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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Foster's (US) joins the Artois Academy of Marketing Nonsense

Oh dear.
Sometimes I feel have to apologise to the world on behalf of marketing.  Not because marketing has done something that's my fault, but because I occasionally still work in marketing and no one else who does is going to do the decent thing.

I've just been writing a piece for Garret Oliver's upcoming Oxford Companion to Beer on the subject of Foster's, and I found this, the brand's American website.  Here, on the landing page, we find a bold product claim that would put even Stella Artois to shame:

"Unlike other beers, [our hops] are added at the end of the brewing process to preserve their freshness."

Wow.

Foster's is different from other beers because they add their hops at the end of the brewing process?

And the reason they do this is to preserve the freshness of the hops??

Just how wrong can someone be???

For those of my readers who may be unfamiliar with the brewing process (such as those of my readers who work on Foster's in the US), hops add two key things to the character of beer (apart from their contribution to preserving it): bitterness and aroma/taste.

When you add hops at the beginning of the boil, the compounds break down, the alpha acids are released, and their pungent aroma disappears.  These hops add bitterness to the beer.

Towards the end of the boil you add more hops.  You don't give these a chance to break down.  The aroma compounds remain intact, and these hops give beer its floral, grassy, herby, spicy or fruity notes.

This is standard practice across brewing, and while there are probably some beers that do not have a late hop addition, I don't know of any.  Any book you read on the brewing process will describe an early addition and a late addition of hops as absolutely standard practice.  And Foster's is claiming it is unique to their beer.

Attentive readers may also realise that Foster's seems unaware why it is adding hops late in the boil.  They mention nothing about the aroma stuff I just described; they say it is to preserve the freshness of the hops.

If the person who write this had ever been near a brewery in their lives, they would know that even where brewers use whole hops, 99% of the time they have been dried and stored - they're not fresh to start with.  And most industrial brewers such as Foster's don't use whole hops anyway - they use dried, concentrated pellets, or even hop oil.  Freshness has nothing to do with it.

What makes me angry about deliberate misinformation like this is that it helps no one.  Having worked on the dark side, I can tell you that they probably come out with bullshit like this because as a 'premium' brand, they're looking for a 'reason to believe', a 'Unique Selling Proposition' that provides a rational basis for product choice.  They would probably argue that their 'target audience' is not beer nerds, but mainstream drinkers who have no knowledge of the brewing process.  They don't want to hear too much information, just enough.  And if that information is heavily distorted or even wilfully wrong, they're never going to find out, and wouldn't care much if they did.

This is insulting the intelligence of the people they're talking to - deliberately writing off any curiosity they may have.

It's distorting the truth of the market, insulting all other beers.

And it's exacerbating a problem facing craft brewer and corporate lager brewer alike: one reason wine is surging ahead, taking people from beer, is that it's premium, yet easy to understand - it's made from grapes.  There are different varieties of grapes, and you'll prefer some to others.  People aren't really aware of what beer's ingredients are, what each contributes, and what the brewing process does.  It's quite complicated, and that makes it hard to engage with. And when people who have a responsibility, or at least an opportunity, to act as ambassadors for beer, if they add to that confusion by wilfully, deliberately, further confusing, distorting and lying about the brewing process just to say something that sounds differentiating and simple, they betray their drinkers, their brand, and everything about beer.

And I don't even have the energy to take them to task on what they go on to say about yeast.

Shame on you, Foster's.  Next time, just stick to the image-based marketing that actually works for brands like yours.

More candidates will be inducted into the Artois Academy of Marketing Nonsense forthwith.

41 comments:

stoutfellow said...

"and while there are probably some beers that do not have a late hop addition, I don't know of any" - just a point, wheat beers tend not to have any hops other than bittering hops, since the style has very little hop character. Of course Lambic beer deliberately uses aged hops so as to avoid any hop flavour or smell, going only for the antiseptic preservative qualities. Well done for policing this toss though, It drives me up the wall! I can't believe they virtually claim to have invented late hopping! Outrageous!

Travel Bugs said...

I suppose late hop additions are the only thing Fosters has to boast about...

The blatent misinformation by the macro breweries drives me nuts. Lately though I have noticed the craft beer movement being much more open about their recipes and collaberating with other brewers. Definitely an encouraging sign by the industry as a whole and helping to convert more people into beer nerds. Now if only the extreme beer fad could pass.

