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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 April 2006, 05:06 GMT 06:06 UK
Is today's beer all image over reality?
By Will Smale
BBC News business reporter

Four out of every five pints of Fosters are now brewed by a UK firm
Foster's Lager has an image that is the envy of its rivals.

In a global beer industry ever more dominated by giant brands, the "Amber Nectar" is instantly recognisable as a refreshing glass of sun-soaked, fun-loving Australian flavour.

Backed by a thoroughly successful advertising campaign, Fosters seems more Australian than having a barbecue on Bondi Beach while a mob of happy kangaroos leap past.

Well, that's the image - the reality is a fair bit less Antipodean.

Long brewed under licence in the UK by British beer firm Scottish and Newcastle (S&N), it was recently announced that S&N was buying the Foster's brand across Europe for 313m.

So Foster's bought in the UK is now not only brewed here, it is also owned by a British firm.

In terms of its nationality, it now appears more rain, pies and crisps, than sun, Vegemite and barbequed prawns alfresco.

Australian recipe

But does it really matter?

Most of the global beer giants today have their products brewed under licence overseas, and S&N argues that Foster's remains firmly Australian.

Budweiser Budvar
Budweiser Budvar has the same protection as champagne

"It is the same original Foster's taste and quality," says S&N head of communications Robert Ballantyne.

"It is very much still an Australian beer brewed to an Australian recipe, but we are obviously not going to brew it in Australia as that is a long way to ship it."

Foster's Group, the Australian firm that has sold Foster's to S&N in Europe, agrees that the beer will continue to be Australian regardless of where it is actually brewed.

"Foster's will always be 'Australian for beer' and continue to represent the Australian way of life in more than 150 countries around the world," says Foster's Group chief executive Trevor O'Hoy.

Yet S&N today brews four out of every five pints of Foster's, and to a lesser strength than the Australian-made original.

Geographical protection

But to be fair to S&N, as we have already said, brewing overseas is common practice in the global beer industry.

Protected Geographical Indication
The EU offers protection to food and drink producers

Guinness for example, the famous Irish stout, is actually brewed in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Furthermore, Guinness is owned by global drinks giant Diageo, which is headquartered in London and listed on both the London and New York stock exchanges.

To name but two more brands: Denmark's Carlsberg and Belgium's Stella Artois have both long been brewed in the UK.

If Foster's brand essence is its Australian heritage, then S&N might have a problem...if it's the taste, then buying the brand makes total sense
Brand expert Jim Boulton

However, there are a number of brewers who are passionately defending their origins, such as Czech firm Budweiser Budvar, which should not be confused with its American near namesake.

Budweiser Budvar now has Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.

Granted by the European Union, PGI gives Budweiser Budvar the same legal protection against imitation as that enjoyed by Champagne wine, Camembert cheese, Welsh lamb or Parma ham.

Gaining PGI also means that Budweiser Budvar can only be brewed in its home town of Budweis.

Coincidentally, S&N has PGI protection for its famous Newcastle Brown Ale.

While Budweiser Budvar has protected its heritage, other Czech beers are more relaxed about being brewed elsewhere.

Pilsner Urquell for example - famous for being the world's very first lager-style beer - is now also brewed in Poland.

Its owner, global brewing giant SAB Miller, insists it takes every possible step to ensure there is no difference between the beer brewed in the Czech Republic, and that from Poland.

Good taste

British beer pressure group Camra (Campaign for Real Ale), says it has long called for lager drinkers to take more interest in the actual origin of their brand of choice.

All Heineken sold in the UK is now brewed in the Netherlands

"Most of the so-called foreign lager brands on the bars of British pubs are actually brewed here," says Camra research and information manager Iain Loe.

"And while they aren't bad, it isn't the same.

"Some of the big brewers are changing their ways though, such as Heineken.

"All Heineken in the UK now comes from the Netherlands."

Jim Boulton, managing director of London-based brand experts Large Design, warns global beer firms that for a brand to be successful in the long term, it has to be authentic.

"If Foster's brand essence is its Australian heritage, then Scottish and Newcastle might have a problem," he says.

"If it's the taste, then buying the brand makes total sense."

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