Faced with freefalling volumes, big beer is innovating again.

New brands or brand extensions to have rolled into the off-trade in the past 12 months include Peroni Nastro Azzurro Stile Capri, Brookyln Pilsner, Cruzcampo Sevilla Lager, Kroenenbourg 1664 Blanc and Foster’s Shandy.

The latest brewery NPD are Birra Moretti Sale di Mare, an unfiltered lager made with Italian sea salt, and Corona Ligera, a 3.2% abv light beer.

This relative innovation glut comes against a backdrop of declining consumption in mainstream lager. According to The Grocer’s Top Products Report 2023, four of the top five biggest lager brands are in volume decline, while across the whole lager category 86.5 million fewer litres were sold last year than in 2022.

For big brewers like Budweiser Brewing Group, Molson Coors, Heineken and Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Co, falling demand for their flagship brews has meant looking elsewhere in the category for pockets of growth.

Birra Moretti Sale di Mare NPD catches the eye

That’s why Birra Moretti’s innovation in particular catches the eye. Sale di Mare, which translates ‘salt of the sea’, promises to tap into “rising demand for Continental lagers”, according to brand owner Heineken.

It also comes hot off the heels of Cruzcampo Seville Lager, a more sessionable take on the Cruzcampo sold by Heineken in Spain that launched last summer.

With this new duo of brews, Heineken will be hoping to emulate a slice of the success of Madrí – the Spanish-style lager brought to market by Molson Coors in 2022.

Less than two years after launch, Madrí is worth £93.3m [NIQ 52 w/e 9 September], with volumes having soared by more than 20 million litres last year. A similar result in 2024 would almost certainly see it break into lager’s top 10, a phenomenal achievement, regardless of how one feels about the continental credentials of a Spanish lager brewed in Burton-upon-Trent.

Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Group brand is also on the up

Madrí isn’t the only Continental-style lager having a moment – San Miguel managed to grow volumes by 5.4% last year, and has closed the gap on Foster’s and Carling (Budweiser and Stella Artois remain some way ahead). Its CMBC stablemate Kronenbourg is also on the up, having shifted an extra 3.9 million litres.

In adding Cruzcampo, and edging up Birra Moretti’s foreign qualities with a hint of Italian sea salt, Heineken looks to have taken the view “if you can’t beat them, join them”.

Like Madrí, San Miguel and Kronenbourg, neither of the two innovations are brewed overseas, but you can bet a forthcoming “multimillion-pound” TV campaign for Sale di Mare will make the brew appear so. Best to take that one with a pinch of salt when it appears on screens in April.

Birra Moretti certainly looks like a brand in need of a reboot, with nearly four million litres less of the beer going through the tills last year. Price hikes helped the brand grow a modest 1.9% in value, but this pales in comparison to the gains made by some of its premium lager rivals.

A modest brand extension such as this could certainly help recruit curious new shoppers. But of the two new innovations, it’s Cruzcampo that looks a better fit to fend off the threat from Madrí.