced a mastery campaign on bottles which highlights the skill and craftsmanship that goes into Duvel. We believe the 90 days brewing process is unmatched, and we want the UK consumer to understand this when they enjoy our fantastic tasting beer.
Vedett exists in a competitive marketplace but our strategy has very much to be to maintain its cool credentials and ensure it is in places where our consumers drink. For all our beers we want them served perfectly and with the correct glassware. As with all Duvel Moortgat beers, quality is the laser focus every day and we want that conveyed to everyone we come in to contact with.
What were your main targets, and did you achieve them?
We sought to grow the Duvel brand by strong double digits in 2018 and this was achieved. Vedett was about gaining new business and ensuring we developed a campaign that could support the brand for the long-term growth strategy we have for it in the UK. We feel that we now have this campaign in place with #BelgiumUntold, so we very much feel our plan for Vedett was achieved. An exciting 2019 is about to start, when we hope that more and more people can enjoy our amazing family of beers.
You are trying different serves and offering a draught version now. Why is that and how are they doing?
Duvel’s re-fermentation, part of its unique 90-day brewing process, produced a beer that was too highly carbonated to dispense on most standard draught systems. As many countries outside of Belgium prefer beers on draught, rather than out of the bottle, the brewery began working on developing a new system that would allow Duvel to referment in the keg and also to maintain the carbonation level and the alcohol percentage of 8.5%. After two years of research, our brewers successfully designed a tap system that met all the requirements to serve Duvel on tap that’s just like the one from the bottle.
We unveiled our unique tap system in the Netherlands and France to great success. And, as of this year, you can now taste Duvel on tap here in the UK. Find it in London at The Draft House Old Street and The Bottleshop in Bermondsey, at Canalhouse in Nottingham, and The Cavern of the Curious Gnome in Chester.
Where do you see as the key growth channels for your beers in the coming years?
Without a doubt, the off-trade growth, which has been consistent over many recent years, will continue. The off-trade channel will continue to be key to our success and it will require new and innovative ways to convey our quality message. Independent traders in both the on and off-trade will also remain at the core of our beliefs and we see a growth opportunity here via solid and long terms relationship-building in an environment where our quality message is more achievably delivered.