What exactly defines a 'world beer'?

Yet again consumer complaints have led to a beer brand being required to change its ads because the industry-funded Advertising Standards Authority has judged them to be misleading. The latest TV ads for Kronenbourg challenge the consumer to “find a better tasting French beer” – yet it is brewed in Manchester.

So what actually are so-called “world beers” like Kronenbourg, Stella Artois and Heineken?

Kronenbourg’s PR asserted that “Frenchness” was an integral part of the brand’s marketing, and providing the product was brewed to the same recipe as in its home country, he didn’t see a consumer problem. Indeed, he believed that “there were far more important things to worry about”, but did suggest that “people just want the facts”. Indeed they do.

All brand owners stand guarantee for the quality of their products as their primary compact with the consumer. In addition, alcohol and food marketers have long seen the benefits of their ingredients’ provenance being a source of competitive advantage. If you can conjoin the two you have a winner.

Hence the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée-type regulations for French, Italian and US wines now mirrored in food with the european Protected Designation of Origin, which affords legal geographic protection to everything from cheeses to chickens.

World beers are now an anomaly. If these beers were simply exported from the home producer their provenance would be easy to determine, but they are not. If they were brewed locally under licence from the original brand owner this would imply a level of quality control and a similar product to the original – but that is not always the case.

However, once brands try claiming geographic provenance in their marketing, yet produce the brands here, we get into real trouble.

Even if Kronenbourg were brewed in Manchester using the same recipe, with malt and hops imported from Alsace and water filtered and reproduced to have exactly the same mineral content as that used in Alsace, rather than just “Burtonising” it, could it ever be the real thing? I think not. World beers should only be allowed to claim a commercial equivalence of product, not geographic provenance.

Andrew Marsden is a consultant and former president of the Marketing Society

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