Jeff Pickthall said...

Are they referring to the special late-hops they use to give Fosters the unmistakeable tang of burning rubber?

Nicholas King said...

Crickey is sounds like you got the plum entries for the OCB. When is it due out by the way, judging by the other Oxford Companions that weigh down my bookshelves this can't arrive soon enough.

Sid Boggle said...

I remember a few years back when they launched Fosters Citrus, I think it was. I looked at the ingredients in a supermarket and in addition to hops etc., they listed 'citrus flavour'.

I emailed to ask about this, and whether they'd disclose which hops they'd used to impart this unique characteristic. Reply, there came none.

I imagine they use hop oil, anyway.

Cooking Lager said...

Yeh but 24 cans for a tenner? Good times.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean they miss out the "early" hops that give the flavour?

The Beer Nut said...

Academy nomination for Guinness Black Lager. Did you know it's "Cold Brewed"?

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Actually, it's not uncommon for craft brewers to add hops after the boil is finished. For example, there is dry-hopping, which means adding hops during fermentation.

And if you really want to be extreme you can use a randalizer (or randal), which means serving the beer through a filter containing hops, so that hops get added about 2 seconds before the beer goes into the glass. Now that is late hopping.

So, basically, Fosters don't add hops late in the process at all, compared to craft brewers. And, of course, even if they did it wouldn't matter, because they add so little.

The Bocking Kellys said...

Was it not Miller, some time in the dim and distant past, who ran an advertising campaign extolling the fact that they washed their returned bottles twice before re-filling them with beer?
What the man in the street didn't realise was that pretty much every brewer did exactly that already.

CarsmileSteve said...

i am sad that the Oxford Companion to Beer is not yet listed on amazon as i NEED to add it to my wishlist NOW, even if it's not out until October...

Neil, eatingisntcheating.blogspot.com said...

I think my favourite is still the Stella one from a while ago. "Contains only four ingredients: hops, malted barley, maize and water"

First of all, what about yeast? Secondly, MAIZE!? They dont even try to hide the fatc they use corn as an adjunct to make the beer cheaper to produce, they promote it!

The problem is that they know the average beer drinker will look at that and think this is a traditional ingredients of beer!

Sort of related to this, I'm going to post a blog tonight about the lack of undsertsanding of hops amongst nomral beer drinkers, and how even some "real ale" drinkers are scared of the little green buggers!

The Beer Nut said...

Neil, Stella doesn't contain any yeast. Would you prefer they lied about the maize? And if you're going to say maize isn't traditional, then you're also going to have to say what year "traditional" came to an end and "non-traditional" started, 'cos maize has been used in beer a long time.

Bocking Kellys, Miller also makes a big deal of being "cold filtered", another totally standard practice.

Phil said...

Oh go on Pete, tell us about Foster's secret yeast... (Good name for a band, actually.)

Cooking Lager said...

I do believe the Incas brewed with maize. I might have read that in a Pete Brown book. If it is not true then I didn't read it in a Pete Brown book. So Stella could be an exciting modern fusion of European & Inca brewing tradition, all for 50p a can. Lovely.

Neil, Eating Isnt Cheating said...

Beer Nut - you are just being difficult now!

Stella has all the yeast filtered out, but it is made with yeast to convert the sugars to alcohol.

As for the comment about maize, you know full well that any decent beers don't use corn. It's not a neccesary ingredient, and whilst i'm sure it has been used in the past it certainly isn't an ingredient that adds anything to a beers flavour. I imagine it was used in the past for the same reason stella use it now, it's very cheap.

Are you saying maize is an ingredient we should see more of in beer? And that yeast isn't used in making beer? I think not!

Jeff Renner said...

I think that Guinness, which seems free of hop aroma, would have no late additions. Of course, many big brewers use isomerized hop extract for bittering, which is probably what Foster's uses, and so they can claim that they add their hops at the end.

For the US market, Foster's is brewed in Canada, so that they can proclaim "Imported" on their cans and ads.

The Beer Nut said...

Neil, I'm not being difficult, I'm dealing with the ad copy as written. The ad does not deny Stella is made using yeast. It just makes the 100% true claim that it does not contain yeast. You seem to want to change the wording of the ad and then complain about it being inaccurate.

On maize you've moved from "traditional" to "decent". I make no comment on the quality of beers made with maize, neither does the ad.

