Supermarkets are knocking on the doors of craft lager brewers as sales of speciality beer soar.

The overall category has risen 13.5% by value year-on-year in the mults to £32.2m and 6.5% by volume [Nielsen 52 w/e 7 January 2012].

Freedom Brewery, which produces four bottled English lagers, reported a 50% year-on-year rise in sales to the end of January. “We’re starting to get enquiries from the big multiples,” said owner Ed Mayman.

“We were approached by Marks & Spencer and Asda regarding tertiary products. We’ve not decided whether to go down that route yet but there is definitely a swing to hand-crafted lagers.”

Sales of Swedish brewer Nils Oscar’s God lager, stocked in Waitrose, have risen 27.2% over the past year, with volumes up 19.8% - helping it win a national listing with Booths from April. “The appetite from the off-trade has increased,” said Stacey Ayeh, director at UK distributor B O Times 1. “Shoppers want something different to the usual big brands.”

Steve Wilkinson, head brewer for Saint, a 4.6% abv lager launched in the on-trade last year, called for better category management. “It’s time there was clearer segmentation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Scottish brewery Harviestoun, which teamed up with Sainsbury’s last year to launch a Taste the Difference craft lager, said greater receptiveness from the multiples was needed to create a craft lager category in its own right. “A few of them are missing a trick,” added MD Chris Miller.

Fellow Scottish brewery Innis & Gunn said it planned to extend into craft lager later this year.

“Craft lager opens up a whole new way to talk about lager and attracts younger consumers,” said Sainsbury’s beer buyer Nicky Millington. “We expect the trend to grow as consumers explore the category.”