Industry

Brewed Force

Beer Culture

Ever since the first Lebanese beer was produced in 1933 by Brasserie Almaza, the local beer market has been dominated by one single brand. To most Lebanese, Almaza has been synonymous with beer. However, over the past nine years, a new craft beer movement has been challenging the status quo of the Lebanese beer market with newly established brands, introducing new beer styles and more diverse tastes.

Founded in 1933, Brasserie Almaza is the oldest brewery in Lebanon, producing an estimated 24 million liters of beer annually. In addition to Lebanon, Almaza brand is well recognized internationally as the ultimate Lebanese beer catering mostly to the Lebanese diaspora spread across the globe. In 2013, the market share of Heineken-owned Brasserie Almaza accounted for 74%. Foreign brands, such as Heineken, Budweiser, and Corona accounted for 21%, while the share of other local producers was 5%. But Brasserie Almaza’s monopolistic grip on Lebanon’s beer market is about to end, with Kassatly Chtaura’s new large-scale commercial brewery, and a new craft beer movement initiated by 961 Beer.

In Lebanon, beer is still equated with being a thirst quencher drunk on a hot summer day. According to 961 Beer’s CEO Omar Bekdache, “Most Lebanese think that beer should be cold and drunk from a bottle or a glass that has been in the freezer.” In contrast, European and American consumers treat beer as one of the primary drinks of choice to accompany the meal, unwind after a long day’s work, or simply at parties.

There a few reasons behind this difference in consumer behavior, the main one being the blossoming wine culture in Lebanon boasting over 30 wineries. Beer taking a back-seat to wine does not come as a big surprise since Lebanon’s natural environment favors wine production. “The culture of beer is very weak in Lebanon. We have a great wine culture, everywhere you go there are wineries but there is only one major brewery”, Bekdache told TBY.

The size of the Lebanese beer market, currently estimated at 29 million liters annually, has considerable room for growth. A few market players have already identified the opportunities, with others to follow.

961 Beer, founded by Mazen Hajjar in 2006 has been growing at a clip of 300-400% annually. Now 961 brews nearly two million liters per year and exports to the US, Australia, Brazil, and the EU, among other states.

Colonel Beer, launched in 2014 in Batroun by Jamil Haddad, has exceeded its founder’s biggest expectations. Relying purely on word of mouth, with no advertisement, Colonel Beer promptly achieved great success, “People in Batroun are treating it as their product, it is available in all beach resorts and restaurants, and now also in Beirut bars,” says Jamil Haddad, Colonel’s CEO.

In addition to new craft beers, in 2014, Kassatly Chtaura, a local manufacturer of juices, energy drinks and wine, opened its $15 million large-scale brewery in the Bekaa Valley. Kassatly’s facility has an annual capacity expandable to 250,000 hl/year (2 million liters). “What we have accomplished in our first year, is substantial as we have earned a good market share already. We also believe that a Lebanese consumption as low as 5.5 liters per capita has room to grow”, Akram N. Kassatly, Kassatly Chtaura’s President told TBY. Kassatly believes that with the right advertisement and positioning in the market, the consumption of beer can be doubled within three to four years, “Average consumption in Lebanon amounts to 5.5 liters per capita, whereas average consumption in the US and Europe varies from 100 to 150 liters. Our aim is not to eat the market share of our competitors, but increase Lebanon’s average consumption to 10 liters or more.”

The change in Lebanese consumer behavior has already started to materialize as people are moving toward quality beers. According to Bekdache, “The Lebanese are more interested in health and what they are buying rather than how much they are paying.” Lebanon is successfully catching up the global trends and starting to create a beer culture of its own. The new players are progressively enhancing the local beer market, expected to see new brewers coming in to capitalize on the new trend.

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