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Changing tastes and habits make major brewers change tack

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For many, a nice, cold beer – perhaps with a bag of nuts or some potato chips – is the perfect way to unwind after a long week at work. But tastes are changing, with people becoming more health conscious and starting to drink less.

In the U.K., for example, the percentage of teetotalers in 2016 hit 20.9 percent, roughly 10.6 million people. This represents an increase of around two percentage points since 2005, according to the Office for National Statistics.

When we do decide to drink, a lot of us are plumping for more specialized, craft types of beer.

"It's quite an interesting market at the moment, a quite difficult market," Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst at Mintel, told CNBC's Marketing Media Money.

"We're seeing that people are starting to drink less alcohol," Forsyth added. "So we're seeing the decline in beer volumes. However, the bright spot for the market is that people are starting to drink better and be prepared to pay more for better quality."

The idea of paying more for a better quality beer has been referred to as "premiumization." Craft beer is at the heart of this, offering a tantalising taste of authenticity amid what has become, for some, an increasingly homogenized market.

"A big direction for premiumization is this interest in craft," Forsyth said. "So, wanting something that really tastes quite distinctive that no one else has perhaps tasted, that makes you quite unique and your experience quite unique," he added.

"Craft brands are seen as small, seen as small batch, they're seen as independents and therefore the antithesis of these global multinational brewers."

It's perhaps no surprise, then, that larger brewers are looking to acquire smaller ones.

"What they're already starting doing is buying up some of these smaller craft breweries and not really shouting about it to the consumer," Forsyth said.

He went on to describe a kind of balancing act, where big brewers were attempting to scale up craft outfits whilst at the same time, "trying not to get too involved, trying to keep their independence so that… what consumers like about them is retained."

At Heineken, one of the world's best known brewers, changes in drinking habits are viewed with interest. Consumers' growing taste for craft beers is an avenue the business is looking to both buy and develop from within.

"We may in some cases choose to acquire and we're very happy to have Lagunitas as part of our family," Jan Derck van Karnebeek, Heineken's chief commercial officer, told Marketing Media Money. "But we also have brands which can venture into this craft space in a credible way," he added.

Turning to the idea of premiumization, Jan Derck van Karnebeek was also positive.

"For us, premiumization is a worldwide opportunity," he said. "It is more about the quality than the quantity which, we think, is also right from an industry perspective," he went on to state.

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