A global battle is going on in the bottled beer category as authentic beers from around the world fight for shelf space. Speciality and imported beers are flying in from all over the world -not only are Britons welcoming them, they are also prepared to pay more for them.

Brewing giant InBev UK continues to believe speciality is the way forward for NPD and its focus remains on developing a strong portfolio of niche brands to cater for different tastes. Its Belgian Hoegaarden brand is the number one speciality beer in the off-trade, with 32% market share, while its Leffe Blond?e comes in at number two, up 63% in annual growth last year, [ACNielsen y/e April 2006].

The company recently added to the Leffe brand, with Brune and Radieuse now available in the UK, and last year it brought out the premium bottled variant of Stella Artois, Artois Bock.

InBev makes no secret of its focus on speciality. "Speciality beers are flying," says take-home MD Stuart MacFarlane. "It is being driven by consumer preference; retailers giving more space to the section; and brand owners giving it more focus." Other big players are also dipping in. Scottish & Newcastle UK has white beer Kronenbourg Blanc that has strong female appeal.

Mike Teague, sales director at Bavaria UK, also believes that the supermarkets are doing a good job with speciality beers. "Many are creating a new specialist sector," he says. "The wholesale and convenience sectors need to wake up to this opportunity."

Dan Jago, head of BWS at Tesco, confirms that speciality is a huge area of opportunity. "Our range has never been stronger."

But Teague also slams retailers' treatment of the imported beer segment. "Most of the multiples have not taken advantage of the premium imported bottled beer sector. Products, such as Bavaria lagers, which are all brewed, packaged and imported from the Netherlands, seem to be overlooked by most of the multiple grocers."

Despite this, imported and 'brewed at source' beers are attracting consumers and brand owners alike. Michael Cook, director of imported beers at Pierhead Purchasing, says the expatriate market is a growth area. Pierhead launched the French Jenlain Six and Gold Bohemia from the Czech Republic earlier this year.

Carlsberg says speciality and imported beers are part of its innovation strategy. "We have launched Poretti and Carlsberg Elephant and have further initiatives planned," says marketing director Darran Britton.

Global Brands has added the Chinese Tsingtao and the Estonian Viru to its portfolio this year.The retailer's view

Cider is the great under-explored area and customers are wanting more of it. The category has large producers that can meet volume demand and also some artisan producers.

I think we will see more cider being launched, because there still aren't that many companies doing cider well. If you look at apple juice varietals and compare this to hop flavours within beer, then you can see what the possibilities are for cider.

Within the beer category, we have seen standard lagers around 4% abv, such as Beck's Vier, doing very well. We have a broad church of customers out there, so world and speciality beers are areas we keep an eye on. Brands such as Brahma and Peroni are doing well. I hope more shelf space will be created

for speciality beers in the future.

We are seeing the direct effect of the rise in Polish communities in the UK as Polish beers are doing really well, as are Czech lagers. Our Tesco Beer Challenge brings in new independent brewers and that has also helped people discover some of the smaller niche players out there.