To try and create greater familiarity for those living elsewhere, we’ll periodically profile some China brands and businesses that we believe will be household names across the world soon, except perhaps for this time’s example.
It’s getting to the hottest part of summer and quite naturally, our thoughts turn more and more often to beer – that glorious drink that defines many of the best things about this season.
I made the astonishing discovery that the worlds largest selling beer is from China – but not only have you probably never heard of it, it’s very likely not even available where you are. Even more likely, it probably will never be distributed where you are – unlike some of the other brands we’ve covered in this series. Yet, it is such an astonishing success purely from a volume and market penetration perspective that we thought it would be worth a writeup.
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the world’s largest selling beer that you’ve never heard of: China’s 雪花 or Snow Beer.
Snow Beer was first launched in 1993 in Shenyang (Liaoning Province), China by a company called CR Snow that was originally owned by SAB Miller (49%) and China Resource Enterprises (51%) but when Anheuser-Busch acquired SAB Miller they were forced to sell their stake in Snow for 1.6 billion USD to CRE. In 2018 Heineken acquired 40% of the company. Over the years as it became a more and more successful business, it was spun-off as a separate company and is now listed on the HK Stock Exchange as China Resource Beer (Holdings) Company Limited which has a slightly more complicated shareholding that we won’t get into now.
It was a little hard to get recent figures on beer sales around the world but the last complete audit of these numbers from 2017 shows Snow holding 5.5% of the total market worldwide, followed by Tsingtao at 2.6%. Now, Tsingtao is sold all over the world but Snow is pretty much only in China, which tells you just how big a brand can get by focusing on this one market and no others!
A look at the 2020 annual report for CRB shows their total sales at 11.1 million kilo-liters – but this is across all their brands, not just Snow. However, they still claim Snow as the largest single-brand of beer globally. The company seems to have done well over 2020, while turnover was slightly less than in 2019 (31.5 billion RMB down from 33.2), profit attributable to shareholders grew from 1.3 to 2.2 billion RMB.
I’d love to be able to say that Snow does well because it is a damn good beer. Unfortunately, it isn’t. In fact, the local joke is that it’s called Snow because it tastes like melted snow – water, basically.
The reasons for it’s success are very simple – it’s really cheap (under 2.5 RMB/ 330ml can for the cheapest variant) and it is available everywhere. All over China, practically in every kind of local restaurant, you can buy Snow. It lends itself to the long drawn-out toasting culture that accompanies most gatherings in China and with it’s low alcohol content doesn’t hit people as hard as baijiu. They’ve also invested in brand-building advertising over a long period of time, including once paying for a billboard that was so high up and inconvenient to remove that it remained in place for years after the brand stopped paying for it.
Snow is really a triumph of 3 of the 4 P’s in marketing – price, place and promotion. With that singular focus on being well-known, ubiquitous and cheap in China, it has achieved the status of the largest beer brand in the world.
CRB seems focused on growing a premium segment, working with Heineken to introduce their premium brands and grow that part of the business in China. The annual report focuses exclusively on the China domestic business with no mention of any plans to take Snow abroad. Which means you’re probably not going to see this brand on a supermarket shelf near you anytime soon. Perhaps some day in the far future when today’s nascent trend for craft and premium beers has become the mainstay of the category, Snow may be toppled from its perch but until then, it will be one of the world’s biggest beers that is only available in China.
While our focus as a consultancy is making new brands famous in China, there are many (already) famous Chinese brands that aren’t well known overseas. We will be bringing them to light in this series over time.
If you’d like your brand to be famous and successful in China reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we work with both local startups as well as international brands that would like to do better in this market.