Neil, eatingisntcheating.blogspot.com said...

TBN - Fair enough on the yeast point.

But the advert does imply quality, thats the whole point. It is trying to express the message that stella is natural and good quality because it only contains these four ingredients, one of which is anything but high quality.

In fact, I think whats more likely is that the people who produced the adverts didnt fully understand the ingredients or even know that maize is a shitty thing to put in beer. They are advertising an ingredient which is a cheap adjunct, and trying to imply through the wording that stella is natural and high quality. Thats my problem with it.

And I still think you're playing devils advocate with me!

The Beer Nut said...

All ads imply stuff that may not be true. If you have a problem with ads doing this then it's time to get your blinkers fitted. "Dear Calvin Klein, your ads implied I wouldn't still look like a tub of lard if I wore your jeans. However, as you can see from the enclosed photo..."

The implication that Stella is natural and quality is happening in your head, not on the billboard, and is therefore beyond the reach of the ASA or fair trading laws.

I don't think they're ignorant about maize; I think they may be trying to rehabilitate it. Can't blame 'em for trying, and it's not misleading or untruthful to say maize, or rice, is OK in beer. It's your word against theirs and if you disagree, rent a billboard.

And I'm not playing Devil's advocate: I'm the first person to get angry at misleading or disingenuous marketing -- why, this very afternoon I threw a shit-fit in the beer aisle of Marks & Spencer, having noticed that their Irish stout claims to be based on a recipe from 1740, and yet lists roast barley as an ingredient -- but that Stella ad does not do anything wrong. That lots of beer cognoscenti got upset with it shows how clever the people behind it were.

Laurent Mousson said...

Could it possibly be that they imply that they are adding the hops in the form of isomerised extracts at the very end of the production process?

Anonymous said...

"They don't want to hear too much information, just enough. And if that information is heavily distorted or even wilfully wrong, they're never going to find out, and wouldn't care much if they did."

Fortunately, that is only true of beer drinkers in the USA, not voters.

Birkonian said...

A lot od relevant and informative comments. Me, I'm just going to do what I've always done and ignore these poxy purveyors of industrial gnats' piss.

Beer Blokes said...

Don't know if the US or UK facilities do the same but here in Australia Foster's uses an ismoerised tetra hop extract (happy to be technically corrected here!) like a 'hop cordial' added at the end of production.

The Pride of Ringwood hop used in local Foster's, at least, was developed as a good hybrid containing high alpha acids for bittering. It's possible that this 'late addition' is all Foster's needs to achieve its taste profile(?)

As to how they get that'tang of burning rubber' flavour - I didn't do the whole brewery tour.

Cheers
Prof Pilsner

Joshua A.Baird said...

If a company wants to boast about using late hopping, that is all fine and good, but they should be required by someone to let consumers know that they aren't the only ones who do that.

There was a lot of great info here though about the campaign they are trying to accomplish. Thanks for a great read.

LuskusDelph said...

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I do remember seeing cans of Foster's made in Canada, but lately the Foster's I've seen for sale here in the New York area is (according to the label) brewed in Texas.

But of course, the stores still display it with the 'imports'.

Ali T. said...

Sorry Pete, but I believe that advertisers are just there to tell us what we think we want to hear. Although this complete lie and non understanding of the product they are selling has made me more than a little angry.

Jeff Rosenmeier said...

Sorry, late to the game on this one.

I have toured the Fosters plant (ex Fosters (closed in April 2010), in Reading) in the UK and can confirm that there were NO HOPS in the building. All hops added in that facility were in the form of a iso-alpha extract (hops in a tin). And yes, it is common practice for the big boys to add these extracts very late, just prior to packaging to be able to hit IBU and other flavour metrics, no matter how small...

It is all marketing bullshit, over the head of the mainstream consumer.

My favourite of all time is Miller Lite's Triple Hopped campaign. Us craft brewers always thought this meant that they used only 3 hops in each brew given the amount of hop character present in that beer...

HardKnott Dave said...

I don't get Beer Nuts assertion that yeast is not an ingredient in beer.

I sometimes make a very nice clear oriental stock. I make it with chicken carcass, peppercorns, celery, spring onions, garlic cloves, peeled ginger, sliced carrot, whole star anise and any other whole spices I think might make it taste good.

It is simmered very, very gently so that the "ingredients" don't break down and then seasoned with salt to taste.

