FOOD & BEVERAGE | Staff Reporter, Singapore

Craft beer baron: Adrian Sim on launching new ventures during a crisis

The CEO of East Asia Beverages also shares his thoughts on the Singapore bar and restaurant scene, one year after the Circuit-Breaker measures were employed.

Seizing an opportunity where others saw crisis and bucking the industry trend, beverage industry stalwart Adrian Sim launched East Asia Beverages (EAB) during a time when many others in the sector were reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sim, Founder and CEO of EAB, has an extensive 20-year background in the beer industry, having built up global beer brands Staropramen, Blue Moon, Miller Genuine Draught, Magners Irish Cider, Pilsner Urquell, Peroni, Foster’s and Pure Blonde, to name a few. Along the way, he has also built up an enviable distribution network with strong international ties.

Sim tells us about launching a new business venture during a pandemic, and the impact that it has had on the beer and craft beer sector in Singapore.

Why did you start a new venture in the midst of a pandemic and what gave you the confidence to make such a bold move?

There really isn’t a right or wrong time to start a business. Sometimes in a downturn, that’s where more opportunities present themselves. I started my first beer distribution in 2002 which was just post 911. SIA and PSA were threatening strikes, but the environment was conducive for start ups as costs were lower and people were more amenable to working in different industries.

In this instance, I saw an opportunity to invest in local craft beer over the lockdown period, when many mainstream brands were floundering. I noticed that new local craft players had difficulty getting the distribution that we could on a B2B basis. I started researching and was fortunate in finding a great craft beer in Crossroads.

Over the years I have built up an extensive distribution network with both mainstream and craft beers, so I am confident that together with Crossroads, we can take EAB to the next level.

How has the pandemic affected beer/craft beer consumption and consumer behaviour in Singapore?

The restrictions in eating and drinking out have moved consumers to their homes when entertaining or even when drinking alone. I think this has led to a fundamental shift to online shopping especially for heavier items such as beer. Brands recognised this from early 2020 so the battleground for market share was taken online with lots of promotions. Consumers are now spoilt for choice.

Craft beers have benefitted from this change in behavior as online prices are naturally lower than in the on-premise. This encourages consumer trial rather than staying with what you know.

Do you think it will result in a permanent change in their behaviour?

I believe the market has changed permanently, but to what degree is left to be seen. Afterall, consumers still crave the interaction that the on-premise experience provides.

As an industry veteran what do you think beer/craft beer players in the Singapore market should be doing now to bounce back post-Covid-19? I think it’s all about rationalisation of each business to operate more efficiently when business picks up. Focus would be on logistics and human resource.

What are the emerging trends that you see in Singapore’s beer/craft beer market?

I see three main trends emerging. First, there will be greater consumer acceptance of different styles and brands of beers and craft beers. At the same time, I anticipate brand owners becoming more creative in crafting new styles. Finally, I see growing confidence amongst regional players, both from the brands and production standpoint. I’m certain that there will be more Asian-styled products in the very near future.

How is EAB planning to capitalise on these trends, what can we expect next from EAB?

EAB is just at the cusp of starting something new. We are focused on building a well-balanced portfolio encompassing our international imported beers as well as our regional craft beers. By reinventing the relationship between craft and mainstream brands, we have been able to build up a superb portfolio, augmented by the ownership of Crossroads brands. Along with strategic relationships we have forged at EAB, we are now in a great position to scale up and penetrate the on-premise market and hit the ground running.

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