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The biggest beer brand you've never heard of

Have you ever tried the world’s most popular beer brand? It’s sold in just one country, which is also the biggest beer market in the world – China

The brand is Snow, and it became the world’s biggest beer brand by volume in 2008, when it overtook Bud Light. In 2012, Snow sold 110 million hectolitres of beer; which is enough to fill around 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools with beer every day. For a year.

Snow’s range of beers is brewed under a joint venture between SABMiller and China Resources Enterprise. When the partnership began in 1994, it owned just two breweries. Today it operates more than 90 breweries across the country. During those two decades the entire economy of China changed almost beyond recognition.

The rise of China as an industrial giant has had a profound effect on its huge consumer market. Rapid urbanisation saw the manufacturing cities of China’s coastal region swell with migrants, followed by the swift growth of major cities in nearly every province. In the six years between 2002 and 2008, per capita income more than doubled, from US$1,135 to US$3,414.

How has China become the biggest beer market in the world

For many years, Snow was very largely a mainstream brand. However, as China’s economic boom unfolded, Snow responded to evolving consumer tastes. Newly-affluent consumers wanted more than just a beer after work; when they went out socialising with their friends, or celebrating success with their business colleagues, they wanted to drink something special. That meant growing demand for premium beers that could match the good food and pleasing environments of the rapidly-growing numbers of quality restaurants.

Snow has developed a number of new beers, ranging in price to suit all tastes and occasions. While a mainstream beer like Snow Opera Mask can be found on supermarket shelves for 3 Yuan (US$0.49) per 330ml can, a top premium brand like Snow Crystal Draft, found in good restaurants rather than in supermarkets, costs 15 Yuan (US$2.44) for a 500ml bottle.

Some of the new beers have been aimed at very specific groups of consumers in modern China. For example, in 2008 Snow launched two new beers, called Snow Brave the World and Snow Draft. Competitors to these new products deployed mainly Western icons, interests and associations in their branding and marketing, but Snow decided to associate these new beers with Chinese culture and interests instead.

Snow Brave the World was aimed at young Chinese professionals at the beginning of their careers, aspiring to better themselves and prepared to work hard to achieve their goals.

With the silhouette of a climber as its iconic branding, Snow Brave the World was used to inspire young Chinese people to enter annual outdoor challenges including rock climbing, hiking, rafting and cycling, all set in China’s spectacular natural landscapes. So popular did these events become that 2.8 million people entered for the 2012 event, hoping to be one of the final 53 contestants, and Snow Brave the World has almost two million online followers.

In contrast, Snow Draft was pitched towards more mature professionals. The specific targets were those who enjoy visiting and photographing China’s many historical and cultural sites. Consumers of Snow Draft were encouraged to enter annual photography competitions focused on ancient Chinese architecture; in the 2013 competition, 1.2 million people submitted photographs.

If you’re not already here, perhaps you should come to China, taste a bottle or two, and see what all the excitement is about.

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