Once sieved there is no solid parts from the "ingredients" in the liquid, so by Beer Nut's definition the only ingredients are salt and water.

Sorry, yeast IS on ingredient of beer, its chemistry is IN the beer.

The Beer Nut said...

If I were a soulless mass-marketer of your stock, Dave, I'd say "Ingredients: Water, Salt, Vegetable Extracts, Chicken".

And I bet I'd be perfectly within my rights to do so. Chemical analysis will show those things in your stock.

It won't show yeast in Stella, though.

Pete Brown said...

I've been trying to work out what's been bugging me about your logic flow BN and I've finally got it.

If we were to follow this chemical analysis principle, you're right it wouldn't show yeast but it would show alcohol - 5% alcohol. And the Stella posters don't lust that as an ingredient. So either way, whether we apply your rationale or not, the ads are still misleading.

The Beer Nut said...

You're right that it contains alcohol, but alcohol isn't an ingredient: it wasn't put there by the brewer.

What we're counting as ingredients are things that were put in and left in by the maker. The flavour extracts in Dave's stock were put there by Dave so count as ingredients; the alcohol in Stella doesn't.

One thing may be missing from the ad copy, depending on the process used, is carbon dioxide.

Angus Boag said...

"Unlike other beers, [our hops] are added at the end of the brewing process to preserve their freshness." Only Jeff Rosenmeier has heard the penny drop. They don't add hops at the end of the boil, but rather the end of the brewing process AKA post-fermentation. If they are anything like their butcherous CUB cousins, they also brew high-gravity and dilute at bottling. YUK!

John McNally said...

It's good that you had a rant about this Pete, but the wrong people are reading it. Beer lovers don't need any additional reason to drink real ale, beyond taste.

Foster drinkers by definition don't worry about taste, so they won't worry about what's in their pint of cold chemicals.

John
Leamington Spa

Henry Jeffreys said...

Would love to hear your views on the new Adnams campaign.

Brian Eichhorn said...

Actually, Beer Nut, you're wrong. There is still yeast in the beer. Just because it isn't visible and most of it has been filtered out, doesn't mean it isn't there. Not to mention that there exactly as much maize as there is yeast in there. To say that yeast affords less flavor and less impact than maize is just ignorant. You have broken your own logic down a number of times now by saying that there isn't yeast in the beer and that the alcohol doesn't count either... Make up your mind man!

The Beer Nut said...

Hi Brian.

To say that yeast affords less flavor and less impact than maize is just ignorant.
It sure is. Good job nobody said that, eh?

Make up your mind man!
It's all in my comment above. I'll say it again: the maize was added and is still there, and that makes it an ingredient. The alcohol was not added, that makes it not an ingredient. Jesuitical, perhaps, but still logically coherent.

BA Michael said...

Beer Nut: You avoided the main point of Brian's post. There is still yeast in Stella. No amount of mechanical filtering can remove all yeast. And depending on what form they use for the "maize," it may be all gone, too. Straight corn sugar is 100% fermentable.

Which brings me to my other point: Corn and rice are not "low quality" ingredients nor are they always a bad thing to have in a beer. Used judiciously, they serve to add alcohol while maintaining a dry, light-bodied beer. There are a lot of Belgian Trippels and Strong Golden Ales that have a respectable amount of corn or rice sugar in them. Stella isn't one of them, but that's not my point.

The Beer Nut said...

Hi Michael.

I did indeed avoid that point. I've no way of knowing whether Brian's right or not so it would have been a bit daft to comment. I'm not about to take my "There's No Yeast in Stella" campaign on the road. I won't have a Facebook group for it either, nor will I be fighting an opposing corner when he brings this blatant, malicious lie to the Advertising Standards Authority. I wish him well in his endeavours and hope that justice will be served in the end.

Anonymous said...

TBN, Neil et al

The thing about the Stella ad that annoyed me was that it came out after they did a lot of advertising with Becks on the "four steps" which make it reinheitsgebot (water, malted barley, hops and yeast), they then advertise Stella saying only 4 ingredients, which would make the unobservent think it was also reinheitsgebot. So you educate a consumer with one brand and then describe another brand in a way that's open to misinterpretation.

The Beer Nut said...

Steering the unobservant towards thinking particular things while avoiding the censure of the advertising gods is exactly how the fine art of advertising is constructed.

If this annoys you then your beeef is with advertising in general, not any specific campaign.