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March 23, 2019

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Argentine brewing enthusiasm for craft beer

CRAFT beer is popular in Shanghai, and drinking in a brew house has become fashionable. Goose Island and Boxing Cat, two of the most famous brew houses in Shanghai, are operated by ZX Ventures, an offshoot of AB InBev. Nicolas Morelli, vice president of Craft and Specialties APAC North, AB InBev, is a craft beer enthusiast.

Joining ZX Ventures in 2015, Morelli succeeded in making its brand Patagonia Brewery the largest craft brand in Latin America within three years under his leadership there. In 2017 the over-delivered net revenue versus budget of ZX Ventures is 178 percent achievement.

He came to Shanghai last year to run ZX Ventures. AB InBev wants the company to find different opportunities to grow the craft beer market and to solicit opinions from consumers.

There are big opportunities in craft beer and in e-commerce in China. Morelli believes the time is right to grow the China craft beer market. It’s a market featuring diverse regionality, and different brands have worked better in different regions. The craft beer market is small but growing fast with many new types of craft beer brands.

The Chinese market is not like other markets. Chinese consumers are used to checking e-commerce first when buying products, which surprised Morelli when he first arrived.

“I was thinking about going to the IKEA to buy commodities for my family, but in fact I don’t need to go myself. Use e-commerce, things will be shipped to my home. It was a great experience so I started to use it very often since then.”

E-commerce has so many options for the customers that they naturally think of it first. It presents him with challenges, especially in price, since it is difficult to compete and offer the right price in the e-commerce market in China. However, e-commerce gives craft beer a better chance to be known by customers.

Compared with his positive attitude toward e-commerce, he doesn’t want to try influencer marketing used by Chinese local brands.

“We want to cooperate with partners that truly have enthusiasm for beer, and our brand. In this case, we are willing to establish a long-term relationship, not just launching a single campaign together. We know that could be a bit tough, but that’s how our craft runs and what we pursue,” he said.

Q: What do you think is the key factor that makes craft beer distinctive from mainstream beer?

A: First of all, I love beer, all types of beers. In China, 99 percent of the beer sold in market is mainly lager. Craft beers are lagers and ales. It takes different processes and time to make these two types of beers, which brings out distinctive aromatics. Though the basic aromatics are the same, the idea is to bring new ingredients to the brewing process to get different type of beers. I think this is the biggest difference because most of our beers are ales, not lagers. So, we are bringing a new type to the category. I think this is a great thing that craft beer has done all over the world. That’s also the idea which has been introduced to China. If you see here in the Goose Island Brew House, there are around 20 varieties of beers that are brewed here. That’s the idea, to have the consumers try more beers, as we don’t know which type of beer the Chinese consumers are going to love in the future.

Q: What are your favorite craft beers?

A: Contender from Boxing Cat and Loose Goose from Goose island, I really love these two beers.

Q: Where do you usually go to grab a glass of craft beer in Shanghai?

A: I love a couple of bars here in Shanghai such as Liquid Laundry, where I can have different kinds of beers. I think the Stone Bar that has just opened also offers a lot of choices. Besides, there are a lot of craft shops that I often go, such as Beer Lady. Goose Island and Liquid Laundry are the bar places that I go most frequently after work.

Q: Do you remember the moment you first arrived in Shanghai? What was your first impression?

A: Yes, of course. I came here last year in April to get familiar with the city. The first thought was “Oh, I could live here” though it’s a place 20,000 kilometers from my home, Argentina. I used to travel a lot, but I found Shanghai quite different from the cities I’ve been to. Here everything happens faster.

Q: Where do you like to hang out at the weekend and why? Can you share with us your most recent travel experience?

A: Actually I spend half of my weekend time traveling. I’ve been to Beijing seven or eight times, and I just came back from Wuhan, where we have a brew plant there. As for the weekends in Shanghai, I usually take a walk in the city, wandering about. I also play soccer with a couple of friends in Pudong from time to time.

Q: Have you tried Chinese food and what’s your favorite dish?

A: Yes, I used to have mostly Italian food, but now I have a quite varied diet, with Chinese food combined. Among them, I enjoy Beijing duck most, which I will always have when I’m in Beijing. Besides, I have dumplings very often. Sometimes I have hotpot as well, but normally it is too spicy for me.

Q: Which kind of restaurants do you go to in Shanghai?

A: I’ve been to many Italian restaurants like Bella Napoli and Mercado. There’s only one Argentinean restaurant El Bodegon, which serves good/comfort food and can remind me of my hometown in Argentina. Also I’ve been to a lot of beer bars as I love drinking beer in my daily life. I think Shanghai and Beijing are two cities that are more developed in China to try new craft beers.

Q: How do you keep fit? Do you go to the gym or go jogging?

A: To be honest, I hate gyms. There’s a gym near my house, which is just 20 meters away, but I never go there. Yet I do love going outside because every time I go out I see places I haven’t seen before. I’ve decided to buy a bike and may go biking near the Bund or around Xujiahui.

Q: We’ve heard that you’re learning Chinese. How’s it going?

A: Yes, I’m learning, but not hardworking enough to say something fluently now. My Chinese teacher might get mad at me if he hears this. But he said I am good at the four tones. For now, I can say “nihao, wo shi a gen ting ren” (Hello, I am an Argentines.) I will keep learning, and hopefully speak better in the next six months.

(Gu Xiaoying also contributed to the story)


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