Czech brewers commit beer "blasphemy" to buoy sales

Mon Aug 13, 2012 10:48am EDT
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By Jason Hovet

PRAGUE (Reuters) - An economic downturn and a shift to healthier living has led to a small revolution for brewers in the country which gave the world Pilsner and the original Budweiser beer.

So-called "radlers" - beers mixed with drinks like Sprite, lemonade or fruit flavored beverages - are proving a saving grace for beer makers whose customers have cut back on the main Bohemian tipple during a European economic malaise, and as people steer away from heavy suds towards a healthier lifestyle.

Brewers are tailoring their products for a post-communist generation more at ease with sugary soft drinks than lager in order to cope with a drop in domestic consumption.

Domestic beer drinking has fallen to current per capita consumption of 144 liters a year from 160 liters in the mid 2000s, but still tops the world beer drinking rankings.

"This trend is irreversible," said Jan Vesely, director of the Czech Beer and Malt Association, whose members account for 90 percent to the market. "If we want to keep (up production) we must go to other drinks or exports."

After a slide of 8.6 percent in 2010 and 5.9 percent in 2009 in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis, domestic beer output rose 1.4 percent in the first half of 2012.

Vesely estimated the market share of radler - a word that means "cyclist" in German, referring to the preferred beverage of weekend trail bikers - to grow to 5 percent by 2014, from around 2 percent now and nearly zero in 2010.

"The production rise is all due to mixed (beer) drinks. It is booming and is an added dimension to the Czech beer culture," he said.   Continued...

Bottles filled with Zlatopramen radler beer are seen on a conveyor belt in Krusovice Brewery, about 40 miles (64 km) west from Prague, August 12, 2012. REUTERS/Petr Josek